Security on governor's travels costs La. taxpayers

By Melinda Deslatte
Associated Press Writer / April 17, 2009
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BATON ROUGE, La.—When Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gabbed with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" about how he adopted his first name from one of "The Brady Bunch" kids, taxpayers paid for his state trooper security detail watching from the wings.

As Jindal's national profile in the Republican Party rises, so does the bill for the troopers' hotels, food and transportation when the possible presidential contender heads out of state, even for campaigning.

An Associated Press review of travel records shows that providing legally mandated security on the trips has cost the state tens of thousands of dollars since Jindal took office in January 2008 -- money that hasn't been reimbursed by him or his campaign. Jindal insists he's only interested in being re-elected governor, but he has traveled to a dozen states to collect campaign dollars and stump for himself or other Republicans.

On Friday, the head of Louisiana's Democratic Party, Chris Whittington, called on Jindal to pay back the state police for the costs, which grew this week when he hit up fundraisers in New York and Boston. The Boston event on Thursday was sponsored by former GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, who faced similar questions when Massachusetts residents paid for their former governor's police detail while he campaigned for the 2008 race.

Jindal's office says his campaign fund or event host covered travel costs to Iowa, California, North Carolina, Arizona and other fundraising or political stops. But state taxpayers paid for the trooper bodyguards.

The state has paid at least $52,000 in trooper costs for Jindal's fundraising and political travel, which amounts to more than half of the bodyguards' expenses on all his out-of-state trips.

It's cost taxpayers at least $98,000 to cover troopers' airfare, meals, car rentals and hotels for all Jindal's travel outside Louisiana, including economic development bids and meetings with members of Congress, the president or other governors.

Jindal says he always touts Louisiana when he's on the road. The aggressive political travel, he said, is to ensure he has enough money for a 2011 re-election bid.

"In 2007, I ran against two millionaires able to self-finance. They were able to write checks for several million dollars. That's not something I can do, so I want to make sure we've got the resources to get the message out," the governor said.

Jindal, who worked for the state and federal governments before being elected to his first political office in 2004, is not a multimillionaire. Asked about using campaign cash to reimburse the state police, the governor repeated that he leaves security decisions to the troopers.

At least 17 out-of-state trips weren't tied to state business, an AP review of state police travel records shows. Tax dollars also paid $3,800 for troopers to help protect Jindal's wife, Supriya, when she hit the campaign trail with Cindy McCain last year to stump for Republican John McCain's presidential bid.

Louisiana law requires state police protection for the governor and his family and the statute doesn't limit the type of travel. And it is unclear whether the state could accept reimbursement from Jindal's campaign fund for campaign-related travel expenses. Neither Jindal nor the state police have sought ethics board guidance on the subject.

Kathleen Allen, lead lawyer for the state ethics board, said the panel hasn't ruled on whether travel costs could be reimbursed and won't decide unless someone requests it, which no one has.

Col. Mike Edmonson, Louisiana state police superintendent appointed by Jindal, said his office makes security assignments based on Jindal's destination, not the trip's purpose.

Edmonson said he doesn't know if his agency could accept reimbursement from Jindal's campaign for travel costs for fundraising trips.