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

As legal setbacks begin to mount for Gov. Bobby Jindal with the indictment of a former Jindal cabinet member coupled with an attorney general’s opinion that recently announced changes to state employee group health plans are most probably illegal, one political observer intimated to LouisianaVoice that Jindal’s political career “may be coming unraveled” even as he remains fixated on the White House.

The attorney general’s office on Tuesday (Sept. 23) released a legal opinion that could signal a devastating blow to the administration’s plans to overhaul health benefit plans offered through the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) to some 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.

The opinion was requested on Sept. 9 by State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), who wrote, “…The Office of Group Benefits proposes to make major plan changes, effective Jan. 1, 2015, which changes conflict with existing provisions contained in the Louisiana Administrative Code.”

LouisianaVoice has learned that word of the request was leaked to the administration after seeking and receiving a copy of the request through a public records request and Jindal dispatched Executive Counsel Thomas Enright to Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office to lobby the state’s chief legal officer to issue an opinion favorable to the administration.

When it became evident that Caldwell’s opinion would not be favorable to the administration, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols capitulated in advance when she said last Friday that the state would go through the rule-making process spelled out in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

“But they’ve already put the changes out there,” Edwards said. “They implemented changes in the prescription drug co-pay in August without observing the proper legal procedure and would be deemed null and void if challenged in court. It will be impossible to do this (the remaining proposed OGB changes) by Jan. 1. The process would have had to have been started as early as June and as late as July of this year in order to become effective by the time the new plans will go into place.

Edwards was not the only legislator to voice criticism of the administration just two days before the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday to hear comments on the proposed health care coverage changes.

State Rep. J. Rogers Pope (R-Denham Springs), a member of both the Appropriations Committee and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, said he has consistently opposed the governor’s intervention into the operations of OGB both in committee and on the House floor.

“The heavy hand and somewhat sleight of hand of the Jindal administration to make such a drastic change to the health care benefit program that will impact some 230,000 people in Louisiana is a disgrace and a slap in the face for the many who have contributed to this health care program and expected it to provide basic healthcare coverage,” he said.

Pope urged those affected by the proposed changes to attend Thursday’s 10 a.m. meeting in the State Capitol to provide comments and to ask questions.

Former State Sen. Butch Gautreaux (D-Morgan City) also weighed in on the latest development. Gautreaux, who served on the OGB board of directors during his final term in the Senate, said he felt as though Jindal privatized the agency because he “couldn’t be embarrassed by the best managed and most cost effective health insurance department in all 50 states.”

Gautreaux said the OGB board began asking for answers as soon as Jindal indicated his desire to privatize the agency. “When the board couldn’t get the administration to a board meeting, I called a special meeting of the Senate Retirement Committee, again asking the governor to inform us of his intentions,” he said. “Paul Rainwater (then Commissioner of Administration) attended reluctantly but could only tell us that government had no business in running a health insurance agency. He couldn’t tell us why because the logical answer would be cost savings but the opposite was the truth. Our complaints fell on deaf ears because the business was already promised.”

Gautreaux said the “corruption began when Timmy Teepell (Jindal’s original Chief of Staff) instructed Tommy Teague (the OGB Executive Director until teagued by Jindal when he balked at the privatization of OGB) to write a tightly written RFP (request for proposal)…for northeast Louisiana so that only one company could meet the (bid) criteria.”

“Jindal’s OGB mess goes much deeper than we thought,” Edwards said. “The mismanagement of the $500 million OGB fund balance is just the beginning. Jindal’s mean-spirited solution to this self-created is being forced down the throats of state workers illegally.

“I believe this failure to comply with the APA speaks volumes about the quality of the plans. This administration knows that they are unfairly shifting the costs to state workers and teachers. Why else would they go to such great lengths, even breaking the law, to avoid public input and legislative oversight?”

Of the belated decision by the administration to comply with the law, Edwards said, “It’s too little, too late, from an administration that has consistently disregarded its legal obligations and fiscal duties to the people of our state.”

