A Jefferson Parish political consultant is asking a federal judge to strike down a law passed recently by the Parish Council, arguing the ordinance is unconstitutional and amounts to a politically motivated attack.
The consultant, Greg Buisson, also wants damages from Parish Councilman Chris Roberts, who sponsored the ordinance.
In the suit, which was filed last week, he accuses the councilman of pushing the measure as retaliation for Buisson’s decision to work with one of the two candidates who tried unsuccessfully to oust Roberts from his seat during the October election.
The ordinance at issue, which passed by a vote of 5-2 on Nov. 4, bars anyone who works for a candidate for parish president or the council from also getting contracts awarded by parish government or groups receiving parish funds.
It would presumably keep Buisson from getting paid for the media relations, advertising and event management services that he and his company have provided to groups that put on public events in Jefferson such as Family Gras. He also holds a contract to supply Carnival reviewing stands to the parish.
Roberts denied that the ordinance was meant as retaliation. He said he is prepared to argue in court that the measure is necessary to prevent situations where Buisson’s political clients might benefit from the events he is paid to help promote or put on by the parish.
“At no time should public funds ever be used to promote a candidate or a political agenda,” Roberts said. “Those running and promoting campaigns should not be running and promoting publicly funded events with tax dollars.”
The lawsuit claims that Roberts never had any objections to Buisson contracting with the parish until Buisson went to work for Louis Congemi, one of Roberts’ election opponents.
The race between Roberts and Congemi was a pitched one, featuring lengthy courtroom debates about whether the content of their campaign ads amounted to defamation.
The lawsuit filed Nov. 23 alleges that shortly after he was re-elected, “Roberts called Mr. Buisson to gloat about his win” and also sent a text message reading, “We’re coming. Lawyer up.”
It argues the ordinance should be struck down as a violation of Buisson’s right to free expression and equal protection under the law, among other reasons. And, without elaborating much, it claims that a “few, select” lawyers who hold parish-funded contracts were allowed to review the language of the ordinance before it was approved to ensure that it didn’t jeopardize their business or political interests while still affecting Buisson.
“Managers and consultants of political campaigns should not be singled out in this manner and excluded from competition for business,” Buisson said in a statement.
He noted that Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee also expressed concern about the constitutionality of the measure to council members before they approved it.
Roberts maintains that he came up with the idea for the ordinance after the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau said it was planning a forum for candidates running for parish president, despite the fact that the group, which gets tax-dollar funding, also contracts with Buisson, who was working with eventual presidential election winner Mike Yenni.
That forum was canceled, but Roberts said he remained concerned and is ready to provide evidence showing that Buisson’s political clients have previously been singled out for recognition at events such as the JCVB-organized Family Gras.
“Simply … there (is) a fuzzy line that should be avoided,” said Roberts, who made it a point to mention that most of his colleagues voted for his measure.
Buisson on Monday said he doesn’t control who is spotlighted at Family Gras and that politicians running against his clients have been recognized at the event as well.
The suit has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo.