On his first vacation
since taking office, Gov. John Bel Edwards hopped a private plane with a
major campaign donor who he has appointed to head a group of lawyers suing the oil
and gas industry on behalf of the state of Louisiana.
Edwards joined Natchitoches
lawyer and former state representative Taylor Townsend on a four-day hunting
trip to Colorado, renewing questions about the appropriateness of their friendship.
A politician spending
time cultivating relationships with campaign donors is nothing new. That much
is expected, Dane Ciolino, Loyola University law school professor and legal expert, told the Louisiana Record. It’s what
happens after the donations are made that matters.
“Is it appropriate for him to associate with
campaign contributors and his friends? That’s obviously something that is not a
problem,” Ciolino said. “The problem exists if these
people are giving him gratuities.”
Yet after multiple
appointments to government positions, many in Louisiana are now calling
foul on the governor’s seemingly quid pro quo relationship with Townsend.
Townsend, who also heads
the governor's super PAC, Louisiana Families First, personally donated tens of
thousands of dollars to Edwards' campaign in 2015. In fact, he donated as much
as $27,500 in the span of three weeks in October and November, Louisiana Ethics Administration Program's records show.
The major campaign donor
has now been appointed to lead a team of lawyers in what is likely to become a
landmark multi-year, multi-billion dollar coastal erosion case against the oil
and gas industry.
“I would prefer the
governor didn’t hang out with people who are suing us, but this is the reality,
it is what it is,” Gifford Briggs, acting-President of the Louisiana Oil and
Gas Association, told the Louisiana Record.
Though Townsend has
little experience in environmental litigation, his qualifications are another
question for another day, Briggs said. What he knows is that the governor is
not shy about appointing friends to positions of power.
“Obviously, there is some relationship between the governor and
Taylor,” Briggs said. “And I think the governor has pretty clearly stated that
he’s going to have his friends in office, that he’s going to work with people
that he knows and people that he trusts. Whether we like it or not, it’s a reality of
politics across the board.”
The suit against the oil and
gas industry isn’t Townsend’s first time working on behalf of the state since Edwards
took office. Back in August, Townsend was tasked with investigating the governor's campaign donations from State Police troopers early last year. The Advocate
reports Townsend is contracted to earn up to $150,000 for his work on the oil
and gas lawsuit, and a fee of $75,000 for the donation probe.
“I think that,
whether you’re the president of the United States or the president of a
company, you’re going to put people in positions of power and close to you that
you can trust and share the same views as you,” Briggs said. “And obviously in
this case, that’s how the governor feels about Taylor.”
Ciolino said the problem isn't socializing, but potential ethical questions.
“There’s no problem with hanging out with
donors, socializing with donors, that’s what anybody would expect,” Ciolino
said. “The real issue is whether these donors are then giving him gifts of
gratuities in expectation of getting government work, which is obviously an
The governor reportedly
paid for his share of the hunting trip, telling The Advocate Townsend is his
friend and it was just an opportunity to go on a hunt.
“Would it be improper if
someone did pay for my trip? The answer is yes. So you know damn well I paid
for it,” Edwards is quoted as saying to The Advocate.
The Louisiana Record
reached out to the governor’s office multiple times to confirm — and to
determine who footed the bill for Edward’s out-of-state security detail — but
the office refused to comment.
There are no legal
requirements that compel the governor to show proof that he paid his own way on
“I think of things as a
lawyer, whether it’s politically prudent for him to do that is one issue — but
there’s no requirement that he do it,” Ciolino said.
The governor reportedly
paid $2,700 for his share of the trip, excluding the flight. It’s unclear whose
private plane the governor took to Colorado, or what his share of that was.
While the governor’s
hunting buddies may be questionable, his aim is certainly not. The Advocate
reported Edwards landed an elk in light snow conditions from 260-yards away.