Controversy in Calcasieu District Attorney's race

Controversy in Calcasieu District Attorney's race
Christian Chesson. (Source: KPLC)
Christian Chesson. (Source: KPLC)
John DeRosier. (Source: KPLC)
John DeRosier. (Source: KPLC)
John DeRosier's political ad. (Source: KPLC)
John DeRosier's political ad. (Source: KPLC)

CALCASIEU PARISH, LA (KPLC) - Christian Chesson, the challenger in the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney's race, claims some billboards featuring incumbent John DeRosier are unethical and a misuse of tax dollars.

DeRosier claims the billboards have been used by numerous state and local agencies over the years to increase public awareness about issues involving criminal activity.

"All of a sudden I see billboards out there promoting John DeRosier," Chesson said. "Not the DA's office, promoting himself with taxpayer funds."

There are two kinds of billboards with DeRosier's photograph posted in Southwest Louisiana. The first is a straight forward political advertisement asking voters to re-elect DeRosier. The second billboard, the one Chesson talking about, is a public service announcement from the District Attorney's Office and warns people not to commit a crime in Louisiana.

"The community is outraged because there are these ads that popped up throughout the parish in a very suspicious time promoting not the DA's office but the District Attorney himself," Chesson said.

DeRosier said the PSA billboards are not a new concept and were put up before Chesson entered the race.

"All of the billboards to which my opponent refers were done before I even knew I was going to have an opponent," DeRosier said.

DeRosier claimed the PSAs serve a purpose.

"They have been used by the state government, state police, sheriff's departments and this office for the last nine years to raise public awareness about issues involving criminal activity," he said.

Chesson disagreed and said he feels the similarities between the PSAs and the political billboards are too close for comfort.

"I don't think a billboard saying 'we prosecute this' or 'we prosecute that' is going to deter crime," Chesson said.

"I haven't changed the billboards or the style of message in nine years," DeRosier said.

According to state law, both billboards appear legal.

Chesson also questioned why the campaign billboards don't state "paid for by the John DeRosier Campaign."

Calcasieu Clerk of Court Lynn Jones said they don't have to anymore.

"The election laws have changed significantly over the last several years," Jones said. "Traditionally, anything a candidate had as a communication, whether it be a billboard, TV commercial or sign, had to have the candidate's name as well as who paid for it. That has changed."

Jones said broadcast, cable and satellite communications still must indicate who paid for it but other forms, such as signs and billboards, are no longer required to carry the disclaimer.

As for the District Attorney's PSAs, state law states "no public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition."

If the issue was challenged, it would be up to the courts to decide if these PSAs are considered self-promotion.

Chesson said that while he is deeply bothered by the DA's public service announcements, he has not filed an ethics complaint.

"I have not filed a complaint," he said. "I have heard that there are complaints being prepared by others. I'm a candidate and I'm trying to run a campaign."

KPLC

filed an open records request with the District Attorney's Office, asking for invoices and financial records related to the PSAs.

The District Attorney's Officer spent more than $13,000 on public relations, including billboards and commercials, last year.  In 2014, the number is more than $34,000.

KPLC

also asked the Board of Ethics if an official complaint has been made. A spokesperson told us they are not allowed to release that information.

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