Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Remember the angst over the temporary shutdown of the Louisiana Department of Education’s (LDOE) web page a little over a week ago because the Division of Administration (D)A) had neglected to pay the $280 bill for the domain subscription?

It was a “technical glitch,” we were assured by DOA Director of Communications Meghan Parrish. “This was not purposeful,” she said, and not part of the ongoing Common Core catfight between those two behemoths of machoism, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education—“Dude, you are my recharger”—John White.

Well, we were prepared to give the administration the benefit of the doubt that it was simply an oversight and not, as White claimed, because of the state’s refusal to make payments. We are, after all, reasonable and we understand that sometimes things slip through the cracks—even as Jindal was careful to take the necessary steps to strip LDOE and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from employing legal counsel to sue the governor.

Never mind that the governor has now moved forward with his own lawsuit against the federal government over Common Core. Apparently, while he doesn’t want to be a defendant over Common Core, he has no problem being a plaintiff and thereby further enriching his own legal counsel Jimmy Faircloth with at least $300,000 more of your taxpayer dollars in addition to more than a $1 million he has already been paid in other lost causes as, in the words of Bob Mann on last Friday’s Jim Engster Show, “the most successful loser” in Louisiana legal circles. http://wrkf.org/post/friday-bob-mann-carley-mccord (move your curser to the 19:40 minute of the show for the quote.)

But now LouisianaVoice has learned of a much more serious situation involving non-payment of electric and natural gas utilities at the Bridge City Youth Center a couple of months back.

Also surfacing are reports that despite assurances of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols to the contrary, the administration and its $7.5 million hired gun Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) aren’t nearly as concerned about the welfare of 230,000 enrollees in the state’s Group Benefits program as they would have you believe.

A&M was initially hired for $4.2 million but the contract has been illegally amended—does this administration give a damn about the State Constitution?—at least twice in violation of the 10 percent maximum over which legislative concurrence is required (though neither Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, nor House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, seems to possess sufficient spinal makeup to hold the governor accountable on that little technicality).

A&M, probably best described as McKinsey Lite, is charged with trying to find $500 million—an updated number by the Baton Rouge Advocate puts the amount at $1 billion—in savings over five years. Its consultants have swooped into state agencies with their iPads and Smartphones and their instant expertise.

The problem is that neither A&M nor its army of consultants has ever run a business; they have never run a state agency; they have never interacted with the very people whose lives they are consulting to impact in a very adverse way. Yet incredibly, with all that proficiency and foolproof know-how gleaned from literally days and even a week or two of studying theoretical scenarios for each agency visited, the most consistent solution to cost cutting is: “Lay off personnel, reduce your workforce.”

A&M does have one thing that is critical to its mission: the full blessings of Bobby Jindal and that apparently is all that matters. The human element is not a factor in this pathetic exercise. That’s because Jindal himself is not human; he’s a droid, devoid of compassion or feelings and programmed to spew statistics and factoids at such a rapid pace as to trick the listener into mistaking rote recitation for intelligence.

And if he believes he can fool the national media the way he has the Louisiana media, we can assure him that task will keep him busier than a one-legged tap dancer. He will have greater success shoveling water with a pitchfork.

But we digress. Because A&M is banking on motion being interpreted as progress, it has come in and created a lot of dust, wind and noise, but little substance. Conflicts were inevitable and shouting matches have erupted in various agencies between professionals who know their jobs and pseudo-professionals who are deep on theory but short on practicality. Or who, in the words of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards in her characterization of George W. Bush, are “all hat and no cattle.”

Faced with protests by agency heads over the impossibility of meeting payroll after A&M imposed cuts, the A&M suits invariably offered the same adolescent solution of firing workers.

And for that we’re paying $7.5 million?

And now those 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents covered by the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) are facing what Kristy Kreme Nichols calls the “right-sizing of benefits to costs.” http://theadvocate.com/home/10132562-171/state-employee-insurance-changing Translated, that simply means an average 47 percent increase, including higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, including 100 percent higher co-pays and new and higher deductibles. Let’s not forget, most state employees will get their first pay increase in 5-6 years – 4 percent – just in time to meet those higher insurance expenses. Interesting timing.

One of our readers correctly pointed out that Naomi Kline, in her book The Shock Doctrine, lays out the game plan now being followed to the letter by Jindal and his $7.5 million consulting firm. It should come as no surprise that the A&M suits are smugly referring to the upcoming Oct. 1-Oct. 31 open enrollment as “War Games.”

War Games? Yes, War Games. To them, it’s just a way of keeping score with the fate of state employees, retirees and dependents as only an asterisk, an afterthought.

That is, after all, what this administration is all about: Jindal and his boot lickers against state workers; Republicans against the middle class. And if you don’t believe it is true class warfare, we invite you to read another book by Hedrick Smith, Who Stole the American Dream?

Smith includes in the appendix of his book the August 1971 Lewis Powell memo to the chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that set in motion the creation of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Cato Institute, and Americans for Prosperity and the eventual steamrolling of the American middle class by Corporate America. Barely three months after writing that blueprint for the consolidation of corporate America’s power over our government, Richard Nixon appointed Powell to the U.S. Supreme Court. http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/

Meanwhile, there’s the matter of that unpaid utility bill at the Bridge City Youth Center.

The Bridge City Youth Center houses about 150 troubled youth, down from about 300 in 2002.

Since 2008 when Jindal took office, the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) has had its budget slashed by over 50 percent, and a couple of months ago, representatives from electric and natural gas utility companies showed up at the door of the Bridge City Youth Center with an order to cut services because of unpaid bills.

The amount owed? $50,000. A small partial payment was made to prevent the utilities cutoff—for now.

Granted, these 150 kids may not be up for their Merit Badges but the state in its wisdom has taken over responsibility for their housing, feeding, clothing, education and hopefully, some degree of rehabilitation.

So if the state is going to accept those responsibilities, it’s only fair to ask that the state meet those same responsibilities and pay the bills.

OJJ’s business functions were “consolidated” with DPS some time ago, and now those responsibilities have been transferred to DOA, DOA is responsible for those non-payments.

That’s the same DOA that forgot to pay LDOE’s web page subscription.

And that’s the same DOA that is an extension of the governor’s office. That’s why it’s called the Division of Administration.

Why did DOA not pay the bill? For that answer, we would have to go back to that huge budget cut imposed by one Bobby Jindal. The money simply is not there.

And it almost wasn’t there for OJJ and other agencies to meet payroll recently but A&M had a ready answer for that knotty little problem: impose layoffs.

And thrown into the mix, doesn’t is somehow seem a bit curious how this administration, which can’t lay its hands on sufficient cash to pay a $50,000 utility bill, can somehow find $18 million for a private hospital in Baton Rouge to keep its emergency room open to handle the indigent patients coming over from the state-run Earl K. Long Hospital after it was closed by the governor? Is it even legal for the state to fund a private business at all, much less without legislation? In a cash-strapped administration, where did $18 million magically and immediately appear from? http://theadvocate.com/news/10108601-123/br-general-jindal-administration-reach We’re just sayin’…

And keep in mind, the state has already had to borrow $24 million from this fiscal year’s (2014-15) budget to balance last year’s budget, meaning we’ve already started the new fiscal year, which began on July 1, $24 million in the hole.

And yet he found $18 million for a private hospital to keep its ER open for one year.

The question now must be asked: What happens next year when it threatens to close again?

As we move toward the Nov. 4 election, we felt it important that our readers should know just who is backing each candidate. Because we have long been opposed to the dominance of big money in the electoral process, particularly on behalf of the best politicians money can buy, we decided to basically ignore the individual contributions in favor of shining the bright disinfecting light of sunshine on Political Action Committee (PAC) money.

It is, after all, PAC money that reduces the role of the individual voter to that of insignificant pawn even though it is that same individual voter/insignificant pawn who must ultimately go to the polls and pull the lever for these instruments of the special interests. In effect, we vote not for a particular candidate, but for the special interest or lobbyist of our choice when we cast that ballot. And yet, because we must, in the final analysis, be the ones who actually go through the process of voting, we delude ourselves into believing that our form of corrupt democracy actually works.

If you really believe that, can it be mere coincidence that the more that big money makes its way into our political structure, the more gridlocked Washington becomes? Now ask yourself this: who loses in this scenario? And who wins? A hint: have you heard a defense contractor, for instance, complain of being left out of the political process? An oil company? Wall Street? We didn’t think so.

If that lowers your self-esteem and destroys your belief in the democratic process, we’re sorry. We just report what we find. How many times have you placed your faith in a candidate only to see him sell his soul to those who, unlike us, can afford to buy influence? Need we even remind you of the pontifications on the “gold standard of ethics” by candidate Bobby Jindal as contrasted to the actual practices of post-election politician Bobby Jindal once in office?