Under the APA, the procedure for the adoption of rules requires a minimum of 100 days which puts the administration under the gun to meet a tight deadline. Other requirements include:

  • Notice of the intended action and a copy of the proposed rules at least 90 days prior to taking action on the rule;
  • A statement, approved by the Legislative Fiscal Office, of the fiscal impact and the economic impact of the intended action;
  • The name of the person within the agency who has responsibility for responding to inquiries (in this case, Ansafone temporary phone bank workers in California and Florida);
  • The time when, the place where, and the manner in which interested persons may present their views;
  • A statement that the intended action complies with statutory law, including a citation of the enabling legislation;
  • A statement concerning the impact on family stability, on child, individual or family poverty;
  • Publication of a notice at least once in the Louisiana Register containing the full text of the proposed rule at least 100 days prior to the date the agency will take action on the rule;
  • Upon publication of the notice, copies of the full text of the proposed rule shall be made available upon written request within two working days;
  • Notice of the intent to adopt, amend or repeal any rule and the approved fiscal and economic impact statements shall be mailed to all persons who make timely requests of the agency no later than 10 days after the date the proposed rule change is submitted to the Louisiana Register;
  • All interested persons must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to submit data, views, comments or arguments—orally or in writing.

For a complete list of requirements of the APA, go here: apa

The attorney general opinion said the significant changes proposed by the administration “constitute a modification of the health care plans set forth in Title 32 and also has the effect of repealing and/or rendering many of the rules contained in Title 32 obsolete without following the required procedures established by the Louisiana Administrative Procedure Act.”

The APA “requires that agencies comply with the rulemaking procedures set forth in the act when adopting rules,” it said, adding if OGB failed to follow APA procedures which specify that no rules adopted on or after Jan. 1, 1975, is valid unless adopted on substantial compliance with APA, “then the validity of the plans becomes questionable.”

Additionally, the opinion said, “Louisiana jurisprudence has found that rules unlawfully adopted are invalid and unenforceable.”

The opinion noted that the Legislative Fiscal Office found that significant changes to the health plans include:

  • Increasing out-of-pocket maximum for health plan options;
  • Increasing deductibles for all health plan options;
  • Increasing co-pays 100 percent for proposed health plans with co-pays;
  • Increasing the out-of-pocket maximum for the prescription drug benefit by $300—from $1,200 to $1,500 (a 20 percent increase);
  • Subjecting the prescription drug benefit to categories that will result in an increased cost for preferred and brand name drugs and a decreased cost for generic drugs;
  • Implementing other various prescription drug benefit changes including high compound management, over utilization management and the exclusion of medical foods;
  • Requiring prior authorizations for certain medical procedures;
  • Eliminating the out-of-network benefit for some health plan options;
  • Application of standard benefit limits for skilled nursing facilities, home health care services and hospice care services;
  • Removing all vision coverage;

For a copy of the complete attorney general opinion, go here: ATTORNEY GENERAL OPINION

While we have not been in discussion with Gov. Jindal or Kristy Kreme regarding the latest legal setback, we feel we can safely predict that Jindal will call the opinion “Wrong-headed,” while Kristy Kreme will put on a happy face and assure us that everything is just fine and there’s nothing to worry about.

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With $1.1 million reported U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip, is slightly ahead of Rep. Charles Boustany’s $984,000 but less than half of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s $2.6 million to rank as the second leading recipient of contributions from political action committees (PACs) among Louisiana’s congressional delegation, according to information provided by the Federal Elections Commission.

While opponents in congressional races are quick to point out opponents’ vulnerability to political influence from special interest groups, each of the state’s eight-member (two senators and six representatives) accept contributions from PACs.

And it’s very important to them that they accept this money in private and out of the public eye. The last thing they want is for us to be watching to see where they get their funding.

It is this practice that is becoming more and more grating to the individual voters who do not have the means to match PACs on a dollar-for-dollar basis. And that imbalance long ago tipped the scales in favor of pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street banks, oil companies, tobacco (disguised under innocent-sounding corporate names) and defense contractors, to name only a few, at the expense of the interests of John Q. Citizen.

