For eight months, from Oct. 16, 2012, until June 28, Gov. Bobby Jindal had a director of his re-election committee on the state payroll overseeing state boards and commissions, according to state records.
The duties of Kendal Melvin, director of the Department of Boards and Commissions, was reassigned to Kyle Plotkin, communications director for the governor’s office, according to an announcement by Jindal on Friday, June 28. Plotkin was promoted by Jindal to Assistant Chief of Staff at that time and was given the supervision of state boards and commissions.
Plotkin was given a pay increase, from $90,000 to $110,000 to assume the additional duties, according to Jindal press secretary Sean Lansing.
Melvin, a Vermont native, was initially hired as Director of the Department of Boards and Commissions on Oct. 16, 2012, at a salary of $70,000 per year.
But records provided by the Secretary of State show that she was simultaneously serving as a director of the Committee to Re-elect Bobby Jindal.
Before becoming a state employee, she was on Jindal’s campaign payroll at annual salary of $44,578, according to Jindal’s campaign expenditure report. Her last paycheck from the campaign was for $1,711.86 on Oct. 15, 2012, the day before she went onto the state payroll, records show.
Each of her 46 checks from Jindal’s campaign between Jan. 14, 2011 and Oct. 15, 2012 was issued to her home address in Barre, Vermont, records show, a possible indication that she never moved her legal address to Louisiana even though she was working here.
Her hiring would again raise the question of why, if Jindal really wants to keep Louisiana’s best and brightest in the state as he says, does he continue to go out of state to hire many of his top appointees? Plotkin, for example, is from New Jersey and Jindal policy director Stafford Palmieri is from New York.
Jindal was re-elected in October of 2011 but his committee has continued to function, even filing an annual report on Jan. 10 of this year that showed Melvin was still a committee director.
All campaign expenditures however, are listed in the State Ethics Commission’s campaign finance records in Jindal’s name but no expenditures are listed for either the Committee to Re-elect Bobby Jindal or Friends of Bobby Jindal, the committee’s original name when it was first incorporated in January of 2004.
Jindal entered the 2011 election with nearly $9 million in his campaign treasury and facing only token opposition, so it naturally generates questions as to why his campaign committee remains active, even to the point of filing an annual report in January, instead of disbanding.
Since his re-election, Jindal has continued to collect more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions, leading to renewed speculation about his intentions to seek national office. He is presently 18 months into his second term and is constitutionally prohibited from seeking re-election.
What other reason could explain the need to continue fund raising, especially the $35,000 he raised in New York on a single day—Oct. 25, 2012? His 2012 inauguration, for example, only cost his campaign $156,000.
But an even bigger question is why an active director of Jindal’s campaign committee would be allowed to simultaneously draw a state paycheck for eight months.
State Civil Service rules generally prohibit state classified employees from engaging in political activity. Unclassified employees, however, may participate in political activities so long as such activity is carried out on the employee’s own time. (emphasis ours.)
Melvin was an unclassified, or appointed, employee.
A second question would be how Plotkin could assume assistant chief of staff duties and the directorship of Melvin’s department at an additional salary of only $20,000 compared to the $70,000 paid Melvin for a single function.
Put another way, how is it that Melvin required $70,000 to perform her job and Plotkin was able to absorb that and the assistant chief of staff’s duties for $50,000 less than her former salary for her one job?
Those questions were submitted via email to Plotkin but an automated response said he was out of the office until Monday, July 8. The automated response directed all questions to Sean Lansing of the governor’s office.
Accordingly, the questions were then directed to Lansing, who never responded.
What exactly is the Department of Boards and Commissions anyway, other than an obscure agency tucked away within the Executive Branch?
Basically, it is charged with the responsibility of processing and retaining records of all appointments made by the governor. The St. Peter of Louisiana boards and commissions, if you will.
So the department director is essentially the gatekeeper for all the boards and commissions (and there are many of them) to which the governor may appoint favored campaign contributors—which may go a long way in answering the second question because the job’s duties otherwise appear to be quite mundane.
Who better then to head up the department than a director of his re-election campaign? Such an individual theoretically would know who to reach out and touch for contributions and to not-so-subtly remind them to whom they owe their appointments to prestigious state boards and commissions.
During her tenure at the department, which began a full year after Jindal’s re-election, Jindal received more than $585,000 in campaign contributions, at least $42,000 of that from nine of his appointees to state boards and commissions. Those include:
• Tony Clayton, Southern University Board of Supervisors: $5,000;
• Charlotte Bollinger, State Board of Regents: $5,000;
• Carl Shetler, University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors: $5,000;
• William J. Dore, Sr., Southern States Energy Board: $5,000;
• Dave Roberts, Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Super Dome) Board: $5,000;
• Hank Danos, LSU Board of Supervisors: $5,000;
• Lee Mallett, LSU Board of Supervisors: $5,000;
• Blake Chatelain, LSU Board of Supervisors: two contributions totaling $2,000;
• Moore Investments (James Moore), LSU Board of Supervisors: $5,000.
Between Jindal’s re-election in October of 2011 and Melvin’s appointment to her state position in October of 2012, Jindal raked in a little more than $1 million, including $76,500 from eight appointees to boards and commissions. The bulk of that $76,500 came from $50,000 in 10 separate contributions from Board of Commerce and Industry member Bryan Bossier of Alexandria, family members and assorted businesses run by him.
The web page for the department features a question and answer section about the procedure for applying for appointment to a board or commission. Call us cynical, but we have taken the liberty of adding our own tongue-in-cheek answers (in parentheses and italics) to those provided by the department:
• (Q): How do I apply for a position on a board of commission?
• (A): Submit an official application, along with a letter stating why you are qualified or experienced in the area of the board’s activity. (read: Submit an official application, along with a letter stating your net worth and how much, in terms of contributions, you are willing to give);
• (Q): What happens after I submit an application to the Governor’s office?
• (A): When it is time for the Governor to make an appointment, an analysis is presented that includes the statutory restrictions and information on professional or personal experience either necessary or preferable to the board’s function. The analysis is reviewed and applicants screened. The Governor then makes his selections. (read: When it is time for the Governor to make an appointment, all political contributions are taken into consideration along with those of other applicants. The comparisons are reviewed and the Governor makes his selection based on the amount contributed by each applicant);
• (Q): How do I know if I am eligible to be appointed?
• (A): Most of the seats on the boards and commissions are restricted by statutes. You can research boards and commissions and the laws that govern them on the Internet. You may apply for any boards or commissions that interest you. Please specify your first and second choices. (read: Most of the seats on the boards and commissions are doled out on the basis of the applicant’s financial stability and willingness to contribute to the Governor’s campaign and on the applicant’s willingness to vote in the manner dictated by the Governor, with no questions asked or by asking only those questions approved in advanced and passed on to the member by the Governor’s staff).