And if the candidates we profile in the coming days and weeks (and we will make a sincere attempt to get to every candidate for each U.S. House District and each candidate for U.S. Senate) are offended or embarrassed by our revelations of the baggage those PAC contributions bring to their campaigns, so be it.

All we can say in response to your annoyance is: You took the money; you should’ve known better.

As promised, here are select PAC contributions, the good, the bad and the ugly, to U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu:

AMERICA WORKS PAC: $2,500

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)

  • In 2013, Brown proposed to break up consolidated banks and finance industry conglomerates, ending “too big to fail” by restoring the Glass-Steagall Act.
  • Brown opposed the Iraq War and voted against the Iraq Resolution as a House Representative. He voted against the $87 billion war budgetary supplement.
  • In 2008, Brown joined 91 other senators in voting for the Iraq and Afghanistan War Funding, Unemployment Benefits Extension, and GI Bill, which required the Department of Defense to provide a timetable for achieving security in Iraq.
  • Brown was the co-author and sponsor of a bill that would officially declare China a currency manipulator and require the Department of Commerce to impose countervailing duties on Chinese imports.

AMERIPAC: THE FUND FOR A GREATER AMERICA: $5,000

Affiliated with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland)

  • In March 2007, the Center for Public Integrity reported that Hoyer’s political action committee “raised nearly $1 million for congressional candidates [in the 2006 election cycle by exploiting what experts call a legal loophole.” The Center reported the following:
  • Campaign finance disclosure records show that the Maryland Democrat used his leadership political action committee—AmeriPAC—as a conduit to collect bundles of checks from individuals, and from business and union interests. He then passed more than $960,000 along to 53 House candidates and another quarter of a million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, data compiled from the Center for Responsive Politics Web site show. Federal law generally prohibits political action committees, including leadership PACs, which are run by politicians, from receiving more than $5,000 each year from a single donor or giving more than $10,000 to a single candidate ($5,000 each for the primary and the general election). But Hoyer collected as much as $136,000 from one labor union committee and distributed more than $86,000 to a single Congressional race.

BLUE HEN PAC:  $1,000

Affiliated with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware)

DAKOTA PRAIRIE PAC:  $5,000

Affiliated with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota)

  • Heitkamp was attacked in commercials for accepting campaign contributions from a trial lawyer, Jack McConnell, Jr., assigned by her to help North Dakota implement its settlement with tobacco companies when she served as state attorney general.
  • Heitkamp said she would support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution “with exceptions” that included wartime spending, Social Security, Medicare, and a ban on tax cuts for those making more than $1 million per year.
  • Heitkamp supports implementing the Buffett Rule via the Paying a Fair Share Act, which would require those making a gross income of $1,000,000 or more to pay at least a 30% federal tax rate.
  • Heitkamp said she supports the Keystone XL pipeline because it will create jobs, decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil from the Middle East, and help drive down the national debt. She also said many who oppose hydraulic fracturing have been exposed to “junk science” and do not know what it really is.

DEMOCRATS FOR EDUCATION REFORM PAC:  $8,740

  • Democrats for Education Reform claims that it “leads efforts to frame the fight that is playing out within the Democratic Party on education issues.” It tries to accomplish that by pushing aside teacher unions as education spokespeople or even as informed practitioners. The organization advocates for nonunion charter schools, vouchers, merit pay, test-based teacher evaluations, curbs on tenure and removing teacher unions from almost any role in shaping curriculum or determining working conditions.
  • In just three years, DFER directed more than $17 million into political and grassroots advocacy for its version of education reform and for what Joe Williams, the group’s executive director and a former Daily News education reporter, credits as “creating momentum which has the potential to dominate education policymaking for years to come.”

FOLLOW THE NORTH STAR FUND: $2,500

Affiliated with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

  • The Winona Daily News described her as a “rare politician who works across the aisle.” Walter Mondale stated “She has done better in that miserable Senate than most people there.”

FRIENDS OF CHRIS DODD: $1,000

  • As chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Dodd proposed a program in June 2008 that would assist troubled sub-prime mortgage lenders such as Countrywide Financial in the wake of the United States housing bubble‘s collapse. Dodd received mortgages from Countrywide at allegedly below-market rates on his Washington, D.C. and Connecticut homes. Dodd had not disclosed the below-market mortgages in any of six financial disclosure statements he filed.
  • On August 7, 2009, the Select Committee on Ethics said it found “no credible evidence” that Dodd knowingly sought out a special loan or treatment because of his position, but the panel also said in an open letter to Dodd that he should have questioned why he was being put in the VIP program at Countrywide. Dodd has since been called Wall Street’s “biggest booster, the most Machiavellian of United States Senators…” in Jeff Connaughton’s book, The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins.
  • Dodd was involved in issues related to the federal takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. At the time, it was estimated that the federal government would need to spend $25 billion on a bailout of the firms. During this period, Dodd denied rumors these firms were in financial crisis. He called them “fundamentally strong,” said they were in “sound situation” and “in good shape” and to “suggest they are in major trouble is not accurate.”
  • Dodd is the number one recipient in Congress of campaign funds from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
  • From the fall of 2008 through early 2009, the United States government spent nearly $170 Billion to assist failing insurance giant, AIG. AIG then spent $165 million of this money to hand out executive “retention” bonuses to its top executives. Public outrage ensued over this perceived misuse of taxpayer dollars.
  • Dodd has received more than $223,000 from AIG employees for his political campaigns. Additionally, Dodd’s wife is a former Director for Bermuda-based IPC Holdings, a company controlled by AIG. Dodd’s wife served on a number of corporate boards, including the CME Group and could be earning as much as $500,000 annually for her service on said boards. On March 30, 2009, it was reported that former AIG Financial Products head Joseph Cassano personally solicited contributions from his employees in Connecticut via an e-mail in fall 2006 suggesting that the contributions were related to Dodd’s ascension to the chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee.

FRIENDS OF SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-Michigan):  $2,000

  • He is a strong advocate for cost controls regarding military procurements.[22] He has also pushed for less secrecy in government, working to declassify many documents, particularly where claims of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda are concerned.
  • Levin grew critical of the Bush administration’s handling of the Afghanistan War, saying in 2005 that they “took their eye off the ball when we decided to go after Iraq instead of al-Qaeda, the people who had attacked us on 9/11, and their leader.
  • Levin was an early opponent of using U.S. military force in Iraq, saying in August 2002 that “if Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, he wouldn’t use them,” and that “he’s a survivalist, not a suicide bomber.”Levin was one of 23 Senators who voted against the Iraq Resolution. Levin has strongly argued that the War in Iraq was a diversion from the War on Terror. On CNN on November 14, 2005, Levin said that “before the war, the President was saying that you cannot distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Iraq. As a matter of fact, he said that so often that he tried to connect Saddam Hussein with the attackers on us, on 9/11, so often, so frequently and so successfully, even though it was wrong, that the American people overwhelmingly thought, because of the President’s misstatements that as a matter of fact, Saddam Hussein had participated in the attack on us on 9/11. That was a deception. That was clearly misinformation. It had a huge effect on the American people.”

GENERAL ELECTRIC CO. PAC:  $1,000

  • According to the New York Times story, GE reported U.S. profits of $5.1 billion in 2010 (and $14.2 billion worldwide). “Its American tax bill?” asked the Times. “None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion,” an amount GE balanced out against other tax obligations. The company accomplished this, the story said, due to “an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”
  • Earlier this year, GE filed suit seeking a $658 million federal tax refund. That sum represents the $439 million in taxes and $219 million in interest GE coughed up in 2010 after Internal Revenue Service auditors disallowed a $2.2 billion loss it claimed from the 2003 sale of a small subsidiary, ERC Life Reinsurance Corp., to Scottish Re Group for $151 million.

GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP PAC: $5,000

  • A federal appeals court upheld the conviction of former Goldman Sachs Group Inc director Rajat Gupta, one of the biggest successes in federal prosecutors’ long-running probe to stop insider trading on Wall Street.
  • Federal prosecutors and Securities and Exchange Commission officials also investigated whether a senior Goldman investment banker, Matthew Korenberg, fed inside information to a Galleon Group portfolio manager named Paul Yook, according to separate reports in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

GLAXOSMITHKLINE PAC:  $1,000

  • In July 2012 GSK pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to a pay $3 billion to settle the criminal charges as well as civil lawsuits in the largest settlement paid by a drug company at the time. The criminal charges were for promoting Paxil and Wellbutrin for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about Avandia; GSK paid $1 billion to settle the criminal charges. The remaining $2 billion were part of the civil settlement over unapproved promotion and paying kickbacks, making false statements concerning the safety of Avandia; and reporting false prices to Medicaid. GSK also signed an agreement which obligated it to make major changes to the way it did business.

