The Extra Mile: Jeff Landry charges taxpayers for his drive to work

“Attorney General Jeff Landry has continuously gone the extra mile to save taxpayers money,” his spokeswoman Ruth Wisher told The Louisiana Record, a blog published in Washington D.C. by conservative political operatives, in September 2016.

Wisher was responding to criticism leveled against Landry after it was revealed he had requested both a $700 monthly car allowance and reimbursement for his mileage. Landry’s request was quickly rejected by Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.

“Attorney General Jeff Landry purchased a vehicle with his own money and receives mileage reimbursements. He chose this method because it is the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” Wisher claimed at the time. Of course, Landry was under no legal obligation to choose either of those “methods;” he could have simply charged for gasoline reimbursements.

“He made a request of me that I refused,” Dardenne told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “He was essentially double dipping on a request for an automobile allowance.”

According to records from 2016 obtained by The Bayou Brief, Landry’s mileage reimbursements often far exceeded the $700 monthly car allowance to which he was otherwise entitled as a state official. Moreover, Landry billed taxpayers for mileage expenses that are not and have never been allowed under the guidelines established by the Division of the Administration, which clearly state that reimbursements for travel in personal vehicles are capped at 99 miles a day.

Landry commutes to Baton Rouge from his home in New Iberia, a roundtrip of approximately 125 miles. In 2016, he billed the state the standard 51 cents a mile for each trip (in 2017, the rate increased to 53 cents a mile). Put another way, the Attorney General charges the state approximately $64 every day he drives from his home to his office and back.

In August of 2016, for example, Landry billed the state more than $1,100 for travel in his personal car.

In addition to capping mileage reimbursements at 99 miles a day, official state policy also prohibits employees, including officials, from receiving travel reimbursements if their residence is located more than thirty miles away from their office or outside of their office’s region, unless a determination is made that the arrangement is in “the best interest of the state.”

The Attorney General’s decision to maintain his residence in New Iberia may be in the best interest of his family, but it certainly is not in the state’s best interest to pay him between 51 to 53 cents a mile every time he travels to work and back, far more than the cost of a tank of gasoline.

The state of Louisiana employs nearly 50,000 people, and yet only one of those employees enjoys such an arrangement. To be sure, there is no evidence to suggest that Landry has broken any law, but, by refusing to receive a car allowance and opting instead to charge the public for mileage, he has broken with precedent and with the guidelines that apply to everyone else, including the policies of his own office.

The Bayou Brief obtained a copy of a document titled “Department of Justice Travel Tips,” which includes the following:

Last week, Landry began issuing subpoenas as a part of his investigation into New Orleans Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell’s decision to reimburse nearly $9,000 in expenses her city council office charged to a city credit card, and only three days ago, he filed a motion seeking to recuse all Orleans Parish judges from the case.

Landry’s decision to pursue an investigation of Cantrell is based entirely off of an anonymous complaint that was forwarded to him by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, a key ally and supporter of Cantrell’s opponent. Given that the expenses in question were identified first by Cantrell’s own office and reimbursed voluntarily and that public records reveal Cantrell’s colleagues on the city council also reimbursed expenses charged on their credit cards, to many, Landry’s pursuit of a criminal investigation appears to be nothing more than political grandstanding. This is bolstered by the fact that Landry announced “subpoenas” of public records, which, in Louisiana, are accessible as a fundamental right of all citizens, something his own office frequently fails to ensure.

His investigation into the Mayor-elect’s spending shouldn’t just call into question his political motivations, however; it should also force him to answer questions about the ways in which he has billed taxpayers for travel and food. Why was it necessary, for example, for Jeff Landry to charge taxpayers $239 a night for a room at the Windsor Court, which is over $100 more than the rate allowed under state policy?

Was it really necessary for Landry to charge the public $7.65 to drive fifteen minutes from a hotel in Houston to a meeting on coastal lawsuits? If there was ever a better or more ironic example of a public official squeezing every last nickel and dime they could out of the taxpayer, I doubt it would compete against that expense, which was charged to the state on September 1, 2016.

And why is it that Jeff Landry’s reimbursements for meals are always perfectly even numbers? Is it because he simply always charges the state the maximum allowed per meal no matter what, or is it because he is thoughtless with his tipping to wait staff? This is just one of many pages of examples:

If Landry wants the public to believe that his decision to investigate Cantrell’s spending is credible and based on a legitimate concern for the public’s interest, then he should first account for his own.

He could begin by explaining to the people of Louisiana why they have to pay for him to drive to work and why the rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to him.

Update: The Bayou Brief has subsequently learned that Attorney General Jeff Landry does, in fact, rely on a driver and security guard, Tommy Romero, and that he receives mileage reimbursements for traveling in his personal car while being driven by a paid state employee.

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Lamar White, Jr.
Lamar White, Jr. is an award-winning writer and the publisher and founder of the Bayou Brief, Louisiana’s only statewide news and culture publication. Born and raised on the banks of the Red River in Alexandria, he is a proud product of the Louisiana public education system and a graduate of Rice University in Houston and SMU’s Dedman School of Law in Dallas. Lamar has been writing about politics and public policy in Louisiana for twenty years, beginning as a weekly youth columnist for his hometown paper, the Town Talk. After earning his undergraduate degree in English and Religious Studies, Lamar moved back to Alexandria, where he launched a popular blogsite, CenLamar, and worked for five years as the Special Assistant to the Mayor. He exposed significant problems with Louisiana’s school voucher program, which resulted in a series of other investigations and ultimately in the removal of several schools from the program. He was the last person to argue online with Andrew Breitbart. He investigated and then broke the report that U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise had once attended a white supremacist conference. He was the first to share a photograph of Bobby Jindal’s portrait in the state Capitol. He exposed U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy’s incomplete timesheets while the then-representative moonlighted as a physician. He earned headlines in Texas after the gubernatorial campaign of Greg Abbott falsely claimed he had been exploited as a “campaign prop” by Abbott’s opponent, Wendy Davis, and after exposing U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign for relying on online “bot farms” to counter Beto O’Rourke, and he earned headlines in Mississippi after publishing videos of U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith making bizarre comments about public hangings and voter suppression tactics which were both perceived as racist. Lamar was the recipient of the 2011 Ashley Morris Award, given to the writer who best exemplifies the spirit of New Orleans, and in 2019, he was honored as one of Gambit’s Top 40 Under 40 and as the year’s Outstanding Millennial in Journalism at the annual Millennial Awards. He has been the subject of profiles in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Above the Law, and the Advocate and has appeared multiple times as a guest on CNN and MSNBC. Lamar currently lives in New Orleans with his two golden retrievers, Lucy Ana and Ruby Dog.