THE INVESTIGATORS: La. secretary of state accused of violating state law, endorsing other candidates

WAFB
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Less than a week before voters head to the polls for the Nov. 16 runoff election, questions have now been raised over whether Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin broke the law recently in his comments at a Republican rally in Monroe on Thursday, Nov. 7.

"Louisiana will continue to win. We will win with Donald Trump," the Secretary of State said at one point during the rally.

A video posted to his campaign Facebook page shows Ardoin getting the crowd fired up as President Donald Trump stopped in Monroe to stump for Republican gubernatorial candidate, Eddie Rispone. His comments during the rally are now raising serious concerns.

“Who do you want for your next president?” Ardoin asked the crowd. “And who do you want as your next governor?”

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.”

Baton Rouge attorney, Franz Borghardt, calls it troubling.

“It certainly does raise questions and the biggest issue as to breaking the law is, was he at a campaign event for somebody else and was he endorsing or campaigning for somebody else?” said Borghardt. “If you don’t believe he is breaking the law, he’s certainly tap dancing on the line.”

Borghardt says it’s tricky to determine whether Ardoin cross the line with his comments on the governor’s race, but believes the endorsement for the president is clear.

“He is campaigning for the president, which falls into the letter of the statute. He is arguably campaigning for the governor, although that’s not as strong of a case,” Borghardt added.

The 9News Investigators reached out to Ardoin’s campaign for comment. His senior political advisor, Lionel Rainey III, released the following statement.

“Secretary Ardoin attended the event with President Trump to accept the President’s endorsement for his re-election as Secretary of State and to promote his own candidacy as permitted in RS 18:18.2 section A. This is a non-issue.”

“That’s a really poor reading of the statute... to say there’s nothing to see here,” said Borghardt.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked why this potential violation is such a serious issue.

"Beyond just the law, first there's the optics,” Borghardt answered. “The Secretary of State as you know runs the election process and when there are appearances of impropriety based on his behavior, it does affect our trust in that system and the election process." Ardoin has served as the Secretary of State since May 2018 and before that he was the first assistant Secretary of State for eight years. Borghardt says it makes this potential violation even more concerning.

“He has been in that office and has been a part of that office frankly if this does violate the law, he should know better,” said Borghardt. “We’re so close to the elections that I don’t know that there’s time enough to do anything that would affect him one way or the other. Now after the election, if he gets reelected, I think there will certainly be fallout and I think the ethics board will probably want to look at this.”

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