U.S. Sen. David Vitter says Louisiana has a corruption problem — a holdout from the state’s colorful, long-standing culture of political cronyism.
“I think it’s a serious problem,” Vitter told reporters Monday. “To change that culture takes a lot of work.”
Vitter held a closed-to-the-media “leadership meeting” on the topic with nearly two dozen experts, including district attorneys, the state inspector general and the state legislative auditor, among others. Vitter, a Republican who is running for governor this year, has held several similar meetings on a variety of topics in recent months.
“It is still a challenge in Louisiana,” Vitter said of revamping the state’s ethics laws and rooting out corruption. “We need to have a zero-tolerance policy.”
Despite the closed nature of the meeting — media was allowed in for only the final minutes of the meeting during a discussion of prosecution — transparency was among the agenda items for the meeting, as was the expansion of term limits and whistleblower protections, government contract reform and performance-tied pay for state workers.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Vitter said he thinks the state should strengthen its campaign finance laws to prohibit certain expenditures, such as sporting event tickets.
Vitter also said he heard from the meeting that enforcement is a key piece of the puzzle. “You can have the perfect law on the books, but it has to be enforced,” he said.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III; Robert Scott, of the Public Affairs Research Council; and Louisiana Attorney General Criminal Division Director Kurt Wall all participated.
C.B. Forgotston, an attorney and political pundit, said he received an email from Vitter asking him to participate. He said he hasn’t come out in favor of any of the candidates for governor yet.
“It was an excellent opportunity to vent about the lack of enforcement of the law,” Forgotston said. “I have never been to as good of a meeting as this. I was expecting a lecture, but it was really about listening to us.”
Vitter faces Republicans Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle, as well as Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards in the gubernatorial race.