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Archive for the ‘ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council’ Category

Editor’s note: The following is a guest column by a Baton Rouge attorney who represents plaintiffs in civil litigation and who chooses to use the nom de plume of Edward Livingston, considered one of the fathers of Louisiana law. 

By Edward Livingston

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) has issued a “fact sheet” about “Louisiana’s Judicial Climate.” http://labi.org/assets/media/documents/JudicialClimateFactSheet_Reduced.pdf

It should not surprise you that big business, and particularly the oil and gas industry, are as much in denial about changes in Louisiana’s judicial climate as they are about changes in the earth’s climate.

The juridical, or artificial, “persons” http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?doc=109467 who constitute Corporate America hate, hate, hate the civil justice system. When you compare the three branches of government, it’s easy to see why. Through lobbying, donations and favors, they easily influence the legislative branch. As an example, note that after the worst oil spill in history, which caused billions of dollars in personal, economic, and environmental damages, the oil and gas industry was able to derail congressional proposals to raise the meager $75 million damage cap under the Oil Pollution Act. They have similar influence on the executive branch through regulatory capture. Look no further than the Federal Communications Commission, purportedly established to protect consumers, but even under a Democratic president, it is run by a former (and likely future) telecom lobbyist. Is it any wonder that the FCC is working to do away with net neutrality? And of course, our own commissioner of insurance spends our money to run ads and buy billboards accusing us all of committing insurance fraud.

But the judiciary is another kettle of fish. The civil justice system is the one area where common, everyday natural persons have a chance to stand almost as equals to corporate behemoths. Because procedural rules are designed to ensure a fair trial, because ethical rules prevent ex parte lobbying of judges, and because corporate litigants do not know the identity of nor can they attempt to influence individual jurors, it is much more difficult for them to create the lopsided playing field that they are used to in their other dealings with government entities.

This horror at the notion of being subjected to actual justice gave rise to the so-called “tort reform” industry. This industry does two things: It attempts to convince the public, and lawmakers, that the judicial system is inherently unfair, and it tries to sell the notion that the civil justice system is somehow bad for the economy. These attempts, in turn, serve two goals: They seek to poison the minds of potential jurors by creating a bias in favor of defendants in civil cases, and, more importantly, they want to change the substantive rules of law and procedure to decrease corporate liability for wrongdoing.

Tort reformers’ arguments are rife with references to “frivolous lawsuits,” but that’s just a smokescreen. They know that frivolous lawsuits are both vanishingly rare (what in the world is the incentive for a contingent fee lawyer to spend her own money pursuing a lawsuit she probably can’t win?) and rapidly dismissed, usually with sanctions http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?doc=112283 for the lawyer who filed them. What they’re really concerned about are the lawsuits that have merit, because those are the ones that cost them serious money to repair the damage they’ve done. Whether it’s a person rendered quadriplegic in crash with an 18-wheeler being driven by a drunken driver or a worker burned beyond recognition in an industrial explosion, those are the kinds of cases that the purported “reformers” are really trying to limit.

With that background in mind, let’s turn to LABI’s description of our judicial climate. Its fact sheet focuses on three issues that it contends are harming Louisiana. First, LABI is concerned about legacy lawsuits, that is, lawsuits brought by landowners against oil and gas producers for damage to their land caused by the oil and gas production. They are worried that these lawsuits hurt the oil and gas industry, and by extension the economy, by discouraging production companies from drilling in the state, or by discouraging them from entering the state in the first place. Second, LABI is also worried about the lawsuit brought against ninety-seven oil and gas producers by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. Again, the concern seems to be that the oil and gas industry, and thus the state’s economy, will be harmed by the mere attempt to hold these companies liable for their alleged wrongdoing. Finally, LABI is appalled that defendants cannot request jury trials unless there is more than $50,000 at issue in the case. This deprivation of access to jury trials, due to a threshold that is much greater than that in other states, is said to lead to excessive litigation. The implication is that the judges who try these small cases are giving claimants too much money.

LABI’s fact sheet is full of footnotes and citations, but that should be taken with a grain of salt. While it cites a number of public bodies for raw numbers on suit filings, trials, judges and the like, the raw meat on the effects of these numbers comes almost exclusively from professional tort reform institutions. The primary, if not exclusive, purpose of these organizations – groups like the American Tort Reform Association, American Tort Reform Federation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, its Institute for Legal Reform, and Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch – is to complain that the civil justice system hurts the economy and is unfair to corporate defendants. It would be shocking if their work product didn’t support those positions. But if you believe them, I’m sure BP would like to share with you their studies showing how inconsequential the Deepwater Horizon disaster was.

If you’ve made it this far, it probably won’t surprise you to find that LABI’s three big concerns are each, to use a technical legal term, baloney. Let’s start with legacy litigation. In these cases, landowners complain that their oil company lessees acted unreasonably and damaged their land. The underlying problem here – the fact that oil companies have polluted a lot of land in Louisiana – is hardly new (the Louisiana Supreme Court held oil companies liable for land damage as early as 1907), and it resulted from two things: weak rules, and even weaker enforcement of those rules. There’s a marvelous timeline of oil company documents dating back to the 1930s showing that the oil companies knew very well that they were breaking the law and could someday be held accountable for it. http://jonesswanson.com/slfpaecase/timeline/

But the Department of Natural Resources did not promulgate strong rules, and they didn’t even enforce the weak rules they had. The difference? Courts are now actually enforcing both the leases and the regulations, requiring the land to be cleaned up, and that’s costing oil companies a lot of money. Some oil companies are getting popped with huge damage awards to clean up the tremendous messes they made. If you’re a really big landowner in these cases (like former governor Mike Foster), you’ve got some leverage, and the producers will settle with you. If you’re a little guy, not so much.

According to the oil and gas industry, these cases are a huge problem, hampering new oil and gas exploration and putting the state’s economy at risk. Their proposed solution to the problem won’t surprise you – they’ve gone to the legislature and sought repeatedly, and successfully, to take the decision-making on cleanups out of the courts and put it back in the hands of their old pal, the Department of Natural Resources. The legislature has gone along with this, especially this last session when the big landowners (whose cases have already been settled) gave their go-ahead on it.

So, to put it in context, the oil and gas companies are basically like the college kids who trash your rental house during the semester, and then whine when you keep their deposit and otherwise seek to hold them accountable for the damage they’ve done. The difference is the legislature actually listens to these deadbeats.

Perhaps the final irony on legacy cases involves Don Briggs, the head of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA), a big-time tort reformer who for years has been telling anyone who would listen that legacy litigation was killing the oil and gas industry. That was working great for him until he actually filed a lawsuit, and he got put under oath, subject to the penalties for perjury. At that point, as one news outlet put it, “Briggs was forced to admit that he knows of no oil companies that have left or will be leaving Louisiana because of its legal climate. He also has no proof companies even consider the legal climate and was unable to cite any data to back up his long-held claims.” http://www.acadianabusiness.com/business-news-sp-416426703/oil-a-gas/16586-read-briggs-depo-here

If you’re curious about what a tort reform advocate has to say about the legal climate when they’re placed under an oath to tell the truth, you can read his entire deposition here. http://www.theind.com/extras/Official-Transcript-Briggs-Depo.pdf

LOGA’s lawsuit brings us to LABI’s second worry – the SLFPA-E suit. Sometimes, those rowdy college kids didn’t just trash the place; sometimes, on the coast, they destroyed it altogether.   LOGA filed that suit to have the levee board suit declared illegal – LOGA lost. The same operative facts apply, and this suit was opposed by largely the same cast of characters, with the notable addition of Governor Bobby Jindal and his former head of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (and now congressional candidate) Garret Graves. They both leapt to the defense of the poor, beleaguered oil industry against the terrible, greedy levee board that was trying to find some way to raise funds for a $50 billion dollar coastal restoration plan. Unfortunately, Graves has a problematic penchant for telling the truth. First, he admitted that the lawsuit isn’t frivolous at all, but that it has merit, stating, “I will be the first to admit there’s liability there.” [http://www.cleanwaterlandcoast.com/james-gill-graves-shows-lawsuit-needed-2/] Then he pulled the whole “reform” fig leaf off the operation, predicting, “I don’t see any scenario where this levee district doesn’t get gutted – or, say, ‘reformed’ – in the next legislative session.”   http://thelensnola.org/2013/08/22/levee-district-jindal-administration-remain-at-odds-over-lawsuit-a-week-after-hints-of-reconciliation/

Despite all this, the legislature did everything it could do to reform gut the levee board lawsuit; we’ll see if it was successful in giving away the state’s chance to recover billions of dollars to pay for coastal restoration.

Finally, there is that horrible $50,000 jury trial threshold. A little background, and some inside baseball: As many know, Louisiana private law is based on Roman, or civil, law, as received through France and Spain. Unlike the English common law that prevails in the other forty-nine states, Louisiana has no tradition of civil juries. As a result, Louisiana is the only state without a constitutional right to a civil jury trial; Louisiana’s constitution is the only one that requires appellate courts to review both legal and factual findings (like amounts of damages) of trial courts in civil cases; and in Louisiana the litigants, rather than the state or local governments, have to front the money to pay for a civil jury trial.