GREEN MOUNTAIN PAC: $7,500

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)

HALLIBURTON CO. PAC: $2,000

  • Following the end of Operation Desert Storm in February 1991, the Pentagon, led by then defense secretary Dick Cheney, paid Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root Services more than $8.5 million to study the use of private military forces with American soldiers in combat zones. Halliburton crews also helped bring 725 burning oil wells under control in Kuwait.
  • In 1995, Cheney replaced Thomas H. Cruikshank, as chairman and CEO.
  • In the early 1990s, Halliburton was found to be in violation of federal trade barriers in Iraq and Libya, having sold these countries dual-use oil drilling equipment and, through its former subsidiary, Halliburton Logging Services, sending six pulse neutron generators to Libya. After pleading guilty, the company was fined $1.2 million, with another $2.61 million in penalties.
  • From 1995 to 2002, Halliburton Brown & Root Services Corp. (BRS) was awarded at least $2.5 billion to construct and run military bases, some in secret locations, as part of the Army’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program. This contract was a cost plus 13 percent contract and BRS employees were trained on how to pass GAO audits to ensure maximum profits were attained. Any mention in the Balkans of Cheney’s being CEO was grounds for termination. BRS was awarded and re-awarded contracts termed “noncompetitive” because BRS was the only company capable of pulling off the missions. DynCorp actually won the competitively let second contract, but never received any work orders in the Balkans.
  • In May 2003, Halliburton revealed in SEC filings that its KBR subsidiary had paid a Nigerian official $2.4 million in bribes in order to receive favorable tax
  • On January 24, 2006, Halliburton’s subsidiary KBR (formerly Kellogg, Brown and Root) announced that it had been awarded a $385 million contingency contract by the Department of Homeland Security to build “temporary detention and processing facilities” or internment
  • On May 14, 2010, President Barack Obama said in an interview with CNN that “you had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else” when referring to the congressional hearings held during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

HOLDING ONTO OREGON’S PRIORITIES: $5,000

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon)

  • Wyden was one of 23 Senators to vote against the authorization of military force in Iraq in 2002. In 2003, Wyden voted to bar excessive overseas deployments of members of the National Guard and Reserves. In 2006, Wyden was one of 13 Senators to vote to require the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq by July 2007, and was one of 39 Senators to vote to call on the President to begin withdrawing forces from Iraq and establish a timeline for withdrawal.
  • In 2003 Wyden joined with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) to help pass the Bush Administration’s Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act. The Bush Administration is alleged to have forced officials to hide its true cost, which later was triple its original claim. The bill has been criticized as favoring pharmaceutical companies, as it prohibits the federal government from negotiating prescription drug rates.
  • During the global financial crisis of 2007-2010, Wyden voted against the financial bailouts backed by the Bush administration. He did not vote on the automobile industry bailout, though he said he would have voted for cloture if he had been present. Wyden added, “While I continue to have concerns about ensuring that taxpayers are protected if this loan is to occur, I believe that if the President can unwisely provide $750 billion of taxpayer money for the investment banks who took horribly unacceptable risks and helped trigger an economic collapse, we certainly have a duty to attempt to preserve a cornerstone domestic industry and the jobs of hundreds of thousands of working people whose personal actions are in no way responsible for the current economic crisis.”
  • Wyden was among several moderate Democratic senators who in early January 2009 criticized President-elect Barack Obama‘s stimulus plan, calling for a greater emphasis on “tangible infrastructure investments” and warning that an effort had to be made to differentiate it from the Bush bailouts Wyden had opposed.

HOOSIERS FIRST PAC: $4,000

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana)

  • As a member of the House before his election to the U.S. Senate, Donnelly was a member of Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate In March 2007, he was recognized as “Blue Dog of the Week” for his work on helping small businesses. He broke with the Democratic leadership on several budgetary issues, including the 2008 fiscal budget proposal. In June 2007, he was ranked as one of the ten most independent Democrats by a Congressional Quarterly report.

KELLEY DRYE & WARREN PAC:  $1,000

  • The Kelley Drye Law Firm played a leading role in defense of the Agent Orange litigation and defended Union Carbide following the Bhopal disaster. In 2002, the firm represented P. Morgan Chase in a lawsuit against insurance carriers seeking $1 billion in compensation for its Enron-related losses. In 2003, Kelley Drye negotiated a settlement on behalf its client and obtained nearly 60% of the $1.1 billion demanded.

LOBO PAC: $7,500

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich

  • Heinrich opposed legislation that would have re-instated the expired Federal Assault Weapons Ban. He supported bills that would create a national standard for the concealed carrying of firearms across state lines, and co-sponsored legislation that would ease the restrictions on the sales of firearms across state lines. The National Rifle Association endorsed Heinrich during the 2010 congressional election.
  • Heinrich has maintained strong opposition to the war in Iraq, and supports a swift end of combat operations in Afghanistan.
  • In 2011, he voted against the National Defense Authorization Act conference report because he objected to language requiring that suspected foreign terrorists be taken into custody by the military instead of civilian law enforcement authorities.

LONGLEAF PINE PAC: $5,000

Leadership PAC of U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)

MERCK & CO.:  $5,000

  • A US Justice Department fraud investigation began in 2000 when allegations were brought in two separate lawsuits filed by whistleblowers who alleged that Merck failed to pay proper rebates to Medicaid and other health care programs and paid illegal remuneration to health care providers. In 2008, Merck agreed to pay more than $650 million to settle charges that it routinely overbilled Medicaid for its most popular medicines. The settlement was one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in history. The federal government received more than $360 million, plus 49 states and Washington, DC, received over $290 million. One whistleblower received a $68 million reward. Merck made the settlement without an admission of liability or wrongdoing.
  • From 2002 through 2005 the Australian affiliate of Merck sponsored the eight issues of a medical journal, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, published by Elsevier. Although it gave the appearance of being an independent peer-reviewed journal, without any indication that Merck had paid for it, the journal actually reprinted articles that originally appeared in other publications and that were favorable to Merck. The misleading publication came to light in 2009 during a personal injury lawsuit filed over Vioxx; 9 of 29 articles in the journal’s second issue referred positively to Vioxx. In 2009, the CEO of Elsevier’s Health Sciences Division, Michael Hansen, admitted that the practice was “unacceptable”.
  • In December 2013, Merck agreed to pay a total of $27.7 million dollars to 1,200 plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit alleging that the company’s osteoporosis drug had caused them to develop osteonecrosis of the jaw.

MISSOURIANS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY & CHANGE PAC: $2,500

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri)

  • McCaskill has consistently been named by the National Journal as one of the ten most moderate Senators. In 2011, she was ranked exactly 50th on its scale of most-liberal to most-conservative. The Washington Post reported in 2012 that she was the second-most-likely Democratic Senator to vote against her party.
  • McCaskill has made herself known for being aggressive by questioning officials in the Department of Defense on their “loose” spending habits. McCaskill grilled top officials of the military’s auditing agencies for rewarding KBR for their Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contract, a contract now valued at over $20 billion, despite audit reports indicating extreme contractor mismanagement and expansive overcharging of the U.S. government.[
  • As a member of the Senate Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery, McCaskill supported Republican U.S. Representative Joseph Cao and fellow Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu in their insistence on corrections of mismanagement of the New Orleans office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
  • On March 16, 2011, McCaskill told reporters that she was “embarrassed” about revelations that her office had used taxpayer money for the senator’s use of a private airplane she co-owned with her husband and friends. The plane was used for 90 flights taken between Washington, D.C., and her home in suburban St. Louis, as well as to numerous sites around the state of Missouri. According to McCaskill’s Senate office, all but 1 of the 90 flights in question were within Senate rules. As soon as the story broke, McCaskill sent a check for $88,000 to the S. Treasury as reimbursement for the flights. On March 21, 2011, Politico reported that McCaskill had failed to pay more than $280,000 in property taxes on the plane and was planning to sell it.

