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Louisiana Democracy Project, Inc.
What's Up With That??

from the Advocate Newspaper


[News] (8/28/99) PACs packing extra influence for colleagues

WASHINGTON -- In two decades, the "Leadership PAC" has spread throughout Congress and now enables many Congress members -- including several Louisianians --- to purchase influence from each other. U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery, R-Shreveport, has Louisianas most...



[Opinion] (8/22/99) Duke list 'error' is a big deal

Gov. Mike Foster apparently still feels the problem with his secret deal with ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was a matter of accounting rather than judgment. Sure, Foster admitted he violated state campaign finance laws and he accepted a $20,000 fine. But Foster...



[News] (5/28/99) Panel passes higher PAC donation limits

A House committee approved a bill Thursday to boost the amount of money special-interest political organizations can give to candidates for the Legislature and many other public offices. The committee approved increasing contributions by more than $13,000 per election and to...



[Opinion] (5/23/99) Foster loophole in campaign law

Leave aside the question -- and it's a big question -- of whether Mike Foster, a candidate for governor of Louisiana, ought to be involved in even an arm's-length business transaction with the likes of David Duke. There are serious implications for the state's campaign finance law in the...



[Opinion] (4/19/99) Lawmakers at odds on financing crisis

Should the Kosovo crisis be a "pay-as-you-go" venture, or a war thats financed from the federal governments surplus? Some Louisiana...



[News] (3/28/99) Foster plans to tell Legislature People want me to do what Im doing

Gov. Mike Foster, ending his term of office this year, will tell the Legislature on Monday that he does not plan to do much campaigning for a second term until late in the election year. What might be more surprising to lawmakers is Fosters decision to address them for a half...



[News] (2/16/99) Fosters war chest reaches $1.9 million

Gov. Mike Foster has amassed a very large campaign war chest, especially for someone who has stopped short of committing to a re-election bid. Fosters 1998 campaign finance report, filed late last week with state officials, shows the incumbent Republican has a little more than $1.9...


La. Ag. Commissioner Odom is probed
Crop-duster alleges  funds demaned

A crop-duster  says he was pressured into giving campaign money to state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom nearly 20 years.

"I gave a couple of times, but they kept coming back wanting more," Donnie Mack Johnson said prior to his grand jury appearance.

The 54-year-old Johnson, who ran three times against Odom for agriculture commissioner, was one of two people to testify Thursday.

Marcus Covington, a retired crop-duster, backed up Johnsons story. Covington, who lives 15 miles east of Monroe, has also talked with state and federal investigators and the state legislative auditor.

Covington, who lives in the Richland Parish town of Start, appeared voluntarily before the grand jury.

East Baton Rouge and federal authorities are investigating allegations of public bribery and misuse of state funds by Odom and his agency.

Odom lashed out at Johnson during a press conference after learning Johnson had appeared before the grand jury.

Odom said Johnson threatened his life during a deposition in 1989, broke the jaw of a pesticide inspector who tried to serve Johnson with a subpoena and sprayed other agriculture department employees with chemicals from his airplane.

"He is a dangerous man, and I hope the District Attorneys Office takes the appropriate precautions for their own well-being," Odom said.

Its unusual for East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors to look into such old allegations against Odom, but prosecutors may be trying to show a pattern of abuse by the agriculture commissioner.

Also, public bribery charges involving an elected official who remains in office are not subject to a particular time limit, legal experts said.

In the interview, Johnson said a pesticide inspector who worked for Odom pressured him to give $500 to Odoms campaign fund in the early 1980s and came back for more after getting two checks.

Johnson said he was approached several times in 1981 and 1982. Odom took office in 1980.

"The rice farmers were supposed to pay $1,000 and aerial applicators were supposed to pay $500. I paid him $500 in several different checks. But then they kept coming back wanting more, and I told them I was not going to pay any more.

"Thats when all hell broke loose," Johnson said.

Johnson said he was put out of business by the state Pesticide Advisory Commission after a hearing on charges of misuse of pesticides.

"My career was destroyed," Johnson said. "And Bob Odom picked the people who judged me."

The commission found Johnsons business guilty of misuse of pesticides, killing birds and other violations. He paid at least $15,000 in fines.

Johnson said most of the charges were false and politically motivated.

Covington said he paid a $5,500 fine for an insecticide violation in 1985 after being told by an aide to Odom: "If you think we cant make you pay, ask Donnie Mack. They used him as an example.

"If you dont give Odom contributions, you get fined," Covington said. "And if you dont pay the fines, they put you out of business."

"I hope the DA can get enough to nail the guy," Johnson said, "but Ive seen this before. I dont have a whole lot of faith in the FBI or anybody else."

At his afternoon press conference, Odom said Johnson is a violent man.

"He (Johnson) has testified under oath that he planned to kill me and other law-enforcement officials. He then took steps to carry that out," Odom said. "I dont remember if we reported that to the State Police or not."

Odom said he removed a vanity license plate, "LA1," from his car so he wouldnt be conspicuous driving around town.

"I took it off because I didnt want somebody to be able to identify me and shoot me," the commissioner said.

Johnson said he never intended to hurt Odom.

"If he thinks thats the case, he should present it to the grand jury," Johnson said.

Johnson acknowledged breaking the jaw of an agriculture department inspector with a punch to the face in 1984 when the man tried to serve him with a subpoena.

"He was standing at my house under my car shed," Johnson said.

"I had warned that boy: Dont come back to my house again," Johnson said.

The crop-duster said he had been served with numerous subpoenas by Odoms employees every few days at the time, and he considered that harassment.

"A sheriff, constable or marshal has to serve a subpoena. An agriculture department employee cant do it. I was told they wanted to serve the subpoena just to see the look on my face," Johnson said. "I got a little tired of it."

A federal court deposition dated July 18, 1989, includes quotes from Johnson in which he states he was under stress at the time.

In a transcript, Johnson is quoted as saying: "I was prepared to die, but I was also prepared to take just as many down with me as I could."

Odoms attorney, Jim Gelpi, asked how Johnson planned to do that.

"At my hands," Johnson answered. "I wasnt going to hire nobody to do anything. Ill put it like that."

The grand jury is also looking into allegations that Odom took bribes in return for helping friends win a state food storage contract in the mid-1990s and that state agriculture department employees helped build a home for Odoms son and a new education building at First Baptist Church in Zachary. Odom is a member of that church.

Louisiana Democracy Project, Inc.
(225) 233-6494