Over the years, particularly since the adoption of the Code of Civil Procedure in 1960, civil jury trials became more common. Then, in the late 80s and early 90s, a certain insurance company decided that “good hands” required it to refuse to settle any small auto cases, no matter the facts, and to force claimants with such small cases into trial by jury. This had several effects: It made those small cases less economical to litigate, since they were more expensive, and, more importantly, it clogged the courts’ trial calendars with cases, because every case had to set for jury trial. After several years of this foolishness, the district court judges convinced the legislature that jury trials should be limited to relatively large cases; the $50,000 figure that was chosen was the threshold for federal diversity jurisdiction at the time. For truly big (and even not-so-big) cases, everyone still has a statutory right to a jury trial.

So why is this a concern for LABI? Because they don’t like the availability of relatively inexpensive and rapid dispute resolution. It drastically decreases the leverage of insurers, who want to force claimants into accepting lowball settlements. More importantly, by clearing the trial court dockets of small cases, it allows truly large and significant cases to get to trial much sooner, reducing the leverage of defendants in those cases by reducing the systemic delay in resolution of the cases.

How do we know that these are LABI’s concerns, rather than a reverence for the sanctity of the right to a jury trial? Easy. They have never proposed to change the state constitution to provide for a constitutional right to civil jury trials or to prohibit appellate review of facts. If those things were done by the legislature, those rights could be used to overturn things like damage caps, which are nothing more than pre-litigation (and usually pre-accident) findings of fact by the legislature. If they really believed that jury trials were a sacrosanct method of finding facts in a civil trial, they’d be talking about those issues.

So, what is the true judicial climate in Louisiana? Well, if you’re an injured person, a landowner, or a taxpayer, for the last forty years, it’s been changing for the worse. Examples:

 

I could go on; these are just the “greatest hits” of Louisiana tort reform. Every year, tort reformers try, usually with at least some success, to chip away at the rights of citizens and governmental entities to seek redress for corporate wrongdoing. For instance, this year, since the attorney general recovered several hundred million dollars for the Medicaid program from pharmaceutical companies, Big Pharma convinced the legislature to take away his power to hire outside lawyers without the legislature’s approval. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=915585&n=HB799%20Act%20796

If the legislator’s will bow to Big Pharma’s will on this, what are the odds they’ll let the attorney general ever hire outside lawyers? And every year, proposals to restore some of the historic rights of Louisiana citizens fall on deaf ears at the capitol.

Louisiana is a conservative state. Its conservative voters elect fairly conservative judges, and they make up fairly conservative juries. If one of those judges or juries should run amuck, there are multi-parish appellate courts, and a state-wide supreme court, acting as backstops for Corporate America.

But that’s never enough. Corporate America still wants to take away your rights. Ironically, these corporations are the true socialists. The only thing they want privatized is profit. They want the costs and risks of production to be borne by society at large: their victims and, ultimately, the taxpayers.

 

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A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of America’s Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 404 pages) is a new book by St. Tammany Parish high school English teacher Mercedes Schneider that should be required reading by both proponents and opponents of the current drift in education from public to private, from non-profit availability to all students to for-profit institutions available to the select few.

Before we get too far into our review of this book, there are two things you should know about Mercedes Schneider:

  • The emphasis is on the first syllable of Mer’ Ce-deez; she’s not a car, nor was she named for one.
  • Don’t ever make the mistake of trying to schmooze her with B.S., especially when it comes to issues involving public education. She will call you out the same way she called out an ill-prepared Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President (BESE) Chas Roemer following his debate with Diane Ravitch in March of 2013. Ravitch had already run circles around Roemer in their debate and he was simply no match for Schneider in the question-and-answer session that followed. It would have been comical had it not been for the position of such serious responsibility conferred upon Roemer by voters in his BESE district.

And when she does call you out, that caustic and at the same time, delightful St. Bernard Parish accent comes shining through like a lighthouse beacon slicing through a foggy night.

The publisher of an education online blog called At the Chalk Fence, She has moved her debate from her ongoing fight with Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White to a national forum and is now calling out such self-proclaimed education experts as former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, whom she calls “the viral host of the corporate reform agenda,” Teach for America (TFA) founder Wendy Kopp, disgraced Washington, D.C. school chancellor and later founder of StudentsFirst Michelle Rhee, vagabond school reformer and former Superintendent of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) Paul Vallas, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the “Big Three Foundations: Gates, Walton and Broad.”

A thorn in the side of Jindal, White, and Roemer of long-standing, she turns her attention to the national educational debate in Chronicle. With an appropriate nod to Ravitch as her mentor and the one who was always available when needed for advice, Schneider peppers her targets with a barrage of statistics that refute the unrealistic theories advanced by the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and TFA who insist meaningful education reform can be accomplished with inexperienced teachers and administrators, for-profit charters, vouchers, and the idea that throwing money at a problem is not the answer (despite their propensity to pour billions of dollars into their own idealistic agendas—at best, a philosophical oxymoron).

A product of the St. Bernard Parish public schools (P.G.T. Beauregard High School), Schneider’s attempt to drop out of school at age 15 somehow morphed into a B.S. in secondary education (English and German), a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the State University of West Georgia, and a Ph.D. from the University of Northern Colorado.

She taught graduate-level statistics and research courses at Ball State University. It was at Ball State that she first took on the task of challenging the issues related to No Child Left Behind, teaching students “how bad an idea it was to attempt to measure teacher performance using student standardized test scores.”

In July 2007, only months before the election of Jindal as governor, she returned home and began a new job teaching high school English in St. Tammany parish.

Her introduction contains a brilliant metaphor for the corporate destruction of public education: she describes what she calls a “detailed image” of an abandoned building being imploded and collapsing upon itself. She envisions the building (public education), “not ornate, not without need for repairs, but sturdy,” as men in yellow hard hats (corporate reformers, we are told) watch, knowing what is about to transpire “because they have orchestrated it from the inside.” She describes the men as “responsible for the impending structural failure” and “who have planned the failure but are removed from its consequences.”

In her blog, she recently launched a withering attack on White’s embargo of the LEAP summary public report, saying the state superintendent had “apparently found himself in an unfamiliar fix regarding his characteristic ‘water muddying.’” She accused White of “collapsing” categories within the LEAP grading system in order to conceal variation through report “groupings” that she said concealed the precision of the standard five levels of LEAP achievement (unsatisfactory, approaching basic, basic, mastery, and advanced).

“Collapsing ‘basic,’ ‘mastery,’ and ‘advanced’ into a single, generic ‘passed’ serves to conceal achievement nuances that might make Louisiana Miracle RSD appear to be ‘less than’ locally-run districts—the ones operated by those pesky, traditional local school boards,” she said.

“After all, a test-score-deficient ‘miracle’ is harder to sell,” she said. “If the data reflect poorly on privatization, then the troubled corporate reformer could alter the data, or alter the reporting, or alter access to the reporting, or employ some combination of the three. Gotta love corporate reform ‘transparency.’”

Jindal, White and Roemer may heave a collective sigh of relief that they have been spared the glare of the spotlight in Chronicle as she concentrates her argument on the glaring weaknesses of the major education reform movers and shakers at the national level.

But perhaps they should not be too comfortable at being spared just yet.

After all, certain matter, they say, flows downhill.

A Chronicle of Echoes is a must read for anyone who is or ever claimed to be concerned about the perpetual political tampering with public education in America—by those least qualified to do so.

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It has been a little over four years since democracy officially died in this country and sufficient time has passed to safely proclaim that you, the American voter, are no longer relevant. You have gone the way of the Edsel and the 8mm movie camera.

If indeed, your voice ever really was heard in the halls of Congress and in the 50 state legislatures, it has been officially muted by the U.S. Supreme Court which, on Jan. 21, 2010, officially handed over the reins of government in this country to corporate entities and power broker billionaires like the Koch brothers, Bill Gates, Sheldon Adelson and the Walton family.

And yes, we were exposed to enough civics and American history in school to know that we do not live in a democracy but rather a representative republic which, by definition, is a representative government ruled by law—in our case, the U.S. Constitution.

But the question must be asked: representative of whom or more accurately, representative of whose interests?

To illustrate how elected officials react to the jingle of loose lobbyist change as opposed to the real needs of constituents, let’s bring the story up close and personal as we consider the story of Billy Tauzin.

Remember Billy Tauzin, the Louisiana Democrat turned Republican from Chackbay?

Tauzin, you may recall, was Louisiana’s congressman from the 3rd Congressional District from 1980 to 2004.

In a move that should cloud the rosiest of rose colored glasses, Tauzin in 2003 helped draft the bill that created a Medicare drug benefit but which, at Tauzin’s insistence, barred the government from negotiating drug prices. In other words, whatever the pharmaceutical firms wanted to charge for prescription drugs for Medicare patients was what they got. No discounts as when Medicare discounts physician and hospital charges. Pharmaceutical prices were set in stone.

Then, in December of 2004, Tauzin abruptly resigned from Congress to become president of….(drum roll, please)…the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

As if that were not egregious enough, Tauzin in his role as PhRMA President, later cut a deal with President Obama in which PhRMA volunteered to help cover the uninsured and to reduce drug prices for some senior citizens in exchange for a promise from Obama that the administration block any congressional effort to allow the government to negotiate Medicare drug prices. The deal was Tauzin’s effort to concede a few bucks on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry in exchange for a guarantee that a much more lucrative—and long-term—deal would remain intact.