The various business and industry lobbyists, once a rare animal in Washington, had by the late 1970s become such a force that they outnumbered the 535 members of Congress 130 to one. The number of companies with offices in the nation’s capital grew from 175 in 1971 to 2,445 a decade later.

By 1978, nearly 2,000 different trade associations employed 50,000 staff members in Washington and in 1980 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce employed 45 full-time lobbyists.

They are all there for one reason and one reason only: to feed the beast and with each election (every two years for House members and every six year for the Senate) the beast grows ever-hungrier and it is the American voter who is being devoured.

Each incumbent has accepted PAC contributions but not all challengers have. For this reason, LouisianaVoice has taken on the project of providing a sampling of PAC contributions to each candidate for the House and Senate where applicable. Contributions to each candidate will be duly reported over the coming weeks.

Our fourth installment, presented here, is on the PAC contributions to U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise.

ALTRIA GROUP PAC: $6,500

  • Altria Group, Inc. (previously named Philip Morris Companies Inc.) The name change alternative offers the possibility of masking the negatives associated with the tobacco business,” thus enabling the company to improve its image and raise its profile without sacrificing tobacco profits,
  • According to the Center for Public Integrity, Altria spent around $101 million on lobbying the U.S. government between 1998 and 2004, making it the second most active organization in the nation.
  • Altria also funded The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition which lobbied against the scientific consensus on climate change.
  • Daniel Smith, representing Altria, sits on the Private Enterprise Board of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

AMERICAN AIRLINES: $2,000

  • American was accused of hiding repeated maintenance lapses from the FAA. Repair issues included such items as faulty emergency slides, improper engine coatings, incorrectly drilled holes, and other examples of shoddy workmanship. The most serious alleged lapse was a failure to repair cracks to pressure bulkheads; the rupture of a bulkhead could lead to cabin depressurization. It is also alleged that the airline retired one airplane in order to hide it from FAA inspectors.
  • AMR Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2011, and American announced capacity cuts in July 2012 due to the grounding of several aircraft associated with its bankruptcy and lack of pilots due to retirements. American notified more than 11,000 workers of possible job loss as part of its bankruptcy reorganization, and cut flights in September and October 2012.
  • As of November 2013 American Airlines and American Eagle received $10 million in annual federal subsidies.

AMERICAN BANKING ASSOCIATION PAC: $9,500

  • The financial crisis of 2007-2010 led to a sweeping overhaul of the United States financial regulatory system. The ABA spent $4.38 million on lobbying Congress in the first two quarters of 2011 alone. The ABA lobbied the White House, the departments of Agriculture, Treasury and Labor, and regulators such as the Federal Reserve, Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • As soon as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was signed into law on July 21, 2011, the American Bankers Association announced it would continue to lobby for fewer regulations on the Volcker Rule, derivatives regulations, and other pieces of the bill.

AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: $2,000

  • To help fight climate control legislation, API supports the Energy Citizens group. A leaked summer 2009 memo from API President Jack Gerard asked its member companies to urge their employees to participate in planned protests (designed to appear independently organized) against cap-and-trade legislation. “The objective of these rallies is to put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy and to aim a loud message at [20 different] states.” Gerard said that API would cover all organizational costs and handling of logistics. In response to the memo, an API spokesman told media that participants will be there (at protests) because of their own concerns, and that API is just helping them assemble. Texas residents who were not employed by the energy industry were turned away from the event.