MONSANTO CO. CITIZENSHIP FUND:   $2,000

  • In 2003, Monsanto reached a $300 million settlement with people in Alabama affected by the manufacturing and dumping of the toxic chemical polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
  • In 2004, Monsanto, along with Dow and other chemical companies, were sued in a US court by a group of Vietnamese for the effects of its Agent Orange defoliant, used by the US military in the Vietnam War. The case was dismissed.
  • In 2005, the US DOJ filed a Deferred Prosecution Agreement in which Monsanto admitted to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and making false entries into its books and records. Monsanto also agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine. The case involved bribes paid to an Indonesian official.
  • In 2011, Monsanto spent about $6.3 million lobbying Congress and the S. Department of Agriculture about regulations that would affect the production and distribution of genetically engineered produce.
  • US diplomats in Europe have worked directly for Monsanto.
  • Monsanto gave $186,250 to federal candidates in the 2008 election cycle through its PAC.
  • Monsanto spent $8.1 million opposing the passage of Proposition 37 in the US state of California, making it the largest donor against the initiative. Proposition 37, which was rejected by a 53.7 percent majority in November 2012, would have mandated the disclosure of genetically modified crops used in the production of California food products.
  • The Monsanto Company Citizenship Fund has donated more than $10 million to various candidates since 2003.
  • More recently, as of October 2013, Monsanto and DuPont Co. are backing an anti-labeling campaign with roughly $18 million so far dedicated to the campaign.

MORGAN STANLEY:  $2,000

  • In 2003, Morgan Stanley agreed to pay $125 million in order to settle its portion of a $1.4 billion settlement brought by Eliot Spitzer, the Attorney General of New York, the National Association of Securities Dealers (now the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)), the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, (SEC) and a number of state securities regulators, relating to intentionally misleading research motivated by a desire to win investment banking business with the companies covered.
  • Morgan Stanley settled a sex discrimination suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for $54 million on July 12, 2004. In 2007, the firm agreed to pay $46 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by eight female brokers.
  • In July 2004, the firm paid NASD a $2.2 million fine for more than 1,800 late disclosures of reportable information about its brokers.
  • In September 2004, the firm paid a $19 million fine imposed by NYSE for failure to deliver prospectuses to customers in registered offerings, inaccurate reporting of certain program trading information, short sale violations, failures to fingerprint new employees and failure to timely file exchange forms.
  • The New York Stock Exchange imposed a $19 million fine on January 12, 2005 for alleged regulatory and supervisory lapses, the largest fine ever imposed by the New York Stock Exchange at the time.
  • In 2005, a Florida jury found that Morgan Stanley failed to give adequate information to Ronald Perelman about Sunbeam thereby defrauding him and causing damages to him of $604 million. In addition, punitive damages were added for total damages of $1.450 billion. This verdict was directed after the firm’s attorneys infuriated the court by failing and refusing to produce documents, and falsely telling the court that certain documents did not exist. The ruling was overturned on March 21, 2007.
  • Morgan Stanley settled a class action lawsuit in 2006 by both current and former Morgan Stanley employees for unfair labor practices instituted to those in the financial advisor training program. Employees of the program had claimed the firm expected trainees to clock overtime hours without additional pay and handle various administrative expenses as a result of their expected duties. A $42.5 million settlement was reached and Morgan Stanley admitted no fault.
  • In May the firm agreed to pay a $15 million fine after the Securities and Exchange Commission accused the firm of deleting emails and failing to cooperate with SEC investigators.
  • FINRA announced a $12.5 million settlement with Morgan Stanley in 2007 over charges that the firm’s former affiliate, Morgan Stanley DW, Inc. (MSDW), failed on numerous occasions to provide emails to claimants in arbitration proceedings as well as to regulators. The company had claimed that the destruction of the firm’s email servers in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center resulted in the loss of all email before that date. In fact, the firm had millions of earlier emails that had been retrieved from backup copies stored in another location that was not destroyed in the attacks. Customers who had lost their arbitration cases against Morgan Stanley DW Inc. because of their inability to obtain these emails to demonstrate Morgan Stanley’s misconduct received a token amount of money as a result of the settlement.
  • In July 2007, Morgan Stanley agreed to pay $4.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit for incorrectly charging clients for storage of precious metals.
  • In August 2007, Morgan Stanley was fined $1.5 million and paid $4.6 million in restitution to customers related to excessive mark-ups in 2,800 transactions. An employee was charged $40,000 and suspended for 15 days.
  • Under a 2008 settlement with New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, the firm agreed to repurchase approximately $4.5 billion worth of auction rate securities. The firm was accused of misrepresenting auction rate securities in their sales and marketing.
  • In April 2010, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced the firm agreed to pay $14 million related to an attempt to hide prohibited trading activity in oil futures.
  • The Department of Justice sought a $4.8 million fine from Morgan Stanley for its part in an electricity price-fixing scandal. Con Edison estimated that the crime cost New York state consumers about $300 million. Morgan Stanley earned revenues of $21.6 million from the fraud.
  • Morgan Stanley agreed to pay a $5 million fine to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and an addition $1.75 million to CME and the Chicago Board of Trade after employees improperly executed fictitious sales in Eurodollar and Treasury note futures contracts.
  • On August 7, 2012, it was announced that Morgan Stanley would have to pay $4.8 million in fines in order to settle a price fixing scandal, which has been estimated to have cost New Yorkers $300 million. Morgan Stanley made no admission of any wrongdoing; however, the Justice department commented that they hoped this would “send a message to the banking industry.”

NARRAGANSETT BAY PAC: $7,600

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.)

  • Reed has generally followed the Democratic line by supporting increased Medicare funding, enrolling more Americans into programs that help the uninsured, allowing prescription drugs to be imported from Canada, and negotiating bulk medication purchases for Medicare in order to lower costs.
  • Reed has supported fair trade policies over similar ones advocating free trade. He has also been a strong supporter of unionizing workers, and he has criticized government and business interference with these groups. He also supports increasing the minimum wage and unemployment compensation.
  • Reed supports limiting American oil use and expanding alternative energy. He opposes Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling and federal subsidies for oil exploration, while favoring a 40 percent reduction in oil use by 2025 and funding for hydrogen automobiles.
  • Reed has continuously voted against limiting lawsuits on gun manufacturers and has favored expanding gun control. He voted against loosening background checks at gun shows. The NRA has given Reed an F rating on gun control.
  • Reed has made it a point to maintain liaisons within his office specifically to interact with discharged veterans of the Armed Services. These liaisons often help veterans enter the Department of Veteran Affairs, ensuring that these former servicemen and servicewomen can receive medical care.
  • Reed was one of 23 US senators to vote against the use of force against Iraq in 2002. In 2007, Reed elaborated on his sentiments, saying, “It was a flawed strategy that diverted attention and resources away from hunting down Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.”

NEW MILLENNIUM PAC: $2,500

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)

NEWS AMERICA HOLDINGS, FOX PAC: $1,000

  • In 1999, The Economist reported that NewsCorp, parent company of News America, paid comparatively lower taxes and NewsCorp Investments specifically had made $20.1 billion in profits over the previous 11 years but had not paid net corporation tax. It also reported that after an examination of the available accounts, NewsCorp could normally have been expected to pay corporate tax of approximately $350 million. The article explained that in practice, the corporation’s complex structure, international scope and use of offshore tax havens allowed News Corporation to pay minimal
  • In July 2011, NewsCorp closed down the News of the World newspaper in the United Kingdom due to allegations of phone hackings. The allegations include trying to access former Prime Minister Gordon Brown‘s voice mail, and obtain information from his bank accounts, family’s medical records, and private legal files. Allegations of hacking have also been brought up in relation to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the Royal Family.

NISOURCE, INC. PAC: $6,500

  • In December 2011, the non-partisan organization Public Campaign criticized NiSource for spending $1.83 million on lobbying and not paying any taxes during 2008-2010, instead getting $227 million in tax rebates, despite making a profit of $1.4 billion, and increasing executive pay by 33 percent to $11.2 million in 2010 for its top 5 executives.

OPPORTUNITY & RENEWAL PAC: $2,500

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)

  • Merkley has accumulated a progressive record during his Senate career. In late February 2010, Merkley again made headlines when he unsuccessfully tried to persuade Republican colleague Jim Bunning of Kentucky to drop his objection to passing a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits for jobless Americans.
  • Merkley became the first Democratic member of the Senate to announce that he’d vote against the confirmation of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, citing Bernanke’s failure to “recognize or remedy the factors that paved the road to this dark and difficult recession.” As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Merkley helped pass the Wall Street reform bill. Along with Michigan Senator Carl Levin, he successfully added an amendment which banned high-risk trading inside commercial banking and lending institutions.
  • Merkley and Carl Levin have led an effort to crack down on proprietary trading at depository banks and other critical financial firms. The Dodd-Frank Act included the Merkley-Levin amendment to implement the Volcker Rule. The rule is premised on the notion that banks should not make risky, speculative bets while enjoying government deposit insurance.[
  • In March 2008, Merkley endorsed the Responsible Plan to End the War In Iraq.[

OXBOW CARBON & MINERALS: $5,000

  • Oxbow CEO William Koch—the “other” Koch brother along with David and Charles—was recently sued by a former senior executive at his Oxbow Carbon for false imprisonment. The allegations are that Koch lured the former executive to his Colorado ranch and then held him against his will to intimidate him from going public with concerns over an illegal tax avoidance scheme being pursued by Oxbow.
  • Koch denies that such an event took place, claiming instead that the executive was part of a scheme to defraud Oxbow, by taking bribes from competitors and participating in various other unsavory business practices.
  • So either William Koch held an executive hostage in order to intimidate him from exposing an illegal tax scheme…or…a substantial number of Oxbow executives were taking bribes and colluding with competitors. Either way, there’s some shady business going on at Oxbow.
  • The product it sells is the dirtiest of the dirty; its business practices are unsavory at best, dangerous and illegal at worst; and they use their money to buy politicians to allow them keep making obscene profits doing all of the above.

