Buddy Caldwell did the Louisiana Democratic Party a huge favor when he defected to the GOP.
We may elect our Attorneys General, but more than any other statewide office, the Attorney General, once elected, should attempt, as much as humanly possible, to steer clear of politicking. At the very least, our Attorney General should be focused on the job he was elected to do: Serving, zealously, on behalf of the best interests of the people of Louisiana. Caldwell may be a career prosecutor with a stellar track record of sending people to jail. I, for one, don’t believe this is necessarily an “accomplishment” in and of itself, and there’s something slightly disconcerting about a lawyer who touts his near-perfect conviction rate as a sign of his own personal success. As most of us know, the American judicial system is not perfect, so whenever a prosecutor claims to be perfect, or near-perfect, the question, inevitably, should be, “Is this merely a reflection of selective prosecution?” And for any prosecutor, that is assuredly a legitimate question. For a man who seeks to be the Attorney General for an entire State, that question is critical, because selective prosecution, invariably, requires a willingness to overlook the equal application of the law. Any prosecutor can use his or her discretion to ensure, as much as possible, that their resume remains unblemished. But let’s all be honest: Sometimes, it means bargaining with the wealthy and well-connected and playing hardball with everyone else, particularly with people who cannot afford a battle-tested attorney.
During the period January 2000 through October 2004, Ms. Carolyn Caldwell, Madison Parish Clerk of Court (Clerk), used $30,155 of public funds for expenditures that do not appear to have a valid business purpose. Also, Ms. Caldwell awarded her sister contracts, rental agreements, and other business totaling $10,388; improperly used $862 of public funds; and spent $24,249 for which the business purpose, necessity, and reasonableness are not documented and/or unclear.
Mr. Caldwell never prosecuted his family members for these violations. And then there’s this bizarre story (which, admittedly, is directly from Mr. Caldwell’s Wikipedia entry; no use in rewriting it):
Former Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle of Baton Rouge, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for insurance commissioner in 2003, was a leading critic of Caldwell’s attorney general candidacy. Kyle reported that in 1997 Caldwell “spent $1,529 in D.A. office funds to pay for personal items, including clothing and golfing expenses.” The expenses included air fare to Montana and golf fees in Alabama.
According to The Advocate, Kyle claimed that Caldwell tried “to quash release of parts of the audit… and used foul language and threats in an unsuccessful attempt to block the audit.” Then, Kyle accused Caldwell of having blamed his own secretary for the questionable spending: “Caldwell also said the spending problem in the 1997 audit was a mistake by his secretary, adding that he personally brought it to the auditor’s attention.” In Committee Room 3,during a Legislation probe, Mr. Caldwell was testified against by the auditor who stated that Mr. Caldwell said, “Some very racist remarks, because the police jury we were issuing the audit on were all minorities, he told me I just needed a white man to issue an audit on. I said’no’ the findings are the same. You’ve done the same thing these people have done and justice is justice. And, I have to issue both reports. And, if you’ll look at them, they both have the same data on them.” The auditor stated that he was later told Mr. Caldwell “is a loose cannon… out to get you. He is dangerous. You need protection.”
Three years later, Caldwell accused Kyle’s investigators of “an array of questionable activities ranging from improperly bugging conversations to having sex with witnesses in audit investigations” in testimony before the Legislative Audit Advisory Council. Caldwell “told the council… that state auditors working in north Louisiana had suppressed evidence, secretly tape-recorded interviews with witnesses, and compromised the credibility of witnesses in possible criminal investigations. Caldwell later told reporters he also knew of instances of an auditor in Kyle’s office having sexual relations with people being audited.” Caldwell gave no details, according to Kyle.
Caldwell subpoenaed two of Kyle’s investigators before a grand jury in Tallulah. Kyle later claimed that Caldwell was trying to indict Kyle or the investigators. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Caldwell said after the Legislative Audit Advisory Council meeting that he “might reopen a grand jury investigation of Kyle’s office.”
Caldwell also came under fire for his role as a self-appointed special prosecutor in a case against St. Tammany Parish Judge Patricia Hedges. He filed charges of extortion, public bribery, and malfeasance against the judge, only to drop all claims without explanation on the premise that he could not have won a conviction without a jury trial.
Welcome to the Grand Old Party, Mr. Caldwell.
