Katie Moore / Eyewitness News
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Sara Pagones / The Advocate
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NEW ORLEANS -- With new reports about St. Tammany District Attorney Walter Reed coming out almost weekly, it's no surprise he's hired an attorney.

But Reed's latest campaign finance report shows his controversial campaign fund is footing the bill.

From parties and dinners to lavish fundraisers, payments to companies owned by his son and payments to his ex-girlfriend for what she says was little to no work, Walter Reed has been under fire for how he has spent his campaign funds.

His latest report, filed Aug. 5 with the Louisiana Board of Ethics, shows he's already spent $12,277 on a lawyer.

High-profile attorney Richard 'Rick' Simmons said Wednesday that he has been retained by Reed himself to handle questions about governmental ethics, but that $12,277 is a separate payment for representation of the Walter Reed campaign fund.

The question is: can he use campaign funds for a legal defense, either for himself or the fund under the state's campaign finance laws?

'What it doesn't say specifically is how and when you might be able to spend money on legal fees,' said Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.

The law also doesn't say whether there is a separation between the candidate and his campaign fund.

'You have, as a candidate, a responsibility for running your campaign funds in an appropriate way and you are ultimately going to be responsible for that,' Scott said.

Ethics Board Administrator Kathleen Allen said whether or not campaign cash can be use on a legal defense all centers what's being defended.

'Is it for personal use or is it involving campaign funds,' Allen said.

Over the years, the Ethics Board has been all over the map about the issue, issuing opinions based on each individual set of facts.

For example, former Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan was allowed to use campaign funds to defend the discrimination lawsuit filed against him when he fired a number of white employees and hired African-Americans in their place.

Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson was allowed to use campaign funds to defend his blockade of the Crescent City Connection after Hurricane Katrina.

When it comes to defending criminal charges against a public official, Allen said the ethics board 'opinions have been fact-specific,' meaning, it all depends.

'There have been some cases where the board of ethics and the appellate courts have said, no you can't spend it on that particular type of legal defense. On the other hand, in other cases, they've let it fly,' Scott said.

Former Louisiana Governor and Congressional candidate Edwin Edwards said he didn't use any campaign money to defend himself in either of his criminal trials.

He was acquitted in the first, but said Wednesday that he paid for his legal defense out of his own pocket because he didn't have any campaign funds left after a tough election against former Gov. Dave Treen.

State law would also allow an office holder to get reimbursed by the state if they're accused of a crime related to their office or campaign and they're acquitted.

Edwards did not seek reimbursement.

'The taxpayers paid nothing for my defense,' he said.

'Are you going to just force that person into bankruptcy every time there's a political attack or there's some accusations or some charges against them? Or if it's really within the realm of them holding office shouldn't they be able to defend themselves with their campaign funds? So there's a legitimate argument on both sides,' Scott said.

Walter Reed has not been charged with any crime. The only evidence of a criminal investigation has come in the form of FBI subpoenas, such as the one sent to the Castine Center in Mandeville where Reed's last big fundraiser was held.

His spokesman, Morgan Stewart, insists Simmons is being retained to represent the campaign fund and that it's not unusual or unethical.

Stewart said in a written statement, 'In this instance, extensive media articles have raised issues as to the legality of Walter Reed's expenditures of campaign funds. Obtaining appropriate assistance to look into such matters requires legal representation.'

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