PAC FOR A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD: $2,600

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

  • Warren voted as a Republican for many years in the belief “that those were the people who best supported markets”. In 1995 she began to vote Democratic because she no longer believed that to be true, but she says that she has voted for both parties because she believed that neither party should dominate.
  • Warren is a champion of a beleaguered middle class that she says “has been chipped, squeezed, and hammered. People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: They’re right. The system is rigged.” Warren said that Wall Street CEOs “wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs” and that they “still strut around congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.”[
  • To no one’s surprise, Warren has encountered significant opposition from business interests. In August 2012, Rob Engstrom, political director for the United States Chamber of Commerce, claimed that “no other candidate in 2012 represents a greater threat to free enterprise than Professor Warren.”
  • In May 2013, Warren introduced her first bill, the Bank on Student Loans Fairness Act, which would allow students to take out government education loans at the same rate that banks such as Goldman Sachs and P. Morgan Chase pay to borrow from the federal government. Suggesting that students should get “the same great deal that banks get,” Warren proposed that new student borrowers be able to take out a federally subsidized loan at 0.75 percent, the rate paid by banks, compared with the current 3.4% student loan rate. Endorsing her bill days after its introduction, Independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders stated: “the only thing wrong with this bill is that [she] thought of it and I didn’t.”

PEOPLE’S VOICE PAC: $2,500

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin)

  • On August 1, 2007, Baldwin cosponsored bills proposing articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. “Although some constituents say I have gone too far, others argue I have not gone far enough,” she said of her effort to hold the Bush administration accountable for its actions.
  • Baldwin lent her support to such initiatives as the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which criminalized and outlined prosecution guidelines and punishments for wage discrimination based on sex. She received a grade of 100 from the League of Women Voters as of 2007.
  • Baldwin has advanced what she sees as stronger enforcement of laws against sexual violence and violence against women. She is a supporter of the Violence Against Women Act, which allowed victims of sexual violence and other sexual crimes to take their cases to federal courts and provided funding for various anti-sexual violence initiatives and programs.

PFIZER, INC. PAC: $4,000

  • In September 2009, Pfizer pleaded guilty to the illegal marketing of the arthritis drug Bextra for uses unapproved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and agreed to a $2.3 billion settlement, the largest health care fraud settlement at that time. Pfizer also paid the U.S. government $1.3 billion in criminal fines related to the “off-label” marketing of Bextra, the largest monetary penalty ever rendered for any crime. Called a repeat offender by prosecutors, this was Pfizer’s fourth such settlement with the S. Department of Justice in the previous ten years.

PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH & MANUFACTURERS OF AMERICA (PhRMA): $2,000

  • Former Congressman Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana) resigned from Congress and began work as the head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, a powerful trade group for pharmaceutical companies.
  • Two months before resigning as chair of the committee which oversees the drug industry, Tauzin played a key role in shepherding through Congress the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, a bill which had been criticized by opponents for being too generous to the pharmaceutical industry. The switch from regulator to lobbyist was widely noted.
  • This link was explored at great length in an April 1, 2007 interview by Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes. The report, Under the Influence, pitted Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) against Tauzin and accused him of using unethical tactics to push a bill that “the pharmaceutical lobbyists wrote.” Along with Tauzin, many of the other individuals who worked on the bill are now lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry.

SEARCHLIGHT LEADERSHIP FUND: $5,000

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid

  • Fugitive fundraiser Norman Hsu donated $1,000 to the Searchlight Leadership Fund, a political action committee associated with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. On the same day, Searchlight received a $1,000 contribution from Winkle Paw, described by Hsu’s lawyer as a business associate of Hsu. Also donating $1,000 to Searchlight that day was Paul Su of Dilini Management Group, a company Hsu listed on a form while making a political contribution to Senator Dianne Feinstein.
  • These donations to Searchlight expose a funding conduit reaching to the heart of Harry Reid’s political machine. The financial trail stretches back to Reid’s hometown, his longtime business associate Jay Brown, and his Nevada gambling industry patrons; and it connects the Hsu affair to scandal-ridden lobbyists William Oldaker and Jack Abramoff, Reid’s financial consigliore Claude Zobell, and a political action committee targeting freshmen Congressmen.
  • While continuing to receive support from its initial gambling patrons, Searchlight soon sought donors outside Nevada, striving to tap the rich vein of the lobbying channels flowing through Washington, DC.
  • Oldaker had a history of scandal dating back to 1973, when he was demoted and suspended for falsifying records submitted to US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission officials. Despite this setback, he worked his way up to general counsel to the FEC from 1976 to 1979. At the FEC he was supposed to be investigating a complaint by President Carter against Senator Edward Kennedy, but instead he used his position to get a job as general counsel and treasurer to Kennedy’s 1980 Presidential campaign, setting what became a characteristic pattern of using insider status to gain leverage with his employer’s political opponents.
  • Like Abramoff, Oldaker applied his lobbying leverage to numerous Congressmen and Senators. For instance, he lobbied for appropriations-related interests while collecting $30,000 for Washington Democrat Patty Murray, who sat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
  • However, the Searchlight Leadership Fund continued to maintain Oldaker as an unpaid “trusted adviser.”
  • April 2007 FEC documents list Searchlight Leadership Fund as having an address of 607 14th Street NW, Suite 800 in Washington, DC, the same Perkins Coie addresses used by the Democratic Freshmen PAC.
  • Thus, when Hsu, Paw, and Su made their donations to Searchlight in May 2007, they had singled out a fund with a pipeline to one of the most powerful lobbying networks in Washington, connected directly to the keeper of Harry Reid’s personal pocketbook.

BOEING CO. PAC.: $2,000

  • In 2003, Lockheed Martin sued Boeing for industrial espionage to win the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) competition. Lockheed Martin claimed that the former employee Kenneth Branch, who went to work for McDonnell Douglas and Boeing, passed nearly 30,000 pages of proprietary documents to his new employers. Lockheed Martin argued that these documents allowed Boeing to win 19 of the 28 tendered military satellite launches.
  • In July 2003, Boeing was penalized, with the Pentagon stripping seven launches away from the company and awarding them to Lockheed Martin. Furthermore, the company was forbidden to bid for rocket contracts for a twenty-month period, which expired in March 2005. Boeing settled with the U.S. Department of Justice for $615 million.
  • On September 15, 2010, the World Trade Organization ruled that Boeing had received billions of dollars in illegal government subsidies.

TO ORGANIZE A MAJORITY PAC: $5,000

Affiliated with U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

  • Harkin has faced criticism for claiming that he had flown combat missions over North Vietnam. In a 1979 round table discussion with other Congressional military veterans, Harkin said of his service as a navy pilot: “One year was in Vietnam. I was flying F-4s and F-8s on combat air patrols and photo-reconnaissance support missions.” After subsequent inquiries by The Wall Street Journal, Harkin clarified that he had been stationed in Japan and sometimes flew recently repaired aircraft on test missions over Vietnam.
  • Harkin has also been active in combating the worst forms of child labor.

UBS AMERICAS, INC. PAC: $2,500

  • In early 2007, UBS became the first Wall Street firm to announce heavy losses in the subprime mortgage sector as the subprime mortgage crisis began to unfold. UBS announced in April 2008 that it was writing down a further US$19 billion of investments in subprime and other mortgage assets.

VALERO ENERGY PAC: $7,000

  • Valero was the biggest financial backer of the failed 2010 California Proposition 23, and contributed more than $4 million by August 2010. Had it passed, Proposition 23 would have delayed action on greenhouse gas emissions in the state of California, by delaying current implementation of the California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 until the state attained an unemployment rate of 5.5% for one full year.

45de39155de7ed599fdc081ad4699f1c_7zjy[1]

Things appear to be heating up on the issue of the behavior of the upper tier of the Louisiana State Police, though the rank and file (and retired officers) appears for the most part to support our efforts to peel back the veneer to expose widespread abuse by those in charge.

