Did Gov. Bobby Jindal cross a line when he issued a gubernatorial news release claiming that Rand Paul — one of many, many politicians standing between him and the Republican Party’s next presidential nomination — is “unsuited to be Commander-In-Chief” because he blamed Republicans for the rise of Islamic State militants?
Under the law, perhaps.
The state prohibition on the use of public resources to “urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate” would certainly seem to apply to Jindal’s taxpayer-sponsored tirade against the Kentucky senator, issued via his official email by staffers who work in the Governor’s Office. On that point, the Louisiana Democratic Party, which has called for an attorney general’s investigation, and prominent blogger and former legislative lawyer C.B. Forgotston, who fired off a letter to Inspector General Stephen Street, are right on.
Whether there’s enough wiggle room for Jindal to get away with it is another question.
Campaign laws and their enforcers generally err on the side of letting politicians do whatever they want and call it whatever they want. How many expensive meals are charged to donors under the guise of “campaign meetings?” And how often do hopefuls purport to push an issue agenda when they’re really just promoting their own candidacies? That’s what Jindal’s been doing for months now under the banner of his nonprofit think tank “America Next,” where he’s listed not as a candidate but as the “honorary chair.”
As for the Paul email, Jindal’s disingenuous excuse — that “matters of national security are very important to Louisianans, and Louisiana is home to many American soldiers,” according to his spokesman — may be enough to inoculate him.
Indeed, Jindal’s latest move isn’t much of a break with his previous behavior. He’s been using his official communication team to publicize his national campaign efforts for months now. Previous emails have outlined his critiques of both President Barack Obama and potential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. It’s hard to argue that a news release previewing the governor’s plan to “bash Hillary’s ‘mindless naivete,’ ” in a speech in London hardly qualifies as the people’s business.
Same for his use of publicly paid security on his frequent trips out of state. Nothing illegal about that as of now, but perhaps there will be soon. The current version of the state budget, passed by the House and pending in the Senate, calls for Jindal to start covering his security detail’s travel costs himself. Jindal, of course, spent 45 percent of his time in 2014 traveling for political events, and he seems to be on a similar pace this year, now that he’s set up a presidential exploratory committee and seems poised to make his bid official once the legislative session ends in mid-June.
If Jindal’s latest news release is part of a pattern, though, it’s also the sign that we’ve entered a new phase in the campaign.
That Jindal is now aiming his ammunition at a fellow Republican instead of Obama or Clinton has nothing to do with what he can get away with legally. It’s all about what he must do politically if he hopes to make it to the primaries’ opening gate next year.
With news that the initial GOP debates in August and September will be limited to the top 10 candidates based on national polls, Jindal needs to not only improve his own dreadful standing but also knock his rivals down. In that sense, his news release — which did get plenty of play, in part due to the outcry over its legality — served its purpose.
So unless the powers-that-be step in and blow the whistle, expect more such maneuvers out of the Governor’s Office, no matter the criticism from within Louisiana’s borders. Jindal may be claiming to act on behalf of the folks back home, but seriously, when was the last time he worried about what they think?