Except it didn’t. And only when the deal unraveled did we learn the sordid details of the aborted agreement.

Ironically enough, it was the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the very committee that Tauzin chaired when he cut his original deal to prevent negotiating drug prices in 2004 that ultimately torpedoed him by amending the health reform bill to allow Medicare drug negotiation.

“Who is ever going to go into a deal with the White House again if they don’t keep their word?” sniffed the man who sold his soul—and his office—to PhRMA.

Should we feel betrayed by Tauzin? Should we be outraged?

Why should we? The little episode just described is only one of hundreds upon hundreds of cases of greed-driven deceit carried out by virtually each of the 535 members of Congress. In short, what he did is only symptomatic of a much larger problem in Washington and which filters down to every one of the 50 state legislatures and assemblies.

Whoever coined the phrase “Money talks, B.S. walks” should be enshrined in some kind of exclusive (as in its only member) philosopher’s hall of fame—and dual membership in the political hall of fame as well.

It’s been that way for more than a century now of course, but on Jan. 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court made it official with its 5-4 ruling on Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. All that ruling did was open the floodgates for corporate money to flow on behalf of any member of Congress who might be for sale. (And just in case it may still be unclear, make no mistake that the word “any” in this case is synonymous with “all.”)

The Citizens United decision said that the government had no business regulating political speech—even by corporations which were—and are—still prohibited from contributing directly to federal campaigns but were now free to pour unlimited funds into political action committees (PACs) which in turn could purchase political advertisement on behalf of or in opposition to any issue or candidate.

Those PACs, more accurately described as “Super PACs,” proliferated overnight, cluttering the landscape with TV ads baring nothing more than a tiny “paid for” line at the bottom of the screen to identify the origins of the attack ads.

Like her or not, Hate or love the Affordable Care Act, it should gall every Louisiana citizen to know that it is one of those Super PACs that is buying all of those TV attack ads trying to tie Sen. Mary Landrieu to President Obama. It should nauseate television viewers in this state to know (of course they don’t tell you) that all those TV ad testimonials from Louisiana citizens that tell how Obamacare has devastated their lives and wrecked their homes come from actors—none of whom are Louisiana citizens. That is deceptive advertising in every sense of the word and yet it’s perfectly legal—all the illegitimate child of Citizens United.

So, what exactly is Citizens United? We hear the word bandied about but no one tells us just what it is. Well, here it is in all its ugly trappings:

Citizens United was founded as a PAC in 1988 by Washington political consultant Floyd Brown. More important than the founder’s identity was is the fact that the bulk of the organization’s funding comes from none other than the infamous Koch brothers, the moving force behind the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

So, on the one hand, the Koch brothers financially underwrite favorable federal candidates to the tune of millions of dollars through Citizens United. On the other hand, at the state level, ALEC conducts training sessions to develop “model legislation” for state legislators to take back to their home states for passage—legislation, for example, that keeps the minimum wage down, denies medical coverage for the poor, insures the continued existence of those payday loan companies, privatizes prisons and other services for the profit of member companies who run them, establishes “education reform” through charter schools and online virtual schools, and opposes employee unions while gutting employee pensions.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with the Kochs are members of the Walton family, Bill Gates and Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate to whom all the 2016 Republic presidential hopefuls, Bobby Jindal included, paid the requisite homage recently by making the pilgrimage to Vegas to bow and scrape before his throne in the hope that he would anoint one of them as the Republican candidate for President. (It must have been a sickening sight to watch those sycophants suck up to him like so many shameless American Idol audition hopefuls.)

As the Super PACs proliferated, so, too, did the money poured into political spending. Comparing the last two presidential election years, we see that Super PAC spending on all federal races went from nearly $40 million in 2008 to almost $90 million in 2012.

Being realistic, suppose that you, a citizen, contribute $1,000 to a congressional candidate who at the same time benefits from hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on his behalf by a Super PAC representing, say, a large pipeline company owned by someone like, say, the Koch brothers. That pipeline is projected to run right across prime cattle grazing land that you own and you aren’t too keen on the idea. So you contact your congressman to voice your opposition. Now, just who do you think has his ear—you and your $1,000 contribution or that Super PAC and its hundreds of thousands of dollars? That’s what we thought.

All these Super PACs were formed as either 501(c)(4) or 527 organizations—both tax exempt but with one major difference.

Tax-exempt 527s must make available the names of all their contributors while 501(c)(4) PACs can keep their donors’ identities a closely held secret, thus giving birth to the term “dark money” in political campaign vernacular. When Jindal formed his Believe in Louisiana as a 527 several years ago, for example, he dutifully listed all contributors, as well as all expenditures, as required. That may have embarrassing after LouisianaVoice published a lot of the names of both contributors and expenditures, including millions paid Timmy Teepell and OnMessage.

When Jindal formed his new America Next PAC earlier this year, it was formed as a 501(c)(1), meaning he could keep the names of his donors confidential so as to continue to promote his transparency doctrine as he gads about the country in his attempt to grab the brass ring. He apparently learned a lesson about forming as a 527 and about true transparency.

So, we reiterate: you the voting citizen of Louisiana and America are no longer relevant. Your vote has already been decided by those 527s, the 501s and the political consulting firms that will package the TV ads purchased by the PACs to present to you, the pawns in a huge chess game, so you can validate those ads by obediently trekking to the polls to pull the lever in an election whose outcome will have already been pre-ordained. Oh, there will be some upsets along the way just to keep up the appearance of democracy in action but in the long run, it won’t matter one whit.

The voice of the candidate whose passion is sincere, who is concerned about the issues, who cares for the voters, and who holds the ideals of fairness and constituents’ interests close to his heart, will never be heard. His appeals to justice and equality and a promise of an office that will not be for sale will be drowned out by anonymous actors flickering across your TV screen who pretend to be one of you—but really aren’t—and who will pound into your brain the truth as determined by corporate interests—a message that will resonate with you despite the efforts of that obscure candidate who would, if he only could, be an example of everything that should be good about this country.

That is the sad epitaph for the American representative republic (b. July 4, 1776; d. Jan. 21, 2010).

And if this doesn’t make your blood boil, shame on you.

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The Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) agenda, as we have shown here on numerous occasions, promotes unyielding opposition to any legislation that smacks of benefits to workers, the unemployed and the poor.

Among other things, ALEC, led by the Koch brothers, pushes legislation that:

  • Opposes an extension of unemployment benefits;
  • Undermines the rights of injured workers to hold their corporate employers accountable
  • Promotes for-profit schools at the expense of public education;
  • Opposes consumers’ right to know the origin of food we consume;
  • Opposes an increase in the federal minimum wage;
  • Limits patient rights and undermines safety net programs including, of all things a call to end licensing and certification of doctors and other medical professionals.

While the effort to end licensing and certification of medical professionals might play into the hands of State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R-D-R-Opelousas) and his affinity for witch doctors, such a move probably would not work to the benefit of the average patient.

http://louisianavoice.com/2013/12/30/louisianas-chameleon-legislator-sen-elbert-guillory-republicandemocratrepublican-is-candidate-for-lt-gov/

And while ALEC vehemently opposes any legislation that might remotely resemble benefits to the poor or which might invoke that hated word welfare, the organization’s agenda remains something of a paradox when one takes a step back and examines the spate of corporate welfare programs enacted by willing accomplices in the highest reaches of Louisiana politics.

Generous tax exemptions, credits, and incentives have proliferated to an extent not even imagined by the injured or unemployed worker trying to provide for his family—while generating few, if any, real benefits in the way of new jobs.

Probably the most glaring abuse of the incentives offered by our Office of Economic Development are the absurd tax dodges meted out to the movie industry and for what—being able to boast that we’re now recognized as Hollywood East.” That offers little encouragement to the guy trying to pay for a mortgage, a car payment, education of his kids, and health care if he’s hurt or can’t find a job.

By contrast, LouisianaVoice has found a few federal farm subsidy payments to several “persons of interest” which may come as a surprise to Louisiana’s great unwashed. Then again, maybe not.

For example, we have former legislator (he served in both the House and Senate) Noble Ellington, two years ago appointed to the $130,000 per year position of Deputy Commissioner of Insurance despite his having no experience in the field of insurance.

Ellington, a Republican from Winnsboro, also served until his retirement from the legislature as ALEC’s national president and even hosted the organization’s annual convention in New Orleans in 2011 so it stands to reason that he would, on principle alone, reject out of hand any form of welfare—even such as might be to his own financial benefit.

Not so much.

From 1995 to 2012, Ellington received $335,273 in federal farm subsidies while sons Ryan Ellington and Noble Ellington, III, received $89,000 and $25,223, respectively—nearly $450,000 for the three.

Granted, the senior Ellington made his fortune as a cotton merchant so we suppose that qualifies him to the subsidies—except for his position as National President of ALEC which is diametrically opposed to welfare. Oops, we forgot; that’s diametrically opposed to welfare for all but the corporate world. Our bad.