For openers, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy, the number-two man at State Police headquarters, has reportedly taken to name-calling as a result of revelations by LouisianaVoice and fellow blogger C.B. Forgotston.

Names like “idiots” and “a—holes” have apparently found their way into the discourse whenever Dupuy mentions us, according to a post by Forgotston. Those pet names reportedly accompanied his curious claim that the notorious Edmonson Amendment was constitutional—despite assurances to the contrary by the Florida attorney, a pension authority, brought in to examine the amendment by the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS).

It has been our experience that when we are able to invoke such colorful language it is usually because we’ve made someone extremely uncomfortable. And we would guess that knocking someone out of an additional $55,000 per year on his retirement income would make just about anyone uncomfortable. And calling attention to a questionable retire/re-hire in which the proponent gets to keep nearly $60,000 in unwarranted payouts could make one uncomfortable as could reporting the hiring of a South Carolina consultant as a state employee and paying her $437,000 over 28 months, plus another $13,000 in airfare to shuttle her back and forth between Baton Rouge and Columbia, S.C.

Dupuy is a member of the LSPRS board which will be discussing the amendment at the Sept. 4 board meeting.

We would strongly suggest that because it was he who pushed the amendment in the first place—not to mention his prejudicial comments about the messengers—he would be precluded from participation in next week’s board meeting called to discuss options regarding the amendment. His actions—and his comments—make it abundantly obvious that his mindset does not lend itself to an impartial and dispassionate discussion or vote on a course of action for the board.

State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) has even weighed in on the controversy, though his comments are somewhat puzzling considering that he is a candidate for the 6th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy who is trying to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Claitor, it seems, has been actively posting jokes on his Twitter account about our concerns over the Edmonson Amendment. It’s certainly nice to know that someone seeking elective office is so willing find humor in legitimate concerns over shady legislative practices—particularly when those practices originated in the State Senate where he currently serves. You may wish to ask him about that next time he solicits your vote.

Matthew L. Issman of Madisonville, a former state trooper and federal law enforcement officer who presently serves as police chief for LSU-Alexandria, has weighed in on the controversy surrounding Senate Bill 294, signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 859, the bill that was amended in conference committee by State Sen. Neil Riser to give Edmonson that generous retirement boost.

Contacted by the office of Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington), Issman wrote that his biggest concern with the advice received by LSPRS from that Florida attorney “is that the advice of ‘do nothing, and wait’ until someone files for the benefits and then refuse to pay, is that it will force a state board or agency to pick and choose which laws it likes or doesn’t like and which laws it will and won’t enforce.”

Schroder’s office had asked Issman to provide his rationale for litigating versus legislative repeal of the amendment.

Issman pointed out that once the governor signs the bill, it becomes law and until it is repealed or a court finds it unconstitutional, “it sets a very, very bad precedent for any agency or board to arbitrarily not comply with a state law.”

As a law enforcement officer, he said he “cannot pick and choose which laws I will enforce and which ones I will ignore. You cannot do that. It must be litigated now and a court must find it unconstitutional, otherwise other state employees who made an irrevocable DROP elect can file federal ‘equal rights’ suits against the state for the same equal status (as Edmonson). This has to be fixed now by litigation to have a court find it unconstitutional,” he said.

As a follow up to that message, Issman also sent an email to members of the LSPRS Board.

“Civics 101 tells me that you (LSPRS) are a state board in the executive branch. You carry out the laws passed by the legislative branch. The advice of your Florida counsel is in a vacuum specific to the retirement board issue of the law passed and signed by the governor (executive). I believe you are about to set a very poor precedent and are outside your charter, authority and the state constitution when you as a board decide that you have the options to pick and choose which laws you will enforce, agree with and like, and which ones you arbitrarily choose to ignore.

“You do not have the ability or authority. Hence, your options are to follow the law signed by the executive and passed by the legislative branch, or request the judicial branch review the law for constitutionality.

“I am not a constitutional scholar; however, 41-plus years in state, local, parish and federal government law enforcement have taught me the authorities and responsibilities of governmental agencies and branches.

“I am requesting you follow the law, your charter and state constitution and challenge this law through litigation in court,” he said.

Issman also is protesting the 15-speaker, two-minute limit per speaker being imposed by the board at its Sept. 4 meeting.

“I don’t believe that this meets the requirements, spirit or intent of the Open Meeting Law, nor is it enough time to hear the many concerns of the retirees you represent, unless the goal is to restrict and limit such comments,” he said in an email to board members. “I think limiting comment to 30 minutes regarding an issue that has engendered such interest and controversy is insulting to the interests of the retirees and citizens you purport to represent on this Board.

“Therefore, I am requesting that the public comment time be reasonably increased proportionately to the larger public attendance that you are anticipating.”

Meanwhile, State Treasurer John Kennedy, who, like Dupuy, is a member of the LSPRS Board, continues pressing for information about the circumstances surrounding the last minute legislative passage of Edmonson’s pension boost.

Kennedy also requested key players in the benefit becoming law appear at the Sept. 4 board meeting, including Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive counsel Thomas Enright, who approved the legislation for the governor’s signature.

The law that created the enhancement for Edmonson and another veteran trooper was tacked on to legislation that had nothing to do with retirement benefits. And attorneys for the pension board recently concluded the action violated the constitution because, among other issues, proper notice was not given that the change would be proposed and the pension provision was added to legislation that had nothing to do with retirement law.

Kennedy said he wanted to know Enright’s opinion.

Kennedy’s requests came in a letter to the retirement board’s executive director Irwin Felps and board chairman Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association.

We can’t speak for any of the others involved in this back door deal, but we are willing to give odds that Kennedy will not be able to convince anyone from the governor’s office to attend that meeting. Nor will Riser dare make an appearance.

Those kinds of people never do their work out in the open for everyone to see and we feel safe in predicting they will continue to avoid the glare of public accountability.

 

Back in the spring of 2011, LouisianaVoice predicted that higher premiums and reduced benefits would by the immediate by-product of privatization of the Office of Group Benefits Preferred Provider Organization (PPO).

The administration initially—but only temporarily—proved us wrong by reducing premiums as the lead-in to contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana as the third party administrator for the PPO.

If we wished to be vain about that move, we could have said that Gov. Bobby Jindal made that move just to prove us wrong. But it wasn’t nearly as simple as that; there was, in fact, a far more sinister reason for the premium reduction.

Because the state pays 75 percent of state employees’ premiums, cutting those premiums reduced the financial obligation to the state, thus allowing Jindal to divert money that normally would have gone to health care for some 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents to instead be used to plug gaping holes in what has become an annual budget shortfall, thanks to slipshod management of state finances by the governor.

The recent developments pertaining to impending radical changes that will force eligible retirees onto Medicare and out of Group Benefits are not about who is right and who is wrong; it’s about people. It’s about people like you and me (yes, I’m a state retiree who is one of the lucky ones who is eligible for Medicare by virtue of my hire date after April 1, 1986 and by virtue of some 25 years of newspaper reporting work in the private sector).

In all the rhetoric coming out of the office of Kristy Nichols, the people she and her boss serve appear to be the forgotten element as Jindal has become a 100 percent absentee governor while he chases the impossible dream of becoming POTUS.

FAQs

Tragically, retirees with no private sector experience and who began with the state prior to April 1, 1986, are ineligible for Medicare and the steep premium increases looming on the near horizon—open enrollment is Oct. 1 through Oct. 31—can mean only one thing for them: financial devastation. A new premium increase to go with the one that took place on July 1 is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, placing an additional financial burden on enrollees.

Of course, if you look back, you will see how the administration fed us a string of outright lies in 2011. Thanks to loyal reader Kay Prince of Ruston, we have a copy of a letter written by then-Commissioner of Administration and who later served as Jindal’s Chief of Staff until his unexpected resignation last March which can only be described as a laundry list of lies to state employees and retirees.

Read the text of Rainwater’s letter here: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4F444D324D5441344C6C4245526A51344E7A413D

If one has to wonder where this latest political assault on state employees originates, one has only to Google “ALEC Health Care Agenda” for the answer.

HHS_2013_SNPS_35_Day

ALEC, of course, is the acronym for the American Legislative Exchange Council, the non-profit political arm of the Koch brothers and the Walton Family of Wal-Mart fame. ALEC, which drafts “model bills” for its member legislators to take back home for passage, includes sweeping changes to health care benefits for public employees as one of its primary objectives.

While we don’t normally advocate political boycotts, perhaps state employees should give serious consideration to a complete boycott of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club as a response to the ALEC-inspired medical benefit cuts you are about to experience. A word or two to friends and relatives might not be a bad idea either.