But there’s one more thing:
When Buddy Caldwell was first elected, he hired former Rapides Parish Police Juror Joe Fuller as his intergovernmental liaison. The same Joe Fuller who ran for Mayor of Alexandria in 2006 and was pummeled at the polls. The same Joe Fuller who founded and spearheaded the political action committee Revitalizing Our Community, which has already (allegedly, because these things are kept off-the-record) been fined by the Ethics Administration and which, most recently, paid elected officials hundreds of dollars a piece to serve as “campaign workers” during the 2011 Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Race. Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is paying Joe Fuller, with taxpayer dollars, to serve in some sort of vaguely-defined political job.
Again, remember: Buddy Caldwell is not the Governor; he’s not the head of Louisiana Economic Development; he’s not a legislator. Buddy Caldwell is the Attorney General of the State of Louisiana, and Joe Fuller is not and has never been an attorney. More than anything, Joe Fuller fashions himself as some sort of old-school political godfather, a representative of a constituency that hasn’t elected him to anything in years, a man who is adept at raising tens of thousands of dollars from other old-school politicians to support his own PAC and even more skilled at milking these funds for maximum advantage, doling them out to dozens of people, while simultaneously living off of Buddy Caldwell’s taxpayer-funded largesse.
And what exactly is Joe Fuller doing for Buddy Caldwell? Well, thanks to The Town Talk‘s Billy Gunn, now we at least have some idea:
Longtime Alexandria political allies Herbert Dixon and Joe Fuller have teamed up to write a legislative tax district bill that could financially benefit one local family.
The bill was filed by Dixon, a state representative whose district covers parts of Alexandria and Pineville, and is being promoted by Fuller, a former Rapides Parish police juror who now works for the Louisiana attorney general.
“Part of my job working with the AG’s office is to work with representatives,” said Fuller, who added he helped write House Bill 919. “When they put bills in and they need assistance, I work with them all over the state.”
Fuller’s job title at the AG’s office is “intergovernmental relations,” according to AG spokeswoman Amanda Larkins.
Ms. Larkins, you should have said, “Mr. Fuller was not acting in his capacity as an employee of the Louisiana Attorney General when he assisted Representative Dixon. The Attorney General’s Office does not participate in crafting real estate development legislation. Our role is clearly defined.” Instead, you gave credibility to Mr. Fuller’s and Representative Dixon’s patently absurd suggestion that they were merely engaging in constituent relations work. Since when, exactly, did the Louisiana Attorney General decide it was wise to spend taxpayer money crafting legislation to provide a tax break for one person to develop a single piece of property? How, on earth, is this a function of Buddy Caldwell’s office? Crafting legislation that is opposed by the Mayors of Pineville and Alexandria and practically everyone else in Central Louisiana with a sense of smell?
I don’t necessarily blame the property owner, Jerry Slocum, though I do think that this deal reeks to high heaven and that he should have, at the very least, been willing, ready, and able to show an actionable plan for a catalytic development on his property that could only occur with a Tax Increment Finance district; otherwise, Mr. Slocum, along with Mr. Dixon and Mr. Fuller, is just asking for the State of Louisiana to grant him a tax break. Here’s what all three men must answer: What makes Mr. Slocum’s land so special? What deal is on the table? Why should we give you our money when we’re not giving the same advantage to any other person in all of Central Louisiana? And why, on earth, are Joe Fuller and the Louisiana Attorney General involved?
Buddy Caldwell may always have naysayers and critics, but if he wants to prove that he’s not someone who pads his resume with selective prosecution, if he wants to prove that he’s above the political fray and not prone to erraticism or favoritism, then he can begin by immediately and publicly firing Joe Fuller. I don’t know how anyone could pretend that Mr. Fuller’s actions were appropriate, because even if this development was the most meritorious project in Louisiana history, the Louisiana Attorney General’s office should not be involved in crafting legislation for a single developer. What happens if this developer defaults? How could the State of Louisiana possibly enforce a clawback provision if the developer can claim that he was acting under the advice of the Attorney General’s office? How can the people of Louisiana be reasonably certain this legislation will protect them when it’s written, by the Attorney General’s office, on behalf of a property owner seeking a tax incentive? This should be blatantly obvious.
Again, Caldwell can do the right thing and fire Joe Fuller. Immediately.
Otherwise, it sure looks like it pays to be buddy with Caldwell.