Maybe GOP should return St. Pierre’s tainted donations

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Don’t you wish you could have joined in one of the poker games Mark St. Pierre held regularly on his party yacht, the Silicon Bayou? Assuming St. Pierre’s card-playing wiles are like his defense strategy against U.S. attorney Jim Letten, a patient gambler could win all kinds of moolah off of him. Just let St. Pierre bluff you for a while and collect lots of small pots. Then, when you finally hit that full house, let him bet into you and bust him for all he’s worth. As long as you keep your wits amid all the braggadocio, alcohol, and, um, silicon floating around, your chances would be very favorable.

Whether out of delusion or arrogance, Mark St. Pierre was willing to go all in during his trial. He refused to plea bargain and boldly let the feds take him to court. It was his way of calling what he thought was their bluff. But they weren’t bluffing. Their case was strong, and after they made it, it was St. Pierre’s turn to show his hand. As everyone watched in anticipation, he turned over the poker equivalent of two napkins. His “everyone’s lying except me” defense didn’t convince anyone — especially the jury, which quickly found him guilty on 53 counts, including charges of bribery, fraud and conspiracy.

As high-profile trials go, it was a brutally one-sided affair. But it was still a fascinating spectacle, because, as the government made its case, new details emerged about St. Pierre and his mouthy partner in crime, Greg Meffert.

Jeffrey alerted me to one particularity of interest, involving St. Pierre’s unethical “fundraising” for Mayor Ray Nagin’s re-election campaign in 2006. David Hammer of the Times Picayune reported on how St. Pierre skirted election law in order to fund Nagin’s campaign.

Prosecutors showed the jury a paper trail of most of the payments on an overhead projector. [St. Pierre’s friend Jimmy] Goodson testified that St. Pierre had him give $5,000 for Nagin’s re-election effort in May 2006 and confirmed the payment was in the form of a check to GNOR. He said he didn’t know what GNOR was, but it’s likely the Greater New Orleans Republicans, who openly supported Nagin’s race against then-Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.

That may help explain earlier testimony from former New Orleans technology chief Greg Meffert, who said that Nagin’s campaign asked him to raise $250,000, and that when he enlisted St. Pierre to raise $100,000 of it, he met the target by reimbursing others so he could exceed the individual $5,000 donation cap without being detected.

Campaign finance records don’t show that much money coming into Nagin’s campaign coffers from sources associated with St. Pierre, but Goodson’s testimony shows some of it went to other campaign committees backing the former mayor.

The Greater New Orleans Republicans’ campaign finance report from that time shows the committee got a check for $3,000 on May 18, 2006, from Goodson’s company, Custom Transportation Management. It’s unclear why the dollar figure didn’t match up with the $5,000 check Goodson wrote to GNOR, which was displayed at the trial Monday.

That’s quite the interesting little nugget, to someone like me. As readers of my old blog know, I was a keen observer of GNOR during the 2006 election. Through the interwebs and through an intense advertising campaign, they rallied a crucial bloc of New Orleans conservatives to swing to Nagin. Through radio ads and mail flyers, they lauded Nagin as a “pro-business” candidate who was not the corrupt “machine politician” that they implied Mitch Landrieu was. In arguably the most important election in the city’s history, they campaigned on Nagin’s behalf.

If the young Republican activists of the GNOR are as fiercely devoted to “efficient and honest government” as they proclaim, they should openly disclose all of the tainted money that St. Pierre funneled into their coffers. After all, these donations were originally city tax dollars collected from hard-working New Orleanians. They were paid to a corrupt vendor who unethically pumped them back into Mayor Nagin’s re-election campaign, through GNOR.

Once it discloses these ill-gotten gains, maybe GNOR should consider donating them to  New Orleans-based charitable organizations. While that gesture certainly won’t undo the damage done by the Nagin administration, it would be a small step in the right direction.

I wouldn’t bet a lot of poker chips on it happening any time soon, though.

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