BATON ROUGE — The East Baton Rouge Council on Aging (COA) has allegedly used public funds to campaign for a dedicated $2.25 million tax that passed in 2016, according to a Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office report released earlier this month.
The audit does not suggest that any criminal laws were broken, but it found that the move may be in violation of state and federal campaign finance laws.
Hillar Moore III, district attorney of Parish of East Baton Rouge, told the Louisiana Record that his office is reviewing the report to determine if any laws have been broken.
"I have received the report and will review it with my staff and make the appropriate decisions once we have had the time to properly digest it,” he said.
According to the audit, the COA’s attorney told the agency it was unaware that it might have broken any campaign laws. The attorney said mistakes may have occurred because the nonprofit was inexperienced in political campaigns.
The report notes that the COA allegedly violated state and federal campaign finance laws by operating Support Our Seniors (SOS), a political action committee formed to support the tax proposition to increase the council’s funding, during work hours. It also reportedly used nearly $25,000 in revenues garnered through political ads placed in its quarterly magazine and used an agency credit card to pay for more than $15,000 in campaign expenses.
“If the council used public funds to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated to a candidate or political organization, then council management may have violated the Louisiana Constitution and state and federal law,” the audit report said. "By using public funds and resources to operate SOS during work hours, council management and staff may have violated the Louisiana Constitution and state and federal laws. Furthermore, these actions may jeopardize the council’s status as a tax-exempt organization."
In its response, the COA contends that Michael Beychok of the consulting firm Ourso Beychok Inc “was going to spearhead the PAC.” It further contends that it “was led to believe that because of the nature of the project, the services of Ourso Beychok Inc were being provided pro bono” and that the council received “very little” direction regarding what the PAC was permitted by law to do.
“Given this was the COA’s first and only foray into the political arena and first and only dealing with the concept of a political action committee, the leadership of the agency should have been better informed and advised on the nuances of campaign finance law,” Murphy J. Foster III, an attorney, said in his response to the audit.
The auditors recommended that the COA "consult with legal counsel to determine the appropriate legal actions to be taken, including recovery of funds paid on SOS’s behalf.”
They also recommended that "management develop and implement written policies and procedures to ensure that management and staff comply with the Louisiana Constitution and state laws which prohibit the use of public resources for political activities."
Although Moore told the Louisiana Record that he does not wish to comment any further on the investigation, he said it will take some time to review both the actions of the COA and the auditor's findings.
“There is no timetable,” he said. “I have three other officer-involved shooting investigations that I am working on, so it will take some time."