And then there’s Ellington’s successor to the Louisiana House, Rep. Steve Pylant (R-Winnsboro), who introduced a bill during last year’s session that would have required the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to “adopt rules and regulations that require all public high school students beginning with those entering ninth grade in the fall of 2014, to successfully complete at least one course offered by a BESE-authorized online or virtual course provider as a prerequisite to graduation.”

If that’s not corporate welfare, in that it guarantees a constant revenue stream in the form of state payments to private concerns offering those Course Choice courses, we will shine your shoes free for a year.

During the same time period, 1995 to 2012, Pylant received nearly $104,400 in federal farm subsidies.

His occupation prior to his election to the Louisiana House? He was sheriff of Franklin Parish.

Another ALEC member, State Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi), also received $472,952 in federal farm subsidies for the same time period as Ellington and Pylant.

Thompson holds an Ed.D. Degree from the University of Louisiana Monroe (formerly Northeast Louisiana University) and lists his occupation as educator and developer.

Other ALEC members, their occupations and federal farm subsidies received between 1995 and 2012:

  • Bogalusa Democratic Sen. Ben Nevers—electrical contractor, $20,000;
  • State Rep. Andy Anders (D-Vidalia)—salesman for Scott Equipment, $34,175;
  • Rep. Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro)—Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, “independent businessman” and also has a background in education, nearly $2600—a pittance by comparison but still indicative of the mindset of the ALEC membership when it comes to applying a heaping helping of double standard to the public trough.

To be completely fair, however, it should be pointed out that Nevers introduced a bill this session (SB96) that called for a constitutional amendment that would make health care available under Medicaid to all state residents at or below 138 per cent of the federal poverty level—an effort that sets him apart from those who parrot the standard ALEC position on medical care for the poor. Of course his bill failed in committee by a 6-2 vote today (April 23) after Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) moved to defer action.

Perhaps voters will remember Claitor’s compassion for those without health care in this fall’s (Nov. 4) congressional election.

Two other legislators and two political appointees of Gov. Bobby Jindal who are not members of ALEC also combined to receive nearly $561,000 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012, records show. They are:

  • State Rep. Richard Burford (R-Stonewall)— dairy and beef farmer, $38,000;
  • State Rep. John Morris (R-Monroe)— attorney, $11,625;
  • Robert Barham of Oak Ridge—Secretary, Department of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, $489,700;
  • Lee Mallett of Iowa, LA.—member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, $21,600.

All but Burford and Mallett reside in the 5th Congressional District formerly represented by Rodney Alexander (R-Jonesboro), who now heads the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

The 5th District includes the Louisiana Delta which make up one of the largest row crop farming communities of any congressional district in the nation.

Accordingly, the $289,000 paid out to recipients in 2012 was easily the highest of Louisiana’s six congressional districts, more than double the 4th District represented by John Fleming and accounting for 50.6 percent of the statewide total.

For the period of 1995-2012, the 5th District also ranked highest in federal farm subsidies with the $23.7 million paid out representing 31.2 percent of the total and ranking slightly ahead of the 3rd Congressional District of Charles Boustany, which had $21.1 million (27.8 percent).

Of the $292.5 billion paid in subsidies nationwide from 1995-2012, the top 10 percent of recipients received 75 percent of all subsidies, or an average of slightly more than $32,000 per recipient per year for the 18-year period reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA records also reveal that 62 percent of all farms in the U.S. received no subsidy payments.

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Could Bobby Jindal possibly embarrass himself any more than he did on Monday?

Could he possibly have revealed himself any more of a calloused, uncaring hypocrite than he did on Monday?

Jindal’s outburst upon exiting a meeting between the nation’s governors and President Barack Obama Monday was a petulant display of immaturity that only served to underscore his disgraceful scorn for Louisiana’s working poor in favor of pandering to the mega-rich Koch brothers.

His shameless promotion of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project coupled with his criticism of Obama’s push for a minimum wage increase comes on the heels of word that Jindal is literally stealing from the blind in drawing down more than half of a trust fund established to assist blind vendors in state buildings to purchase equipment, to pay for repairs and to pay medical bills. http://theadvocate.com/news/8440065-123/blind-vendors-jindals-office-spar

That trust fund has shrunk from $1.6 million to about $700,000, apparently because of yet another lawsuit the administration finds itself embroiled in over the delivery of food services at Fort Polk in Leesville that has sucked up $365,000 in legal fees, of which the state is responsible for 21 percent, or $76,650.

(I worked for the Office of Risk Management for 20 years and $365,000 in legal fees is not unreasonable for a major lawsuit that involves significant injuries or death where liability is in question. But $365,000 in attorney bills in a lawsuit over who gets to run the cafeteria, a commissary and a grocery store would seem to be a tad high—even for the law firm Shows, Cali, Berthelot and Walsh, which is representing the state under a $500,000 contract with the Louisiana Workforce Commission.)

Rubbing salt into the wounds is the fact that the Blind Vendors Committee, which is supposed to have a say in policy decisions, has been left out of the loop over the Fort Polk controversy.

Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, justified the hiring of private attorneys to defend the litigation by saying his office’s staff attorneys are too busy to handle the contract lawsuit.

That brings up two questions:

  • Busy doing what?
  • And isn’t this the same administration that pitched a hissy fit when the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East contracted with a private attorney to seek damages from 97 oil companies for destroying the Louisiana wetlands?

But back to the boy blunder. Jindal turns his back on a minimum wage increase for the working poor to stand outside the White House to chat up the Keystone pipeline which would have the potential of generating $100 billion in profit for Charles and David Koch?

Today’s (Wednesday) Baton Rouge Advocate ran this editorial cartoon that is certain to become a classic in that it symbolizes the defining moment of the Jindal administration:

http://theadvocate.com/multimedia/walthandelsman/8477684-123/walt-handelsman-for-feb-26

Jindal said of Obama’s push for an increase in the minimum wage that the president “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” and that Obama’s economy “is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that.” And by “better,” he was referring to the Keystone pipeline which he said Obama would approve if he were “serious about growing the economy.”

Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy almost pushed Jindal aside in his eagerness to take the microphone to say, “Wait a second. Until a few moments ago we were going down a pretty cooperative road. So let me just say that we don’t all agree that moving Canadian oil through the United States is necessarily the best thing for the United States economy.” He said Jindal’s “white flag” comment was the most partisan of the weekend conference and that many governors, unlike Jindal, support an increase in the minimum wage.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, was a bit blunter, calling Jindal a “cheap shot artist” as he walked off the White House grounds.

Jindal, of course, wants to be president so badly that he is perfectly willing to sell his soul to the Koch brothers and their organizations Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the apparent hope that some of their AFP money might find its way into his campaign coffers.

AFP is the same super PAC that recently hired professional actors to pose as Louisiana citizens claiming that Obamacare is hurting their families. The merits of lack thereof of Obamacare aside, this is politics at its very sleaziest and our governor is in bed with them.

But this is perfectly in keeping with his character as governor. He has attempted to rob state employees of their retirement benefits. He has attempted to destroy public education with a full frontal attack on teachers. His administration has handed out huge no-bid contracts to consultants as if they were beads at a Mardi Gras parade. He has handed over the state’s charity hospital system to private concerns, including two facilities that went to a member of his LSU Board of Stuporvisors. He has run roughshod over higher education. He has fired appointees and demoted legislators who dared think for themselves. He has refused to expand Medicaid despite living in a state with one of the highest number of citizens lacking medical insurance. He has crisscrossed the country making silly speeches designed only to promote his presidential ambitions by keeping his name before the public. He has written countless op-ed pieces and appeared on network TV news shows for the same purpose.

And still, whenever the pundits start listing the potential Republican presidential contenders for 2016, he name never appears as a blip on their radar. Even Sarah Palin’s name pops up now and then but never Jindal’s.

Even readers of his favorite political blog, The Hayride, which among other things 1), recently featured an infomercial touting a sure-fire cancer cure and 2), got taken in by a hoax video depicting an eagle swooping down and trying to grab an infant in a park, seem to hold Jindal in low regard. A couple of weeks ago The Hayride conducted its own poll of potential Republican candidates for president in 2016.

Here are their results:

  • Sen. Ted Cruz: 39.9 percent;
  • Sen. Rand Paul: 20.7 percent;
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: 10.1 percent;
  • Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: 5.8 percent;
  • Other/Undecided: 24.9 percent.

That’s it. No Jindal. And this from a decidedly pro-Jindal Louisiana political blog. We can only assume he may have shown up somewhere among the 24.9 percent undecided. But this much we do know: he was beaten by Sarah Palin.

At this point, we don’t need a poll to tell us that Jindal would be far better suited as the auctioneer in that GEICO commercial or as the disclaimer voice at the end of those pharmaceutical ads that tell us how we could all die from side effects of the drug that’s being advertised to help with our medical malady—or perhaps even better as the really rapid fire voice that absolutely no one on earth can understand at the end of those automobile commercials.

He has, after all, been auditioning for the part for six years now.

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Two months ago, when the Federal Communications Commission allotted $8 million to expand broadband Internet access in rural Louisiana areas, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu was quick to praise, perhaps a bit prematurely, the “investment” while Gov. Bobby Jindal remained uncharacteristically silent.

