Can Elected Officials Buy Clothing With Campaign Funds? No Says State Ethics Board

WVUE-TV broke a story on Wednesday, November 16 that the FBI is investigating a number of purchases by salon owner Tanya Blunt-Haynes, who has served as a well-paid stylist and image consultant for Mayor LaToya Cantrell for at least six years. Blunt-Haynes owns the popular Friends Salon Nola in the Gentilly neighborhood.

Every woman needs a hairdresser they can trust. Some ladies of means make visits to a stylist every week for a wash, blow dry or trim. Others go to the salon of their choice on a monthly or bi-monthly basis for a good cut or maybe even a color job. Special events like Mardi Gras balls, weddings and anniversaries bring customers in even more frequently. For Mayor Cantrell, it appears that every month has several celebrations that require extra expenditures.

Using credit cards and cash, Blunt-Haynes purchased thousands of dollars of clothing and accessories at the high-end boutique Ballin’s on at least 20 occasions.  Ballin’s has hired attorney Laura Rodrigue to represent the company. Rodrigue is the daughter of former New Orleans DA Leon Canizzarro who currently heads up the Criminal Division at the state’s Attorney General’s office. AG Jeff Landry and Cantrell are rarely on the same side of any issue.

Ballin’s recently received a subpoena from a federal grand jury regarding the purchases. BC Kitchen and Bath in Metairie also received a subpoena request. Blunt-Haynes contracted with the firm to remodel her kitchen. It is not known if the kitchen remodel is at all tied to Mayor Cantrell.

Blunt-Haynes – who also creates Mayor Cantrell’s stylish hairdos – has been receiving $5,000 a month or more from Cantrell. It is thought that Blunt-Haynes purchased those personal items for Cantrell from the monthly checks she has been receiving for styling. Political insiders claim that the Cantrell/Haynes transactions bare similarities to former state Senator Karen Carter Peterson’s misdeeds. Peterson pled guilty in federal court and subsequently resigned because she paid a small group of consultants from her campaign account for services that were not rendered and collected funds back from them. It is believed that Cantrell overpaid Blunt-Haynes for salon services and directed her to use the surplus funds to purchase clothing and accessories.

Though the state ethics board has never issued an advisory opinion regarding an elected official who has charged off beauty salon services to their campaign report. They have however has issued several opinions on charging off the expense of clothing. In November 1998, then Mayor Timothy P. Kerner of Lafitte, Louisiana submitted a request regarding the propriety of using campaign funds to purchase suits, shirts and ties. Kerner said he would have no need for the clothing if he was not serving as mayor. The ethics board directed Kerner to R.S. 18:1505.21 which prohibits the personal use of campaign funds and concluded that a violation of that section existed if Kerner were to purchase those clothing items from with campaign funds.

In the 2002 case of Baton Rouge District Judge Janice Clark, the ethics board conducted a confidential investigation regarding that fact that Judge Clark had accepted a $32,000 loan from her campaign in 2000 which was subsequently used to “enhance her personal appearance and wardrobe.” She stated she accepted the loan to improve her chance for re-election.

Although Judge Clark repaid the loan, the Board determined she violated the restrictions on the use of campaign funds. The Board fined Judge Clark a civil penalty of $5,000 which she paid from her personal funds.

The stylist Blunt-Haynes has been paid more than $200,000 from Cantrell’s campaign account since late 2017. Information on 2022 payments are not yet available.

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