For a comprehensive look at the ALEC agenda as it pertains to medical benefits, go here:

http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Health,_Pharmaceuticals,_and_Safety_Net_Programs

Here is a list of Louisiana legislators, both present and past, who are now or once were members of ALEC. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Louisiana_ALEC_Politicians

Girod Jackson (D-Marrero), who was charged with fraud and failure to file taxes, resigned and is no longer in the legislator and it is our understanding that Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe) is no longer a member of ALEC.

And certainly, let’s not forget that until recently, BCBS was a member in good standing of ALEC and BCBS was listed as a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and ponied up $10,000 for a “Director” level sponsorship of ALEC’s annual conference held in New Orleans at which Jindal received the organization’s Thomas Jefferson Award. BCBS of Louisiana paid an additional $5,000 and served as a “Trustee” level sponsor of that 2011 conference.

And ALEC continues to have its logo prominently displayed on the Louisiana Legislature’s web page. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/OtherGovSites.aspx

Despite all the spin from Kristy Nichols, the Aug. 11 report to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget by the Legislative Fiscal Office paints a much truer picture of what’s in store for members.

Read the LFO report here: LFO_OGBReport_August_2014

Apparently, the working media also do not buy into the Kristy Kreme version of “it’s all good,” as the proposed changes are attracting the attention of Capitol reporters like Melinda Deslatte, a very capable reporter for Associated Press: http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/news/local/louisiana/2014/08/26/health-benefit-changes-planned-state-workers/14651363/

As a barometer of just how serious the proposed changes are and the impact they will have on members, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, apparently in response to the request of State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) is apparently willing to buck Boss Jindal and call a special meeting of the House as a Committee of the Whole as reported here by the Baton Rouge Advocate’s Marsha Shuler: http://theadvocate.com/home/10100116-123/house-group-benefits-meeting-possible

Undaunted, Nichols trudges on like a good soldier. Today, state employees arrived at work to find emails, mass distributed via the state’s “Bulletin Board,” attempting to address the “incorrect” information “distributed over the last few weeks” regarding the anticipated health insurance changes.

Basically, she denied all negative information, threw up administration smoke screens, made lame excuses and (ho-hum, yawn) blaming the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which has absolutely nothing to do with the Office of Group Benefits.

While Kristy rants that premium increases will be negligible (if one can consider a 47 percent bump negligible), we would remind her it’s not about the premiums; it’s about the benefits. It’s about the co-pays. It’s about the deductibles. Kristy, you can’t ignore the elephant in the room indefinitely.

As state workers peruse Kristy’s latest missive, it is important to refer back to the aforementioned Paul Rainwater letter of April 29, 2011, to get a quick refresher as to just how capable the administration is of clouding an issue with misinformation and outright lies.

They lied then so what’s to keep them from lying now?

The fact is the Jindal administration, what’s left of it, does not nor has it ever cared about the welfare of state employees.

Jindal is joined at each hip by his former—and only—private sector employer McKinsey & Co. on one side and ALEC on the other and both have the same agenda: the destruction of working Americans in favor of ever increasing corporate profits. Together, they guide each and every step Jindal takes.

McKinsey & Co., it should be noted, is also a member of ALEC and is the same company that once consulted General Motors into bankruptcy, advised AT&T there was no future in the cell phone market and which structured the corporate plan for Enron.

These are the ones who are maneuvering to control the health care future of 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.

Only last November, the state flirted with McKinsey & Co. for the purposes of retaining the firm to put together a Business Reengineering/Efficiencies Planning and Management Support Services proposal.

Apparently Jindal opted to go with the less expensive Alvarez & Marcel (A&M) for that contract that has grown from $4.2 million to $7.5 million for A&M to find $500 million in savings over a 10-year period.

But McKinsey did submit a 406-page proposal and a two-page cover letter to Ruth Johnson of the Division of Administration (DOA) which LouisianaVoice has obtained.

Much of McKinsey & Co.’s proposal was redacted by DOA before its release to us—including every word in the proposal dealing with health benefits.

That’s correct. Not a single word about health benefits as proposed by McKinsey was readable. Skip down to page 37 for the redacted health benefits section to see what we mean.

Read the McKinsey report here: McKinsey – State of LA Cost Proposal – Final

In case you don’t have a lot of time, here is a shorter proposal from McKinsey: McKinsey – State of LA Cost Proposal – Final

Are you sufficiently comfortable with that to sit back and trust this administration to do what’s best for you?

“Like all of the governor’s self-created crises, the solution always seems to be to ask more of the people of our state: more money, more patience, more suspended disbelief.”

—State Rep. John Bel Edwards, commenting on the failure of Gov. Jindal’s promise of a $20 million a year savings with the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits.

Gubernatorial candidate and Louisiana House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) has sent a request to House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) to convene a meeting of the House of Representatives in order to review controversial changes coming to the Office of Group Benefits (OGB).

Meanwhile, OGB has issued its own “fact sheet” in advance of the annual enrollment that begins Oct. 1 and closes Oct. 31 designed to defuse information released by the Legislative Fiscal Office that reflect dramatically higher premiums and slashed benefits.

FAQs

OGB’s FAQ data sheet, however, did not include developments reported by LouisianaVoice late Monday which revealed revamped coverage plans designed to force retirees out of OGB and into Medicare coverage. The problem with that strategy, of course, is anyone hired before April 1, 1986, who never worked in the private sector are not eligible for Medicare coverage.

At the same time, the Legislative and Political Director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) has released a series of emails between her and OGB in which she experienced ongoing difficulty in obtaining answers to questions about pending changes in premiums and coverage.

Edwards’ request would allow the house to review the proposal in a forum where all members could ask questions of the Division of Administration, OGB administrators, the Legislative Fiscal Office, and offer suggestions and comments regarding plan changes that will bring an average 47% cost increase to 230,000 plan members and their families.

“The Governor has quietly used your tax dollars as a personal piggy bank, spending the $500 million fund balance of OGB to pay bills that have nothing to do with OGB or its members.” Edwards said. “But over $100million of that balance was paid in directly by the members of OGB. Now that he misspent their money, he dares to add insult to injury by asking more than a quarter million Louisiana working families to pay higher prices for less health insurance coverage.”

Commenting on the dramatic cost increases OGB member will face in the new year, Edwards said, “The likes of Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford would be proud of the Jindal Ponzi scheme that, like theirs, preys largely on retirees living on fixed incomes.”

Edwards’ letter to Kleckley cited the recent hiring of two new OGB officials at more than six figures each as well as the Alvarez and Marsal contract to find “efficiencies” inside OGB that now totals $7.5million in costs to the state. In a written statement made in conjunction with the letter Edwards asked, “Bobby Jindal, and those who stood by and watched him dismantle healthcare in our state, hold themselves out as fiscal conservatives. Since when does fiscal conservatism define the role of government as an institution that cuts services in order to pay six figures to private consultants?”

“Like all of the governor’s self-created crises, the solution always seems to be to ask more of the people of our state: more money, more patience, more suspended disbelief.” Edwards said.

“New facts have come to light since the session ended. We owe it to our constituents to examine this issue together and to offer up some bipartisan solutions to our concerns. This impacts people in every single part of the state,” said Edwards.

Edwards told LouisianaVoice he has received telephone calls from retirees who were crying over joint efforts by OGB and Blue Cross/Blue Shield to revamp programs that could make coverage for retirees cost prohibitive.

Here is his letter to Kleckley: http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/johnbelforlouisiana/mailings/120/attachments/original/JBEtoKleckley.pdf?1409081088

“This is going to destroy families,” he said, “and we owe it to our constituents to do what we can to keep them whole.”

Mary-Patricia Wray, legislative and political director for the LFT, said she had talked with OGB Executive Director Susan West “after much prodding about why I couldn’t get answers about the plans from anyone else” after a July 30 meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

She said that while OGB has provided a preview of the agency’s plan booklet and dates for informational meetings to other groups, “they have provided LFT with none of this information.

“While we represent 21,000 teachers and school employees, many of whom are active members of OGB, the ones who will have no option on the exchange, but will only be able to pick from the new more costly plans, OGB has refused to assist us in directing our members to the appropriate resources to help them select a plan.

“This is even amidst the layoffs at OGB that have left them, in our opinion, unable to properly service the members of the plan.

“We have no problem with assisting our members,” she said. “However, we do have a problem with being denied the tools needed to do that well—for no apparent reason.”

She said West “asked me specifically to call with questions so that I can deliver accurate information to active members or OGB. If she has time to deal with our organizations questions and concerns personally, presumably as the busiest person on staff, I am left to believe the I willful rejection of our inclusion in important meetings about plan details and member communications is simply retribution for our testimony at Joint Budget, since up to that time there was no I indication whatsoever that our attempts to be a team player and deliver accurate info to teachers a school employees was in any way burdensome to the staff of OGB.

