THE INVESTIGATORS: Complaint filed against La. secretary of state amid 9News investigation
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - An official complaint has been submitted to the State Board of Ethics against Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, alleging he violated Louisiana Revised Statute 18:18.2.
Louisiana Revised Statute 18:18.2 clearly identifies what the secretary of state can and cannot do relative to campaigning. The law reads:
“The secretary of state may participate or engage in political activity related to his own candidacy for election to public office, including soliciting contributions for his campaign and taking an active part in the management of the affairs of his campaign and his principal campaign committee. He may also exercise his right as a citizen to express his opinion privately and to cast his vote as he desires. The secretary of state shall not participate or engage in any other political activity, including the candidacy of any other person for election to public office; membership on any other national, state, or local committee of a political party or faction; making or soliciting contributions for any political party, faction, or other candidate; or taking active part in the management of the affairs of a political party, faction, other candidate, or any other political campaign.”
This comes one day after the 9News Investigators reported the complaint was imminent and nearly a month after WAFB’s first investigative report into claims that Ardoin violated state law when he allegedly campaigned for others at a political rally in Monroe.
Fred Smith mailed the complaint to the State Board of Ethics on Friday, Dec. 6 after telling WAFB’s Scottie Hunter he believes the matter is not being taken seriously. According to guidelines through the State Board of Ethics, the board will now decide whether to move forward with an official investigation. Those guidelines point out a majority, or at least eight members of the body, must approve the matter in order for it to be referred for investigation.
LSU professor, Ken Levy, says Ardoin has some explaining to do from his actions at a campaign rally in November.
"It just erodes the peoples' trust," said Levy.
The professor says he was shocked by what he saw in WAFB’s investigative report on allegations that the secretary of state endorsed others at a campaign rally in Monroe on Wednesday, Nov. 6.
During the rally, Ardoin allegedly campaigned for President Donald Trump.
“We will win with Donald Trump. Who do you want as your next president? Who do you want as your next governor?” the secretary could be heard asking at the event.
Video of his comments was later posted to Ardoin’s campaign Facebook page. Levy believes it’s a clear violation of state law. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Levy if he believes a violation occurred.
"Yes,” Levy answered. “This definitely crossed the line and I think it’s in the interest of all Louisiana voters and constituents for this matter to be investigated.”
Normally, complaints about the election process are reported to the Elections Compliance Unit. The only problem Levy identifies is that division falls under the secretary, so he could easily dismiss such complaints. Levy says according to state law, the matter should instead go before the State Ethics Board.
“According to the statutes, they have jurisdiction over all election integrity,” Levy added.
When WAFB reached out to State Ethics Board, a representative responded with guidelines showing the board does look into formal complaints submitted by any registered voter, but would not say whether any such complaint has been filed. Fred Smith tells the 9News Investigators he has been in talks with an attorney and plans to officially file a complaint against Ardoin soon through the State Ethics Board. He tells WAFB’s Scottie Hunter he’s choosing to move forward because he believes the matter is not being taken seriously.
“Mr. Ardoin’s behavior violated the law and I just think that some kind of investigation should at least be pursued,” said Smith. “I have seen no action taken by any other officials, local or state, and so if we are to maintain trust in the electoral process, then those who are responsible for conducting elections have to be held to the standard of the law.”
Levy says he’s doubtful anything will actually come of the complaint, but he hopes it will at least result in an investigation. If not, he believes it points to a larger issue.
“If the secretary of state can violate the law, which he explicitly did, and get away with it, sure, that makes it look like he’s not accountable to anybody," said Levy.
When WAFB first started asking questions about the alleged violation, a spokesman for Ardoin’s campaign said no violation had occurred and the matter was a non-issue. Despite their strong stance, it seems the video from the campaign event in question has since been deleted from Ardoin’s Facebook page. The voter who plans to file a complaint against the Secretary calls it suspicious.
“It was probably taken down because the election is over and he probably doesn’t want any more light cast on this situation," said Smith.
WAFB reached out to the Secretary of State’s Office directly for answers. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter sent two emails to Ardoin’s press secretary requesting an interview. One email was sent Friday, Nov. 22 and the other was sent Wednesday, Nov. 27. Both emails went unanswered, leaving WAFB no choice but to show up to the office.
- SCOTTIE: Mr. Secretary, we were coming to see if you had a minute to talk to us.
- ARDOIN: No, I don’t. I have an appointment. I’m sorry.
While Ardoin wasted no time driving away from WAFB’s questions, Levy says the secretary of state should at least explain himself to the voters.
"We need to hold our public officials accountable, otherwise, they will keep crossing the line further and further and abusing their office and that is not good for our democracy," said Levy.
Two days after WAFB’s Scottie Hunter attempted to ask the secretary of state questions about the claims, his office released the following statement, slamming the allegations against him.
“I have always been committed to fair, accurate and secure elections. It is crystal clear that no law was broken by me campaigning for reelection at an event where I received the endorsement of the President of the United States. What is also clear is that an overwhelming majority of Louisiana voters believe in the job we are doing, and I am excited about four more years of serving the great state of Louisiana.”
There is no timeline on how soon the board could take a vote on whether to pursue an investigation.
Copyright 2019 WAFB. All rights reserved.