Despite Landrieu’s laudatory claim that the funds would “upgrade the digital infrastructure in rural communities,” the $8 million represented only 10 percent of an $80 million grant for Louisiana that was rescinded in October of 2011 because of Jindal’s aversion to what then Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater deemed a “top-down, government-heavy approach that would compete with and undermine, rather than partner with the private sector…”

What Rainwater—and through him, his boss, Jindal—did not acknowledge is that the Jindal administration’s obsession with protecting the private sector at the expense of broadband Internet service to customers in the rural areas of the central and northeastern parts of the state was part of the 12-year-old official position staked out by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in August of 2002. http://alecexposed.org/w/images/6/6f/9A15-Municipal_Telecommunications_Private_Industry_Safeguards_Act_Exposed.pdf

Also ignored by the Jindal administration—and ALEC—is that broadband service in the U.S. is woefully inadequate when compared with countries like South Korea, Japan and even Portugal and Italy. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/competition-and-the-internet/

And it’s even worse in the country’s rural areas. http://deltafarmpress.com/blog/broadband-service-rural-areas-promise-still-exceeds-reality

No doubt you’ve seen those cute AT&T commercials featuring the man sitting at a table with children. He asks a question and gets feedback from the kids and the commercial ends with, “It’s not complicated.”

Indeed it is not. In 2008, Jindal’s very first year as governor, he signed SB-807 into law as Act 433 over the objections of the Louisiana Municipal and State Police Jury associations. The bill, the Consumer Choice for Television Act, was authored by then-Sen. Ann Duplessis (D-New Orleans). It passed the Senate by a 34-1 vote with only Dale Erdy (R-Livingston) voting no. Absent and not voting were Sens. Robert Adley (R-Benton), Jody Amedee (R-Gonzales) and Sheri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville).

AT&T, which contributed $10,000 to Jindal’s campaign since 2007, supported the bill. AT&T also contributed $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children.

It’s not complicated.

It also passed overwhelmingly in the House by a 94-9 vote. The only members casting no-votes were Reps. James Armes (D-Leesville), Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport), Greg Cromer (R-Slidell), Jean Doerge (D-Minden), Ricky Hardy (D-Lafayette), Lowell Hazel (R-Pineville), Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), Sam Jones (D-Franklin), and Chris Roy (D-Alexandria). Rep. James Morris (R-Oil City) was absent and did not vote.

The only ALEC member to go against the official doctrine was Carmody. He attended ALEC’s 2010 annual meeting in San Diego at which the organization’s Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force passed an official resolution in potential opposition to private telephone and cable companies by public bodies such as city councils and parish governments. http://louisianavoice.com/2012/05/09/could-loss-of-that-80-6-million-broadband-internet-federal-grant-last-fall-have-been-deliberately-orchestrated-by-alec/

Other members of the Louisiana Legislature who attended that meeting included Reps. John LaBruzzo (R-Metairie), Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), Tim Burns (R-Mandeville), State Chairman Joe Harrison (R-Gray), Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte) and Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge).

Act 433 well may even have been written by AT&T, which is a member of ALEC and a member of ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force. AT&T chipped in $50,000 to the ALEC cause in 2010 and was a member of the Louisiana Host Committee for ALEC’s 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans. Jindal was the recipient of ALEC’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award at that 2012 meeting. http://www.alec.org/hundreds-of-state-legislators/

It’s not complicated.

And lest one think that Louisiana’s loss of the $80 million broadband grant in 2011 was the exception, consider this:

  • Early this year, the Kansas Legislature undertook Campaign Stop Google Fiber—and any cities that may wish to invest in broadband network technologies. Included in legislation introduced in the legislature were stipulations that except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not themselves offer to provide or lease, construct, maintain or operate any facility for the purpose of allowing a private entity to offer, provide, carry or deliver video, telecommunications or broadband service. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/01/30/1273848/-Kansas-moves-to-Stop-Broadband-Internet-to-residents?detail=email
  • In February of 2011, the Minnesota Cable Communications Association (MCCA) initiated a public battle with National Public Broadband (NPB) by inundating Lake County with a flurry of public records request designed to slow NPB’s efforts to bring broadband Internet to rural areas of Lake County.

While MCCA correctly asserts that Lake County should act transparently, the barrage of requests submitted by the association makes its intent to protect its own financial interests over those of rural residents of the county is quite apparent. Its monopoly is, after all, being threatened and those cable services that are overpriced and which provide as little speed as possible are fighting back.

Certainly it’s only coincidental that AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Excel Communications, Fair Point Communications, Sprint Nextel, Verizon, and Cox Communications are members of ALEC. All but Excel and Fair Point serve on ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ALEC_Corporations.

It’s not complicated.

So, given Jindal’s cozy relationship with ALEC and given ALEC’s opposition to public participation in expanding broadband Internet service to rural areas in competition with ALEC members, it’s perfectly understandable why Jindal eschewed that “top-down” management of the $80 million grant.

It’s not complicated.

And it is equally apparent that the monopolistic advantage enjoyed by private sector providers be protected at all cost—even at the cost of creating some 900 miles of cable over 21 rural parishes that would support several Louisiana universities with expanded optical fiber networking capacity.

It’s not complicated.

Top-down management apparently is good only when it originates from the fourth floor of the State Capitol. Just ask any legislator, former state employee, or board or commission member who has dared to contradict him on any issue.

It’s not complicated.

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The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may have suffered a mass exodus of sorts in the wake of its Stand Your Ground mantra that led to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, but ALEC is far too strong to let a few defections stand in the way of its political agenda in such areas as public education (even to borrowing from John White’s playbook), weakening workers’ rights, diluting environmental protections, healthcare and now even in the way U.S. senators are nominated and elected.

For that reason alone, the upcoming legislative session which begins at noon on March 10—less than two months from now—will bear close watching for any bills that might appear to have originated at ALEC’s States & Nation Policy Summit last month in Washington, D.C.

ALEC, while striving to change laws to meld with its agenda, nevertheless denies that it is a lobbying organization. That way, corporations and individuals who underwrite ALEC financially are able to claim robust tax write-offs for funding ALEC and its companion organization, the State Policy Network (SPN).

ALEC has a strong presence in Louisiana. Former legislator Noble Ellington, now a deputy commissioner in the Louisiana Department of Insurance, is a former national president of the organization and Gov. Bobby Jindal was recipient of its Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award a couple of years ago when ALEC held its national conference in New Orleans.

Current Louisiana legislators who are members of ALEC are:

House of Representatives:

  • Rep. John Anders (D-Vidalia), Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force;
  • Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans),      attended 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting;
  • Rep. Timothy G. Burns (R-Mandeville), Civil Justice Task Force Alternate;
  • Rep. George “Greg” Cromer (R-Slidell), State Chairman, Civil Justice Task Force (announced he was resigning from ALEC and from his position as Alec state chairman of Louisiana on April 17, 2012);
  • Rep. James R. Fannin (R-Jonesboro), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Franklin J. Foil (R-Baton Rouge), Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Rep. Brett F. Geymann (R-Lake Charles), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Rep. Johnny Guinn (R-Jennings);
  • Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray), State Chairman, member of Education Task Force; (solicited funds for “ALEC Louisiana      Scholarship Fund” on state stationery July 2, 2012);
  • Rep. Cameron Henry, Jr. (R-Metairie), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Bob Hensgens (R-Abbeville);
  • Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R-West Monroe), ALEC Education Task Force;
  • Rep. Girod Jackson (D-Marrero), (resigned last August after being charged with fraud);
  • Rep. Harvey LeBas (D-Ville Platte),  ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force;
  • Rep. Walter Leger, III (D-New Orleans), ALEC Education Task Force;
  • Rep. Joe Lopinto (R-Metairie), (attended 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting where he spoke on “Saving Dollars and Protecting Communities: State Successes in Corrections Policy”);
  • Rep. Nicholas J. Lorusso (R-New Orleans), ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force;
  • Rep. Erich Ponti (R-Baton Rouge;
  • Rep. John M. Schroder, Sr. (R-Covington), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport);
  • Rep. Scott M. Simon (R-Abita Springs), ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force;
  • Rep. Thomas Willmott (R-Kenner), ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force;

Senate:

  • Sen. John A. Alario, Jr.(R-Westwego), ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force;
  • Sen. Jack L. Donahue, Jr. (R-Mandeville), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force member;
  • Sen. Dale Erdey (R-Livingston); Health and Human Services Task Force;
  • Sen. Daniel R. Martiny (R-Metairie); Public Safety and Elections Task Force;
  • Sen. Fred H. Mills, Jr. (R-New Iberia), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force member;
  • Sen. Ben Nevers, Sr. (D-Bogalusa), ALEC Education Task Force member;
  • Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Sen. Gary L. Smith, Jr. (R-Norco), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi)
  • Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, Jr. (R-Central), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force.

All ALEC meetings are held under tight security behind closed doors. During one recent conference, a reporter was not only barred from attending the meeting, but was actually not allowed into the hotel where the event was being held.

Apparently, there is good reason for that. It is at these conferences that ALEC members meet with state legislators to draft “model” laws for legislators to take back to their states for introduction and, hopefully, passage. Some of the bills being considered for 2014 are particularly noteworthy.

