I-Team: Money and Politics - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

I-Team: Money and Politics

Posted: Updated: May 14, 2012 10:05 PM
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

When you donate money to someone running for political office, you probably expect that money to support their campaign. But that is not always the case. Some candidates give their money to other candidates. In Louisiana, it is legal.

When politicians gather, they greet and sometimes argue, all to get the ball rolling on the hundreds of bills that come before the Louisiana legislature each year. They rely heavily on each other to get their proposals through committees and on the governor's desk for final approval.

Baton Rouge Representative Stephen Carter said it takes a solid strategy and a strong network of friends.

"You build relationships here with people you feel have the same philosophical beliefs on the same arguments, on the same issues, we try to help them get re-elected," Carter said.

Carter admitted it takes a lot of dedication. But it takes a lot of dough too. The 9 News I-Team went through campaign fund expenses for state lawmakers from metro Baton Rouge.

We examined the years 2009 through 2011 and found state senators and representatives collected big money - in some cases six figures worth of donations and contributions.

In many cases, politicians took the money they got from supporters and turned around and donated it to other candidates. It is all legal.

In the last three years Baton Rouge Representative Erich Ponti, who was not one of the biggest overall spenders, donated or contributed over $33,000 from his campaign war chest. But 44.6 percent of it went straight into other candidates' campaigns in other parts of the state, including $1,500 to Representative Chris Broadwater of Hammond, another $1,500 to former Representative Rick Nowlin of Natchitoches and $1,000 to Representative Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales.

For his part, Ponti did not get any money from other candidates. Most of his money came from individual donors, political action committees and companies. He said he is fine with that.

"I don't look to get anything in return. I just like to help other candidates who believe in changing the state as well," Ponti said.

While Representative Carter also was not one of the biggest overall spenders with his campaign money, more than half of what he shelled out, $1,500, went to help other candidates get elected.

"I'm really surprised to be honest with you. I know I've been giving some money out there. But I had no clue it would be that high a percentage," Carter said.

Carter's contributions include $1,000 to Representative Rickey Hardy in Lafayette, former Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, and just like Ponti, Carter donated $1,000 to Nowlin of Natchitoches in his failed re-election bid.

"I have nothing to hide because I try to do the right things and help people I respect get elected or re-elected. My passion is education and I'm trying to build relationships with people who assist me in attempting to pass the legislation I present in legislature," Carter said.

State Representative Eddie Lambert of Gonzales took in just over $30,500 in campaign donations in the past three years. 18.7 percent of money sent by supporters to help him get elected went to other candidates. According to his campaign expenses, Lambert gave $2,500 to Representative Bodi White of Watson, $1,000 to Representative Elton Aubert of Vacherie and $500 to Representative Hunter Greene.

"Most of the things I donate are to attend functions for other candidates, which are actually political activities and I go to their fundraisers, meet people," Lambert said.

None of the three lawmakers are doing anything illegal or unethical, according to Louisiana law.

While most of them tell the I-Team they do not put limits on the amount they transfer from their camp to others, they admit after seeing the numbers on paper they may start building a budget for the causes they contribute to in the future.

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