- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - From 2009 to 2012, Louisiana politicians used more than $310,000 in campaign contributions to ride in Mardi Gras parades and attend or sponsor krewe balls, according to a review of campaign records by NOLA.com ‘ The Times-Picayune and WVUE Fox 8 News.

That politicos are drawn to Carnival should come as no surprise. Mardi Gras parades are a perfect metaphor for politics, after all.

Powerful folks in sparkly suits waving to the masses - that’s campaigning.

Powerful folks tossing treasure to the commoners below, that’s trickle-down economics.

When you catch something, that’s good government. When you don’t, that’s government as usual.

If you laugh at the goofy stuff written on a float, that’s a platform.

When the folks in the street gratefully accept tossed treasure, only to realize later that it’s not worth as much as they thought when they first got it, that’s inflation. If they come back to the same spot next year, that’s re-election.

When you can’t get around the jerks that have camped out on the median, that’s gerrymandering. When a float breaks down, that’s filibustering.

When a bunch of people on the curb yell, “Throw me somethin’ mister,” that’s a constituency. When one of the disguised people on the float yells, “Throw ME something” that’s soliciting a contribution.

Not surprisingly perhaps, the Mystic Krewe of Louisianians in Washington, D.C., is the number one magnet for politician campaign spending, receiving $130,340 between 2009 and 2012. The krewe organizes the annual Washington Mardi Gras.

Among regional organizations, Metairie’s Krewe of Argus received the lion’s share of campaign contributions: $83,229. And the biggest contributor of campaign funds to Argus was Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand. The sheriff unburdened his campaign chest of $42,608 to support the krewe. Normand gave Argus $14,000 in 2012 for advertising and promotion. He was King Argus that year. His face is on the doubloon.

In a telephone conversation Friday, Normand explained that, “Argus is the centerpiece of the Mardi Gras celebration in Jefferson Parish.”

It’s an economic driver, he said, and parish politicians donate to help it continue to flourish.

But riding isn’t entirely altruistic. Normand said that Argus is an opportunity to “market myself.”

“That’s what campaign contributions are for,” he said.

Normand said he contributes about $3,500 each year to help sponsor the Argus ball, where his name is prominent. His name also appears on the float he rides in the parade.

“The beauty of Argus,” he said, “is that close to a million people see you. It’s every bit as valuable as a billboard or a TV commercial, which would cost a hell of a lot more.”

Unlike tickets to sports events and meals at pricey restaurants, watchdog groups pushing for tighter rules on campaign spending have not zeroed in on payments or donations to krewes. But some advocates have raised questions as to whether officials should charge their campaigns for some Carnival expenses, such as riding in a masked parade in which the public cannot distinguish the public official from other riders.

Normand said he has also been a member of the New Orleans-based Krewe of Hermes for years and has sponsored Jefferson Parish riders. But he doesn’t ride in the Uptown parade himself, because he’s too busy with Argus.

Even if he did ride, he said, he wouldn’t charge the expense to his campaign because Hermes riders are anonymous.

“I can’t market myself if I’m masked,” he said.

Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is King Argus this year - the Secretary of Defense. In Greek mythology Argus is an all-seeing giant with 100 unsleeping eyes, like the National Security Administration. Hermes is the messenger of the gods, who communicates between earthlings and Olympus - a lobbyist.

Excalibur, another Metairie krewe, came in third on the campaign-spending list, receiving $25,655.

In New Orleans, The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club came in fourth, receiving $7,475.

The Krewe of Acadiana in Lafayette was fifth with $4,530, followed by Hermes with $4,323 and Endymion with $4,205.

In mythology, Endymion is this handsome dude, but nobody seems to know exactly what his job is - vice president.

The Rex organization appears under the designation “School of Design,” receiving $2,364 in the four-year period - No. 16 on the list.

Funny thing, the iconoclastic Krewe Du Vieux didn’t appear on the list. The Mystic Krewe of Barkus also didn’t appear, proving that Louisiana politics has not gone to the dogs.


Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com

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