We won’t know which proposals were ultimately approved at that December meeting in Washington, however, because of the secrecy in which the meetings are held. We will know only if and when they are introduced as bills in the upcoming legislative session. But they should be easy to recognize.

One which will be easy to recognize is ALEC’s push for implementation of Louisiana’s Course Choice Program in other states. Course Choice, overseen by our old friend Lefty Lefkowith, is a “mini-voucher” program which lets high school students take free online classes if their regular schools do not offer it or if their schools have been rated a C, D or F by the state.

Course Choice has been beset by problems in Louisiana since its inception first when companies offering classes under the program began canvassing neighborhoods to recruit students and then signing them up without their knowledge or permission. Vendors offering the courses were to be paid half the tuition up front and the balance upon students’ graduation, making it a win-win for the vendors in that it didn’t really matter if students completed the courses for the companies to be guaranteed half the tuition. Moreover, there was no oversight built into the program that would ensure students actually completed the courses, thus making it easy for companies to ease students through the courses whether or not they actually performed the work necessary to obtain a grade. The Louisiana Supreme Court, however ruled the funding mechanism for Course Choice from the state’s Minimum Foundation Program unconstitutional.

Three other education proposals by ALEC appear to also borrow from the states of Utah. The first, the Early Intervention Program Act, is based on Utah’s 2012 law which has profited ALEC member Imagine Learning by diverting some $2 million in tax money from public schools to private corporations. But Imagine Learning did not offer test scores for the beginning and ending of the use of its software, little is known of what, if any, benefits students might have received. The Student Achievement Backpack Act and the Technology-Based Reading Intervention for English Learners Act also appear to be based on Utah’s education reform laws.

The former provides access to student data in a “cloud-based” electronic portal format and was inspired by Digital Learning Now, a project of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education when he was Florida’s governor.

Not all of ALEC’s proposals address public education.

For example, do you like to know the country of origin of the food you place on your table? More than 90 percent of American consumers want labels telling them where their meat, fruits, vegetables and fish are from, according to polling data. ALEC, though, is resisting implementation of what it calls “additional regulations and requirements for our meat producers and processors,” including those that would label countries of origin.

ALEC’s “Punitive Damages Standards Act” and the accompanying “Noneconomic Damage Awards Act” would make it more difficult to hold corporations accountable or liable when their products or practices result in serious harm or injury.

The organization’s “Medicaid Block Grant Act” seeks federal authorization to fund state Medicaid programs through a block grant or similar funding, a move that would cut Medicaid funding by as much as 75 percent. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has pushed similar block grant systems for Medicaid in several of his budget proposals.

In what has to qualify as a “WTF” proposal, ALEC for the second straight year is seeking approval of a bill to end licensing, certification and specialty certification for doctors and other medical professionals as requirements to practice medicine in the respective states and to prohibit states from funding the Federation of State Medical Boards.

Then there is the “Equal State’s Enfranchisement Act,” which is considered an assault of sorts on the 17th Amendment. For more than a century, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures, a practice which often led to deadlocks and stalemates, leaving Senate seats open for months on end. But 101 years ago, in 1913, the 17th Amendment was ratified, changing the method of choosing senators to popular vote by the citizenry.

While ALEC’s proposal doesn’t mean full repeal of the 17th Amendment, it does mean that in addition to other candidates, legislatures would be able to add their own candidates’ names to ballots for senate seats. ALEC, apparently, is oblivious or unconcerned with a national poll that shows 71 percent of voters prefer electing senators by popular vote.

To keep track of these and other ALEC bills introduced in the upcoming session, just keep an eye on the member legislators and the bills they file.

And keep reading LouisianaVoice.

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Apparently Arkansas has ethics laws that are a bit stronger than those in Louisiana.

Lt. Gov. Mark Darr announced last week that he will resign, effective Feb. 1, in a move to avoid impeachment by the Arkansas House of Representatives after he was fined for 11 separate counts that included his personal use of more than $30,000 in campaign funds.

Earlier this year, Democratic State Sen. Paul Bookout also resigned after he was fined $8,000 by the State Ethics Commission for using thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal purchases.

In that case, reports totaling more than 35 pages revealed that Bookout spent more than $5,000 alone on clothes and accessories at a Jonesboro, Ark., clothing store.

And then there is Martha Shoffner, the Democratic State Treasurer who resigned last May under pressure from both Democrats and Republicans and who was arrested the following month on 14 counts, including receipt of a bribe and extortion—not quite the same thing as using campaign funds for personal purposes, though we do have a legislator who awarded a $4 million contract to a firm when he was head of a state agency only to resign and go to work for the firm within weeks of signing off on the contract. He apparently continues to represent the company even while now serving in the legislature.

The personal use of campaign funds, while a common practice among Louisiana politicians, is apparently frowned upon in Arkansas to such an extent that even Darr’s fellow Republicans urged him to resign in the wake of his ethics problems.

Darr signed a letter on Dec. 30 in which he agreed to pay the Ethics Commission $11,000 in fines and to reimburse the state for findings in a legislative audit, which said he improperly spent $3,500 on his state credit card and then filed for an equal amount in travel reimbursements.

Remember back on Feb. 10, 2008, when Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Senate Bill 1 into law which, among other things, banned legislators and other state officials from contracting with the state?

SB-1, which became Act 2 with Jindal’s signature, was the centerpiece of the new governor’s agenda (he had been in office little more than a month at the time). “Today, we take the first step towards building a better Louisiana where our ethics laws are the gold standard,” he boasted as he signed the bill.

Well, not so much, it turns out.

Jindal’s “gold standard” removed enforcement from the State Ethics Board and gave it to some creature called the Ethics Adjudicatory Board whereby ethics cases are now heard by administrative law judges. Enforcement became such a joke that 10 ethics board members, including its chairman and vice-chairman resigned in disgust.

Today, we have a Teach for America (TFA) director serving on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) which administers funding for TFA, the BESE president voting on charter school matters while his sister serves as director of the state charter school association, another BESE member whose company has a multi-million contract with another state agency; a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors voting to turn over operations of the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Hospital in Monroe to a foundation which he serves as CEO.

And worse, no one in a position to take appropriate action appears to want to step up to the plate.

Apparently, that “gold standard” in Louisiana means whoever has the gold sets the standard.

Campaign funds in Louisiana appear to serve as a handy slush fund for legislators who use the money for any purpose they wish—even, in one case, to pay a legislator’s federal income taxes not once, but for four straight years.

Take for example the Louisiana Election Code (Title 18:1505.2-I, paragraph 36 on page 36): “No candidate, political committee, person required to file reports under this chapter, nor any other person shall use a contribution, loan, or transfer of funds to pay a fine, fee or penalty imposed (by the State Ethics Board.)”

Yet The Louisiana Board of Ethics web page lists dozens of individual occasions in which ethics fines were paid with campaign funds. Some of these were paid by political action committees (The Alliance for Good Government paid $1,600 from its campaign funds and the Better Government Political Action Committee paid $5,000 from its campaign funds), some by lobbyists and these, by current or former legislators:

  • Rep. James Armes, III (D-Leesville)—$2,600 (two fines);
  • Rep. Roy Burrell (D-Shreveport)—$2,000;
  • Former House Speaker Charles DeWitt (D-Alexandria)—$5,000;
  • Former Rep. Tom McVea (R-St. Francisville)—$720;
  • Former Sen. Walter Boasso (D-Chalmette)—$1,000;
  • Former Rep. Irma Muse Dixon (D-New Orleans)—$600;
  • Former Rep. Dale Sittig (D-Eunice)—$800;
  • Former Sen. Joel Chaisson, II (D-Destrehan)—$5,000 (two fines);
  • Sen. Richard Gallot (D-Ruston)—$1,000.

But the real eye-opener is the list of more than 50 legislators and former legislators who had expenditures for LSU athletic season and individual game tickets, New Orleans Saints, Sugar Bowl, Jazz/Pelican and NCAA event tickets and in some cases, vehicle leases (including Senate President John Alario, who leased a Jaguar for his use) and gasoline purchases and even federal income tax payments. Here are a few examples of current members of the House and Senate who have dipped into campaign funds to pay for athletic event tickets that total more than $500,000 (car leases, gasoline, travel, parking and other personal expenditures are in parenthesis):

  • Rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans)—$12,200 in 2009, 2011 and 2012 (Abramson also spent an additional $13,563 on legislative travel, airline tickets, Washington, D.C., Mardi Gras events and hotel fees in New York);
  • Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego)—$88,441 in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 on athletic and Jazz Fest tickets, $62,365 in auto lease payments from 2009 through 2012 (Jaguar), another $12,000 for fuel, more than $16,000 in meals during that same time frame, more than $10,000 on entertainment, $13,840 in rent for his Pentagon Barracks apartment in Baton Rouge; $1,200 for cable TV for his Pentagon Barracks apartment;
  • Rep. John Anders (D-Vidalia)—$9,142 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. James Armes, III (D-Leesville)—$11,688 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans)—$3,000 in 2011;
  • Rep. John Berthelot (R-Gonzales)—$7,770, all in 2011;
  • Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville)—$10,798 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Thomas Carmody, Jr. (R-Shreveport)—$11,556 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans)—$3,738 in 2009 and 2010;
  • Sen. Norbert Chabert (R-Houma)—$3,015 in 2010;
  • Rep. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero)—$25,026 (Connick also paid $5,073 in lease payments for an Infiniti automobile in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and also paid $2,107 for lodging at the Baton Rouge Hilton Hotel;
  • Rep. George Cromer (R-Slidell)—$14,228 in 2008 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 (Cromer also paid $1,709 to the Sandestin Hilton on Aug. 3, 2008, for a Louisiana Forestry Association meeting and eight days later paid himself $1,500 for “expenses Hilton Hotel—hotel $969, mileage $285 and food and drink $250” and he paid $1,254 to the Hilton Washington for expenses for the Washington Mardi Gras in January of 2009. He also paid two New Orleans hotels a combined $1,141 for lodging for a legislative retreat and for a freshman retreat. He also paid himself a $500 cash advance for that 2009 Washington Mardi Gras;
  • Rep. Herbert Dixon (D-Alexandria)—$2,750 in 2011 (Dixon also paid $1,593.26 out of his campaign funds for hotel bills in Phoenix, Arizona, and Chicago.);
  • Rep. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles)—$1,500 in 2008 (he paid another $10,500 in rent for a Pentagon Barracks apartment in Baton Rouge);
  • Rep. Hunter Greene (R-Baton Rouge)—$6,394 in 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe)—$11,106 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
  • House Speaker Charles Kleckley (R-Lake Charles)—$17,492 in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte)—$11,316 in 2009, 2020 and 2011;
  • Sen. Dan Martiny (R-Metairie)—$69,529 from 2002 through 2012 (Martiny also spent $12,351 on travel and another $12,976 for rent and furniture for his Pentagon Barracks apartment in Baton Rouge);
  • Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans)—$8,043 in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. James Morris (R-Oil City)—$2,735 in 2009;
  • Sen. Dan Morrish (R-Jennings)—$2,978 in 2009;
  • Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell)—$20,660;
  • Sen. Jonathan Perry (R-Kaplan)—$16,653 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Stephen Pugh (R-Ponchatoula)—$5,900, all in 2011;
  • Rep. Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux)—$2,678 in 2009;
  • Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia)—$2,000 (Riser spent an additional $8,138.84 in 2012 for his personal vehicle, another $6,656.86 for fuel for the vehicle, $1,013.67 to Riser & Son Funeral home—his business—in Columbia for reimbursement for purchase of an I-Pad, and $1,005.72 for insurance coverage on his truck;
  • Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette)—$19,756 in 2004, 2005, 2006 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012;
  • Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington)—$1,708 in 2009;
  • Sen. Gary Smith (R-Gonzales)—$14,952 in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge)—$5,238 in 2008 and 2009;
  • Rep. Roy Burrell (D-Shreveport)—$6,100 in 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero)—$8,448 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Mike Danahay (D-Sulphur)—$11,386 in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012;
  • Sen Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie)—$7,466 in 2007, 2009 and 2011;
  • Rep. Jack Montoucet (D-Crowley)—1,010 in 2010;
  • Sen. Kevin Pearson (R-Sulphur)—$3.010, all in 2010;
  • Rep. Harold Ritchie (D-Bogalusa)—$810 in 2005;
  • Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport)—$8,075 in 2011 and 2012 (Seabaugh also spent $1,309.74 for a hotel stay for an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Baton Rouge in 2011;
  • Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi)—$11,958 in 2009, 2010 and 2011(Thompson also paid $3,456 for hotel rooms on three trips to Sandestin Beach Golf Resort in 2009, 2010 and 2012, ;$11,958 in gasoline and auto insurance for those same years and $2,725 in dues to the Delhi Country Club and the Black Bear Golf Course. Even more curious, he $11,367 from his campaign funds for his federal income taxes for the years 2008 through 2011;
  • Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe)—$1,785;
  • Sen. Bodi White (R-Central)—$5,858 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 (White also spent $2,543 on hotel stays in Destin, Fla., and in Washington, D.C. and another $1,398 on air travel to Phoenix and Atlanta;

Former Rep. Noble Ellington who spent $32,380 of his campaign funds since 2007 on athletic event tickets, more than $8,000 of which was spent in 2011 when he did not seek re-election. He spent another $40,755 in rent payments for his Pentagon Barracks apartment and another $2,400 attending meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), of which served as national president during his last year in office.

Ellington, within weeks of leaving office, was named the second in command at the Louisiana Department of Insurance at $150,000 per year, a position which will greatly enhance his retirement benefits at the same time Gov. Jindal is asking state employees to work longer, pay more in employee contributions and accept fewer benefits.

Other former legislators who found no problem soliciting campaign contributions from supporters and to use the money for LSU athletic tickets and other personal expenditures included:

  • Former Rep. Bobby Badon (D-Carencro)—$8,448 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
  • Former Rep. Damon Baldone (R-Houma)—$8,865 in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011;
  • Former Sen. Nick Gautreaux (D-Meaux)—$3,060 in 2010;
  • Former Rep. Walker Hines (R-New Orleans)—$5,688 in 2010;
  • Former Sen. Mike Michot (R-Lafayette)—$14,797 in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Former Sen. Rob Marionneaux (D-Maringouin)—$6,075 in 2010 and 2011;
  • Former Rep. Billy Montgomery (R-Bossier City)—$4,075 in 2011 (Montgomery has not served in the legislature since 2008.);
  • Former Rep. Ricky Templet (R-Gretna)—$8,638 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Former Rep. Ernest Wooton (R-Belle Chasse)—$4,755 in 2009 and 2011;
  • Former Rep. Troy Hebert (D-Jeanerette)—$10,425 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 (Hebert also $1,505.70 for lodging at a Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., and $691.80 on an airline flight to Washington in 2010, and  $500 at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, which he listed as a “donation” in 2011;
  • Former Rep. Nickie Monica (R-Metairie)—$9.670 in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;

Some of the current and former legislators listed their expenditures as “donations,” but the “donations” often were in multiples of $1,010: $1,010, $2,020 and $3,030, which correspond to the price of LSU tickets. Interestingly, other legislators listed identical amounts, but their reports said the expenditures were to purchase LSU tickets which would seem to make the donations claim appear somewhat duplicitous.

And apparently there is no inclination—or desire—on the part of the legislature to enact appropriate legislation to keep such rampant abuses in check.

Rank indeed has its privileges.

And what Louisiana’s legislators get away with is pretty damned rank.

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When we wrote what we thought was a parody about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to privatize the LSU football program, little did we know the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation beat us to the punch—by a good six years.

Only they were dead serious.

Thanks to an alert reader who forwarded us a link to a Tampa Bay Times story from May of 2011, we learned that Koch, one-half of the infamous Koch brothers who are the primary benefactors of ALEC, had pledged $1.5 million to Florida State University’s economics department way back in 2008 (How did we manage to miss this for so long?).

There was one major caveat, however: In exchange for his generosity, Koch received veto power over hiring decisions for the department.

But even the FSU endowment was not precedent-setting. Between 2007 and 2011, Koch and brother David were said to have given more than $30 million to various groups that negotiated deals with more than 200 universities throughout the U.S.

As Rachel Maddow of MSNBC correctly observed, naming rights to a stadium in exchange for an endowment is one thing, but purchasing faculty rights is something else altogether.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/23/rachel-maddow-charles-koch-buying-sway-over-university-hires-is-objectively-insane/

Maddow, while conceding the deal made perfect sense from Koch’s perspective, was still critical of state officials “crazy enough to let him do it.”

She said that Koch “gets to make sure his conservative billionaire economic ideas get taught and published and propagated under the brand name of something that is supposed to look like a university-level education.

“If you don’t like what the facts say, then write your own facts,” she said. “If you don’t like what independent scholarship looks like, then buy some.”

Normally, university benefactors have little input into who fills a chair that they endow. The unfettered power of university administrators to hire professors of their choosing is considered sacrosanct in academia.

Most universities, the University of Florida among them, have strict policies limiting donor input over the use of their gifts and Yale University once even returned a $20 million endowment when the donor wanted veto power over appointments. Such control was “unheard of,” the university said.

And technically speaking, Koch did not get direct authority over hiring decisions but he did receive authority to select members of an advisory committee that screens candidates which, it turns out, is just as good. A year after the grant was awarded, that advisory committee had rejected 60 percent of job applicants suggested by FSU faculty.

Author Jennifer Washburn called FSU’s capitulation to the siren song of the dollar “an egregious example of a public university being willing to sell itself for next to nothing.”

One of Koch’s favorites, George Mason University, has received more than $30 million over the past two decades. Koch also has underwritten faculty members who push his political beliefs at Clemson and West Virginia universities.

Bruce Benson, chairman of the FSU economics department, denies any suggestion that he agreed to the deal with Koch for economic reasons but did say he makes annual reports to Koch on faculty publications, speeches and classes. He says he has no concerns that agreements with Koch will encourage other donors to seek control over hiring or curriculum.

Yeah, right.

Koch is in political lock step with Florida Gov. Rick Scott who, in one of his first acts as governor, froze all new state business regulations and who has pushed for sweeping tax cuts.

