Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race is blessedly over, but a few loose ends unfortunately remain. Each camp still should answer for allegations of misconduct.
The first allegation — the most serious if true, although the least likely to have led to discoverable, punishable violations — was that Opelousas Mayor Donald Cravins induced voting fraud the day before the primary. Cravins is on video advising a room full of supporters to “vote again tomorrow” even if they already had voted early. From the room’s response, which included plenty of laughter, it appears the line was considered a joke.
The bigger problem was what came next: “Tomorrow we’re gonna elect Earl Taylor as [District Attorney] so he won’t prosecute you if you vote twice.” Cravins’ son, Donald Jr., who is Mary Landrieu’s chief of staff, was there with his father when the statements were made. To say something along the lines of “vote early and often” is a standard joke in Louisiana. To extend the “joke” into a “promise” of no prosecution starts to look more suspicious.
Well, if vote fraud occurred, it didn’t help: Both Cravins and Landrieu lost their re-election bids. Still, the video provides reason for at least a quick investigation by relevant authorities. Vote fraud, or the subornation thereof, is serious business, a direct assault on the system of representative government that safeguards our freedoms. Citizens have a right to know that officials take seriously any plausible suspicions of vote fraud — and the video obviously makes the allegation plausible, even if not likely.
The second allegation is actually of lesser importance, but with greater likelihood of at least a technical infraction. It concerns Landrieu’s overhyped but still relevant questions about whether Bill Cassidy, while serving as a congressman, performed all the work expected for the LSU medical system. The public requires accountability for the receipt of public funds. Cassidy has not yet been fully accountable.
First, let it be said that Congress’ usual ban on doctors continuing to practice medicine while in office is senseless. Nonetheless, because Congress prohibits various forms of outside income, Cassidy did need dispensation to continue his professional relationship, part-time, with LSU. Having done so, he ought to operate by its terms.
The restrictions on outside income are intended to avoid financial conflicts of interest — to make sure no congressman is financially in hock to outside interests. Clearly, Cassidy’s part-time service to a charity hospital system isn’t going to induce him to unethical legislative machinations for LSU.
Moreover, salaried professional positions aren’t usually dependent on strict adherence to a time clock. The apparently undisputed fact that Cassidy was the only doctor in the system with his particular medical specialty shows that LSU had legitimate interest in his continued affiliation with it. The money in question, $20,000 in annual salary, would mean a lot to me or numerous readers, but it’s not exactly a bonanza for a doctor. It also seems evident, from the statements of his supervisor, that Cassidy really did continue to do at least some medical work of value.
Still, even if LSU legitimately misplaced some of his records, Cassidy was somewhat negligent not to keep duplicates.
Let’s put this in perspective. As I wrote when partially defending Landrieu for wrongly charging campaign travel to taxpayers, “What it is not, at least not necessarily, is a sign of intentional corruption. Sometimes record-keeping in Congress can indeed get sloppy.” Lacking a mens rea — a “guilty mind,” or intentional wrongdoing — Cassidy’s allegedly incomplete workload would not be criminal, but merely careless.
On the other hand, Louisiana taxpayers deserve an accounting. If Cassidy didn’t even come close to the amount of state hospital work he promised to do, then he should make restitution, just as Landrieu’s campaign made restitution for her mis-billed plane trips.
Here, though, is where specific time sheets are less important than the public record. Whether or not he produces the right paperwork, Cassidy darn well ought to produce people who can vouch for his work. He says he counseled students. OK, who are they? Why can’t he get them to speak up? He says he reviewed lab reports. OK, for which medical personnel did he do so? Asking Cassidy to give some sort of specific accounting for the scope of his work, if not for every minute thereof, is perfectly reasonable.
If and only if he can’t find several people to vouch for specific types of work he did, with several specific examples, then the ethical violation might be serious — and actionable.