“This is an incredibly disappointing communication—one that unfortunately aligns largely with the direction in which policy makers have taken OGB—one that has cut so many staff people to occasion private contracts that it can ostensibly claim those very cuts as the self-created crisis that “requires” it to fail to do its job at all.”

 

Remember less than two weeks ago (Aug. 14, to be precise) we wrote that members of the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits (OGB) should prepare themselves for health insurance premium sticker shock? http://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/14/nichols-pens-op-ed-on-soundness-of-ogb-even-as-legislative-fiscal-office-prepares-members-for-premium-sticker-shock/

Well, LouisianaVoice has obtained new information that indicates we weren’t entirely accurate in our portrayal of what’s in store for some 230,000 state employees, retirees and their dependents.

The reality is much worse.

Much worse indeed, particularly for state retirees.

To recap briefly, we told you in that Aug. 14 posting about the report of the Legislative Fiscal Office on pending major changes in medical coverage for state employees and retirees. Some of those anticipated changes provided in the Legislative Fiscal Officer Report, authored by Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter and Legislative Fiscal Office Section Director J. Travis McIlwain, include:

  • An increase in premiums state employees and retirees pay for health coverage;
  • Significantly increase the out-of-pocket maximum for all health plan options;
  • Increasing deductibles for all health plan options;
  • Increasing co-pays 100 percent for those proposed health plans with co-pays;
  • Increasing the out-of-pocket maximum for the prescription drug benefit by $300 from $1,200 to $1,500 per year, a 20 percent increase;
  • Requiring prior authorizations for certain medical procedures;
  • Eliminating the out-of-network benefit for some health plan options;
  • Removing all vision coverage from the health plan options.

OGB Report_July 2014 FOR JLCB

The latest premium increase of 6 percent will go into effect on Jan. 1 is on top of a 5 percent increase implemented on July 1 of this year.

State Treasurer John Kennedy, on the heels of the Legislative Fiscal Office Report, penned an op-piece in the Baton Rouge Advocate in which he advised state employees to be careful to not break a leg as the increased premiums and co-payments “could cost you a month’s pay. http://theadvocate.com/home/10028534-123/gues-column-changes-mean-problems

The changes mentioned thus far are, of course, mostly the result of that $7.2 million—and growing—consulting contract awarded to Alvarez & Marsal which was charged with sniffing out $500 million in state savings over the next five years—something Gov. Bobby Jindal apparently felt his highly-paid cabinet appointees were incapable of accomplishing.

Of course Jindal’s plan for saving $20 million a year through the privatization of OGB has been less than a smashing success as the agency has hemorrhaged red ink to the tune of $16 million more per month than it receives in premiums since the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana takeover on Jan. 1, 2013.

BCBS is paid by the state on the basis of enrollees. The initial rate beginning in January of 2013 was $23.50 per OGB member per month. Today, that rate is $24.50 and in January, it will go to $25.50 per member per month.

But now LouisianaVoice has obtained information from deep within the inner sanctum of BCBS that OGB is planning even more drastic changes. So, in effect, OGB members are about to be hit with a double whammy, or in more chic vernacular, the perform storm, designed to force retirees out of OGB coverage and into Medicare.

And OGB is completely complicit in this portentous plan.

The sweeping changes are scheduled to be mailed to employees and retirees on Sept. 15 but we have the gist of the plan now.

First of all, all current plans are going to disappear, especially the one that are geared toward retirees. The PPO, or Preferred Provider Organization plan, currently has four levels: Active, Retiree No Medicare, Retiree with Medicare and Retiree 100 (a supplemental program designed for retirees with high medical costs. This program requires a separate premium and currently is only available through the PPO plan).

Now, though, there will be only four plans and none will have levels geared toward retirees, meaning that retirees will be paying more out of pocket. This is the method by which Jindal, through OGB, plans to push retirees to drop their OGB coverage and switch to only having Medicare.

Such a move, of course, would drastically reduce the amount the state would be required to pay BCBS, thus reducing the monthly deficit currently being experienced by OGB. The premium increase next January, along with the reduced benefits would cut that deficit more as the administration grapples with the can of worms it opened by turning over the third party administrative duties to BCBS.

But even worse, state employees who never worked in the private sector prior to April 1, 1986, do not qualify for Medicare. State employees hired after that date began paying into Medicare. Moreover, state employees who never worked in the private sector do not qualify for Social Security benefits. http://www.treasury.louisiana.gov/Lists/SiteArticlesByCat/DispForm_Single.aspx?List=c023d63e%2Dac65%2D439d%2Daf97%2Dda71d8688dff&ID=101

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, try as she might, was unable to put much positive spin on OGB’s status in her recent op-ed column. http://lapolitics.com/2014/08/nichols-ogb-prepared-for-changing-world-of-health-care/

Nor was the self-serving op-ed piece by OGB board member Scott McKnight in Tuesday’s Advocate particularly reassuring. http://theadvocate.com/home/10088672-123/guest-commentary-ogb-changes-helping

(Is it just us, or do the administration and BCBS suddenly seem terribly eager to launch a media blitz to convince us against overwhelming evidence to the contrary that what they’re planning to roll out at the approaching  open enrollment is in the best interest of state employees and retirees? An even better question is do they really believe we’re stupid enough to buy into their empty promises?)

Second, and probably the most inane change is the renaming of all the plans from HMO (Health Maintenance Organization), PPO and CDHP (Consumer Directed Health Plan, formerly High Deductible Plan, changed to CDHP to make it sound more appealing) to confusing names like Magnolia Local, Pelican HRA, etc.

That tactic would appear to simply create confusion for elderly members.

But even more duplicitous is the provision that all OGB members must choose a new plan for the 2015 year during the upcoming open enrollment. If not, then they will automatically be placed in the HRA plan which is the worst of the four plans OGB will offer next year. It is a high deductible plan with have no coordination of benefits with any other coverage.

The big concern here is for members who have moved but never updated their addresses with their Human Resources departments or with OGB. If they don’t get the notices mailed out on Sept. 15 and fail to choose a plan or if they are incapacitated in nursing homes and have no family watching out for them, they will automatically be dispatched to the HRA plan.

HR officers will become responsible for retiree maintenance. Accordingly, retiree records definitely need to be updated in employees’ and retirees’ respective HR offices. But with all the closures and privatizations, many retirees and/or HR offices do not know who will have the retiree maintenance. Several other changes include dependent verification and late applications. All these changes will have to be made with an antiquated electronic enrollment system designed and maintained by the same OGB IT staff that was recently consolidated under DOA and which no longer belongs to OGB.

Further complicating matters is Jindal’s gutting of OGB staff to the point that the office now has only a handful of employees taking phone calls from members. So the administration has suggested that BCBS get its employees to handle the spillover calls.

But while OGB representatives are authorized to offer advice to members on what plans they should choose, BCBS employees are not. So, BCBS is hiring about 20 temps to take phone calls from members regarding the plan changes for 2015. These temps will, in all probability, simply refer callers back to OGB, which would appear to be a poor way to communicate with members about such important changes.

How bad is the HRA plan? Well, for openers, and deductibles will increase from modest amounts to thousands of dollars, the economic effect of which could be devastating to employees and retirees alike.

Lest anyone forget, it was Jindal who pushed the privatization of OGB, even jettisoning Tommy Teague as executive director of the agency when he didn’t jump on board the privatization train. It wasn’t enough that Teague had taken OGB from a $60 million deficit to a $520 million surplus, Jindal insisted the move, which included putting more than 150 OGB employees out of work, would save the state $20 million per year. The plan thus far has proved a complete fiscal disaster.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), who is an announced candidate for governor in the 2015 election, agrees.

“The OGB fiasco is proof positive that privatization for the sake of privatization is foolish,” he said. “A reserve balance that recently exceeded $500 million is half that now and bleeding $16 million per month due to mismanagement and budget chicanery, and the ultimate price will be paid by state retirees and employees through higher premiums, higher co-pays, higher deductibles, and higher co-insurance in exchange for fewer benefits, more forced generic drugs, and more preclearance of needed treatments and other changes that make crystal clear that the OGB beneficiaries will pay more for less.”

In an effort to prevent unwanted surprises in health care coverage following the upcoming enrollment period, it is important to remember three important things:

  • All members should immediately update their addresses with their HR departments or with OGB;
  • Make certain that elderly retirees, retirees in nursing homes, etc., have updated addresses;
  • Make certain that all retirees on Medicare have sent an updated copy of their Medicare cards into OGB.

These are three things that are critical to state employees and retirees as the 2015 plans changes approach.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,540 other followers