Sound familiar?

The Koch brothers are also political allies of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who likes to tout bogus surveys and reports that make the state appear as the national pacesetter for robust economic health and job growth.

Again, sound familiar?

In fact, one discredited report by Arthur Laffer, who concocted the infamous Laffer Curve nearly 30 years ago, said that Wisconsin’s economic outlook had made a quantum leap in 2013, from 32nd in the nation to 15th. That would be great if only it were true.

But, as they say, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

It turns out Laffer’s annual report, Rich States, Poor States, is published and distributed by ALEC. Moreover, ALEC solicited funding to underwrite the report from two foundations—the Searle Freedom Trust ($175,000) and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation ($150,000).

The Koch brothers, by the way, control and run the latter.

The Laffer report, co-written by Wall Street Journal writer Stephen Moore and ALEC director of tax and fiscal policy Jonathan Williams, does not limit its favorable treatment to Wisconsin. Other states with Koch-friendly administrations tend to get the same glowing reports. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger published one of his reports last May with the headline trumpeting that Mississippi’s economic outlook ranked in the top 10 nationally. (Of course, both Mississippi and Louisiana also lead the nation in poverty, obesity, pay disparity between men and women, and the percentage of citizens without health care insurance.)

And Laffer’s report, while serving as a cheerleader for Wisconsin’s economic outlook which he said had jumped 17 spots, was less enthusiastic over data that showed the state’s economic performance moved up only one position, from 42nd to 41st. Obviously, then, there is a huge difference between economic outlook and actual economic performance. Laffer’s recommended formula for the state to improve on economic performance? Lower the state income tax rate for the wealthiest of the state’s citizens while slashing the corporate tax rate in the upcoming 2014 legislative session.

Not to belabor the point, but that should have a familiar ring to Louisiana citizens.

“This is not rocket surgery,” Laffer said. (Yes, he really said that.)

We suppose it’s really not rocket surgery. In fact, it all seems rather easy to comprehend: package your economic philosophy in institutions of higher learning and promote your political and economic agenda in cooperative state legislatures with friendly governors leading the charge.

Once those goals are accomplished, the Koch brothers, through ALEC and their newest organization, the Center for State Fiscal Reform and their corporate membership, can pretty much have their way with us.

And that, of course, would include the elimination of collective bargaining, doing away with the minimum wage, abolishing medical and retirement benefits, discarding worker safety rules, repeal of anything else that stands in the way of their agenda which also includes passage of increased deregulation of business and industry and even more corporate tax cuts.

First, there was Citizens United, and those criteria have already been met, thanks to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In Laffer’s words, it’s not rocket surgery.

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When last we left Ray Griffin, that Republican State Central Committee member who purportedly doubles as a political pundit, he was lamenting the fact that 5th Congressional District candidate Vance McAllister, a “wealthy, self-funding political novice,” was (gasp) using his own money to bankroll his campaign against Bobby Jindal-anointed State Sen. Neil Riser.

That’s right. McAllister’s biggest sin, according to Griffin, was using his own money for political campaign purposes.

Strangely enough, Griffin, whom we still question as the real author of that post on The Hayride, managed to skirt entirely the issue of using political campaign funds for personal uses.

Well, call us nitpickers, but we at LouisianaVoice choose not to look the other way on such matters. In our perverted, warped minds, we look upon private use of campaign funds as a bit more egregious than spending one’s personal funds for political campaigns.

And apparently state campaign finance laws agree with us.

Louisiana Revised Statute 18:1505.2 (I) says it quite succinctly: “Campaign funds may not be used for any personal use unrelated to a political campaign or the holding of public office.”

Further down, in R.S. 18:1505.2 (J) 1(1), the law says it again, in a slightly different way: “…contributions received by a candidate or a political committee may be expended for any lawful purpose, but such funds shall not be used, loaned, or pledged by any person for any personal use unrelated to a political campaign, the holding of a public office, or party position (emphasis ours).

That should be clear enough.

But wait. Apparently it was not quite so clear for Riser.

From January through December of 2012, Riser made 12 monthly payments of $678.20 to Ford Credit in Dallas. The notation on the expenditure was “Truck Note.”

That represents a total of $8,138.84 he spent from his campaign funds in 2012 on his personal vehicle.

And it would be quite a stretch to claim he was using the vehicle for campaign purposes. The most recent election was in October of 2011—and he was unopposed for re-election.

Perhaps he was campaigning already for Congress. If he was, it would make him, Jindal and Rodney Alexander all liars; they claim there was no collusion in Alexander’s sudden “retirement” in favor of a $130,000-a-year job as head of the Louisiana Office of Veterans’ Affairs—a development that conveniently opened the door for Riser.

There were some other questionable “campaign” expenditures as well.

During 2012, Riser made 11 payments to T.A. Roberts Oil in Grayson for “fuel for campaign.” Those 11 fuel purchases totaled $6,656.86, or $605.17 per payment. Either he has a huge gas tank on that truck, or he was running a tab at Roberts Oil.

Riser also made two payments of $502.86 each ($1,005.72 total) on June 1 and Dec. 5 to Farm Bureau Insurance for insurance coverage on his truck

So, in 2012, Riser spent a grand total of $15,801.42 from his campaign funds on his personal vehicle.

But, hey, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Riser, who like his mentor Jindal, actively courts the religious right as the beacon of all things pure and righteous (he made numerous $25 contributions to protestant churches all over his district), is apparently almost as generous with OPM (other people’s money) when it comes to hiring staff members.

During 2012, he paid $13,550 to Annette McGuffee of Columbia ($5,250), Mason Dupree of Baton Rouge ($6,000), and Nicholas Walts of Columbia ($2,300) for “campaign work” even though there was no campaign in 2012 and Riser had won re-election unopposed the year before.

So now, we’re up to $29,351.42 in questionable expenditures from Riser’s campaign funds—in 2012 alone. And yes, there’s more.

How many of us would love to have a slush fund to dip into to pay for roof repairs? Well, Riser did so on two occasions in 2012. In March, he paid Home Hardware in Columbia $72.45 and in August he paid David Wilson Construction of Columbia $250. Both expenditures ($322.45 total) were listed as “Roof Repair.”

How about a couple of meals in the House Dining Hall totaling $538.46?

And $100 for membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC);

Of course, we can’t overlook those purchases from the Louisiana Senate: Shirts ($49.18), Windbreaker ($36.16), Umbrella ($26), Shirts ($47.60), T-shirt and lanyard ($15.09), lapel pins ($31.05), and $34 to the Louisiana Capital Foundation for “Ornaments”—all purchases ostensibly for “campaign purposes.”

Grand total: $30,551.41.

Now, let’s hit the high spots for the years 2009-2011:

  • Kwik Mart, Columbia—20 payments totaling $3,228.95 for fuel;
  • Mason Dupree—seven payments totaling $3,500 for “Campaign Work.” (Remember, he was unopposed in 2011.);
  • LSU Ticket Office—$2,000 for athletic tickets;
  • Riser & Son Funeral Home (Riser’s business) in Columbia—$1,013.67 reimbursement for purchase of an I-Pad (WHAT?!!);
  • William R. Hulsey, CPA, of Monroe—$370 for professional fees (probably trying to figure a way to take a business deduction on that I-Pad);
  • White Ford Co., Winnsboro—$678.20 for lease on vehicle;
  • Farm Bureau Insurance Co.—$670.10 for vehicle insurance;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$646.50 for Senate plates;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$183.33 for Senate china;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$187 for luncheon;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$337.14 for flags;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$147.60 for shirts and parade throws;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$101.90 for shirts;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$62.24 for a Senate jacket;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$108.10 for flags;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$26.32 for Senate pad folios;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$25.45 for shirts;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$18.50 for a watch;
  • Louisiana House Dining Hall—$91.41 for meal;
  • National Rifle Association—$125 for membership dues;
  • American Legislative Exchange Council—$100 for membership dues;
  • T.A. Roberts Oil, Grayson—three payments totaling $1,140.38 for fuel;
  • State of Louisiana—three payments totaling $740 for rent of Pentagon Barracks Apartment;
  • Ruston Flying Service—$100 for trip (we didn’t know you could taxi down the runway for $100);
  • Wal-Mart—$76.62 for a router;
  • Johnny’s Pizza—$30.72 donation (donation?);

So now we’re looking at a minimum of $46,000 in expenditures from Neil Riser’s campaign funds from 2009 through 2012—mostly in 2012, well after he was returned to office in 2011 with no opposition—that probably warrant a closer look by the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

Discounting the payments he made for “campaign work” to various individuals, there remains some $25,600 which should be counted as income. That amount includes truck payments, insurance, fuel, the router, roof repairs, LSU football tickets and of course, that I-Pad.

We have to wonder if Riser 1) claimed mileage on his income taxes and 2) if he reported the $25,600 as income. If the answers are yes to the first and no to the second, the IRS might suddenly take an interest and request a conference to go over his return.

And Neil Riser is asking voters in the 5th District to send him to Washington this Saturday so that he can join all the other Tea partiers in reining in all that wasteful governmental spending.

Wonder why Ray Griffin didn’t mention this in his column about campaign finance?

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