Walter Reed’s decision not to run for re-election this fall means he’ll no longer be the highest-paid district attorney in Louisiana, but with three decades in office, his pension could bring him as much money in retirement as he has received as an officeholder.
How much Reed earns as district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes isn’t completely clear. Last fall, in response to a public-records request by The New Orleans Advocate, the District Attorney’s Office provided a spreadsheet that listed his salary at $198,614. However, a disclosure form that Reed filed with the Louisiana Ethics Administration earlier in the year said he received $214,000 from public sources in 2012.
But whatever his salary is, the 68-year-old will continue getting a similar amount as a retiree.
Employees in the District Attorneys’ Retirement System get 3.5 percent of their pay for every year served, said Pete Adams, director of the system. Pensions are based on the average of the employee’s 60 highest months of pay.
A number of variables are involved in determining the pension amount, including whether the employee has designated a spouse as a beneficiary, Adams said. The exact amount isn’t figured out until employees file paperwork to start receiving their pensions. But with 30 years of service, Reed could well receive 100 percent of his current salary, Adams said.
Reed already has given up one source of income — the $30,000 that he was paid to attend board meetings for St. Tammany Parish Hospital, a position he held for 20 years. He quit that job recently amid questions about whether he was being paid as a private lawyer, as he claimed, or as district attorney, as the hospital said.
Besides his pension, the longtime district attorney will have access to his campaign war chest. Reed filed his last campaign finance report in May, listing the amount he had on hand as of April 28 at more than $319,000. That report, filed 180 days before the Nov. 4 election, showed no contributions made to the fund from Jan. 1 through April 28, with just under $5,000 in expenditures. Those included payments to his accountant and wireless carrier and a number of donations to other candidates and charities. Reed does not seem to have spent any money during that period on an impending run for office.
Had he decided to seek a sixth term, he faced at least three challengers and would have had to wage an expensive two-parish campaign. But with that burden removed, he’s left with a considerable amount of money and a lot of flexibility on what he can do with it.
“There are more cans than can’ts,’’ said Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council.
Some states require money raised for a particular office to be spent only on campaigns for that office, Scott said, but that’s not the case in Louisiana. Reed could spend his money campaigning for another office or for future political campaigns, Scott said.
While campaign funds are not supposed to be used for personal expenditures, Scott said politicians who have left office can and do use such money to pay for tickets to suites at sporting events or to throw events — ostensibly in pursuit of a future candidacy. They must continue to file campaign finance reports, Scott said. But they don’t have to say what office they’re seeking or when.
For example, former state Sen. Francis Heitmeier hasn’t run for office since 2006 and left office in 2007, but nola.com/The Times-Picayune reported in March that he’s spent $418,000 in campaign and PAC funds since then, with the purpose listed on campaign finance forms as a future office.
Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen with the Louisiana Board of Ethics said two key questions determine whether an expenditure is allowed: Does it relate to a campaign or does it relate to the holding of public office? If that’s not clear, she said, candidates should seek an advisory opinion from the board.
Candidates who leave office with surplus funds can contribute money to other candidates, donate it to charity or return it to the contributors, Allen said.
Reed recently hired a public relations consultant to field questions about his campaign, his outside business interests and his family — all areas that have been targets of media scrutiny. That consultant, Morgan Stewart, said he represents the Walter Reed campaign fund and is not being paid through any public office.
Reed also placed ads in the Wednesday editions of The New Orleans Advocate and The Times-Picayune that contained the text of the statement he made in announcing his decision not to seek a sixth term. Those ads carried a line saying they were paid for by the Reed campaign fund.
Reed is under grand jury investigation, and one of the areas under focus, based on a subpoena issued to the Castine Center, is his campaign spending. The district attorney spent nearly $95,000 over a seven-year period with companies owned by his son, Steven Reed. His ex-girlfriend, Claire Bradley, said he used campaign funds to pay for a lavish birthday party for her at the Dakota — an event that Reed spokesman Rick Wood described as a planning meeting for a golf fundraiser.
Whether the soon-to-be-ex-district attorney can use his war chest for any legal expenses he may incur in connection with the grand jury probe is less clear.
An officeholder who is facing criminal charges might be able to argue that such a use of campaign funds is legitimate if he can show that he was targeted by a political opponent, Scott said.
But Allen said officials must seek an opinion from the Louisiana Board of Ethics to use campaign funds for legal expenses. She pointed to a recent case in which then-Ouachita Parish Sheriff Royce Toney asked to use his campaign fund to pay for his defense when he was charged in federal court on 21 counts including conspiracy, fraud, identity theft, obstruction of an investigation and retaliating against a victim.
He initially applied for an advisory opinion but shortly thereafter converted his request to one for a declaratory opinion — after he had pleaded guilty to the charges, court documents from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal show. The board refused his request, and the appeals court upheld the board’s decision.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.