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BESE candidate Chas Roemer returns $10,000 following report contribution may have violated state law

The campaign of Board of Elementary and Secondary Education candidate Chas Roemer returned a $10,000 check to a Political Action Committee one day after The American Independent first reported the incumbent possibly violated state campaign finance rules.

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/Chas-Roemer-small.jpgImage from the Louisiana Department of Education

As reported by TAI last Thursday, Roemer received $20,000 in donations from East PAC last week, one of the four “Big PACs” affiliated with The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), an organization claiming to promote the“free-enterprise system.”

The campaign gift appeared to exceed state limits on electoral contributions by $10,000; State campaign financial reports indicate the Roemer campaign returned that same amount on Friday.

Chris Sommers, Director of the Louisiana Campaign Finance Division within the Louisiana Board of Ethics, told TAI the Roemer campaign “realized [the $20,000] as soon as it happened.” Pressed for the date campaign officials first notified her over the excess amount, Sommers said she could not say.

TAI attempted to reach the Roemer campaign by contacting the number made public through state financial disclosure forms but was greeted by Mr. Roemer at Roemer Robinson Melville And Company, a venture capital firm. The candidate asked to speak to us at a later time.

Roemer, the son of former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, narrowly missed earning the majority vote in an Oct. 22 election that would have resulted in his outright taking the BESE seat — instead receiving 45 percent of the vote. Donald Songy finished second with 28 percent. A run-off between the two is scheduled for November 19.

While Roemer’s fundraising far exceeded that of his opponents in the BESE seat election, as previously reported by TAI, his supporters are aggressively raising money on his behalf.

A Louisiana Republican group affiliated with Gov. Bobby Jindal is asking supporters to help raise $200,000 for the Roemer’s reelection.

An e-mail attachment directs users to the 2011 Republican Victory Fund donation page. Contribution requests range from $5,000 to $100,000. Those limits are defined by state laws that say individuals can contribute up to $5,000 to a candidate per election — or up to $100,000 to a Political Action Committees (PACs) over a four-year period.

Filings after October 11 show Roemer added an $16,149.48 from state Republican Party contributions, plus an additional $53,500 from other sources.

Songy, meanwhile, has added $5,000 to his campaign purse strings following donations from a local SEIU chapter and the Louisiana affiliate of the National Education Association. The available records as of last week on Songy indicate his campaign has raised $13,830.00. Roemer’s earnings total $222,125.50, based on last week’s figures.

Yet state campaign finance records also show Roemer has spent less than $25,000 since January of 2010 through last week on his reelection effort. In the same period, Songy spent just over $6,400 on campaign expenses.

Roemer’s membership on BESE has been a source of rancor for groups opposing his unabated support for charter schools. Roemer’s sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (LAPCS). The group advocates for expanding charter schools in the state and loosening restrictions on teacher tenure. In 2008, the state’s top ethics committee ruled Caroline Roemer cannot appear before BESE, but LAPCS is not restricted. Chas Roemer was not asked to recuse himself from hearings when LAPCS is present, though sections 1112 and 1120 of the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics indicate that he should.

A look at BESE meeting minutes in January of 2011 reveals (PDF) Chas Roemer voted on renewing the charters of multiple charter schools (Type 5 Charter Schools) that are members of the charter school association his sister leads. Some of those include the McDonogh schools, which belong to the KIPP and Algiers charter school networks.

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