Ethics board closes ’Jewish Disneyland’ to state lawmakers

by Walter Pierce

If they plan to attend the end-of-November trip, state Sen. Jonathan Perry, state Rep. Mike Johnson and state Rep. Alan Seabaugh will do it on their own dime.

From left: Perry, Seabaugh and Johnson

The Louisiana Board of Ethics is putting the kibosh on a planned trip to Israel by three state lawmakers who wanted to attend a seminar on the dime of a pro-Israel nonprofit group.

In a draft advisory opinion posted to the board’s website Wednesday, board attorney Tracy Barker informs state Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan, state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier, and state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, that state ethics law bars the solons from receiving complimentary travel and lodging from the American Israel Education Foundation.

In a letter to Perry, Barker writes that the travel is prohibited “since it’s not part of yours, Representative Johnson’s and Representative Seabaugh’s job duties and responsibilities as members of the Louisiana Legislature to attend education seminars on the relationship between the United States and Israel.”

Barker also notes that state ethics law prohibits such complimentary travel and lodging deals when the destination is outside the U.S. and Canada.

Johnson, readers may recall, was the freshman state representative from Bossier Parish who this year made national news after sponsoring a “religious liberty” bill that would have protected businesses and individuals who discriminate against gay and lesbian couples based on a religious objection to same-sex marriage. The bill stalled in the Legislature during the spring/summer session, but Gov. Bobby Jindal, in response to the bill’s failure to advance, issued an executive order consistent with the aims of Johnson’s bill.

The American Israel Education Foundation is the nonprofit arm of the pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee, commonly known as AIPAC, which has a cloudy history with mostly Republican members of the U.S. Congress, culminating in the 2012 reprimand by U.S. House Republican leaders of 30 members for drinking and skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee during a “fact-finding” trip to Israel paid for by AIEF.

As The New York Times reported that year:

With hundreds of Washington lawmakers having gone to Israel courtesy of the program, the trips have a reputation as being the standard-bearer for foreign Congressional travel. “We call it the Jewish Disneyland trip,” said one pro-Israel advocate in Washington.