BANK OF AMERICA CORP. PAC: $2,000

  • Bank of America (BOA) received $20 billion in the federal bailout from the U.S. government through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2009, as well as a guarantee of $118 billion to cover potential losses by the company—in addition to the $25 billion given to them in the fall 2008 through TARP. The additional payment was part of a deal with the U.S. government to preserve BOA’s merger with the troubled investment firm Merrill Lynch. Since then, members of Congress expressed concern that some of the recipients had been accused of misusing the bailout money and that loan applicants (particularly small business owners) were denied loans and credit card holders faced stiffer terms on the debt in their card accounts.
  • BOA received an additional $5.2 billion in government bailout money, channeled through American International Group (AIG).
  • On August 3, 2009, BOA agreed to pay a $33 million fine, without admission or denial of charges, to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over the non-disclosure of an agreement to pay up to $5.8 billion of bonuses at Merrill Lynch. The bank approved the bonuses before the merger but did not disclose them to its shareholders when the shareholders were considering approving the Merrill acquisition in December 2008. New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo commented after the suit and announced settlement that “the timing of the bonuses, as well as the disclosures relating to them, constituted a ‘surprising fit of corporate irresponsibility.”
  • In 2010, the bank was accused by the U.S. government of defrauding schools, hospitals, and dozens of state and local government organizations via misconduct and illegal activities involving the investment of proceeds from municipal bond sales. As a result, the bank agreed to pay $137.7 million, including $25 million to the Internal Revenue service and $4.5 million to state attorney general, to the affected organizations to settle the allegations.
  • On October 24, 2012, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan filed a lawsuit alleging that BOA fraudulently cost American taxpayers more than $1 billion when it sold toxic mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The scheme was called ‘Hustle’, or High Speed Swim Lane.
  • In August 2014, BOA agreed to a near-$17 billion deal to settle claims against it relating to the sale of toxic mortgage-linked securities including subprime home loans, in what was believed to be the largest settlement in U.S. corporate history. The bank agreed to pay $9.65 billion in fines and $7 billion in relief to the victims of the faulty loans which included homeowners, borrowers, pension funds and municipalities.

BRIDGE POINT EDUCATION PAC: $3,000

  • In 2011, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) chaired a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that examined Bridgepoint Education, Inc., which had experienced near-exponential profit growth despite low graduation rates. Bridgepoint purchased two universities both were near bankruptcy—Ashford University in Iowa and the University of the Rockies in Colorado. When it purchased Ashford University in 2005, the university had less than 300 students but today has over 78,000 students, 99 percent of whom are online.
  • Harkin was critical of the fact that despite such growth of the company, student success was lacking. Sixty-three percent of students who enrolled at Ashford University during the 2008–2009 school year withdrew before completion of their respective programs. Harkin noted that Bridgepoint recorded more than $216 million in profits in 2010—86.5 percent of which came from federal funds. Harkin said of those figures, “In the world of for-profit higher education, spectacular business success is possible despite an equally spectacular record of student failure. Bridgepoint is a private company, but it is almost entirely dependent upon public funds … I think this is a scam, an absolute scam.”

BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB EMPLOYEE PAC: $2,000

  • The company was caught up in an accounting scandal in 2002 over a significant restatement of revenues from 1999 to 2001, the result of an improper booking of sales related by offering excess inventory to customers to create higher sales numbers. The company settled with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission for $150 million. In 2002, the company was involved in illegally maintaining a monopoly on Taxol, its cancer treatment, and it was again sued. The company settled for $125 million.

CAPITAL ONE FINANCIAL CORP.: $5,000

  • In July 2012, Capital One was sued for misleading millions of its customers, by charging them for payment protection or credit monitoring when they took out a card. The company agreed to pay $210 million and to refund two million customers.
  • In August 2014, Capital One and three collection agencies entered into an agreement to pay $75.5 million to end a consolidated class action lawsuit alleging that the companies used an automated dialer to call customers’ cellphones without consent.
  • In 2014, Capital One amended its terms of service to create a right for it to “contact you in any manner we choose”, including a” personal visit . . . at your home and at your place of employment.” It also asserted its right to “modify or suppress caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose.”

CHESAPEAKE ENERGY CORP. PAC: $10,000

  • Former Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon borrowed $1.1 billion against his stake in thousands of company wells. The loans, undisclosed to shareholders, were used to fund McClendon’s operating costs for the Founders Well Participation Program, which offered him a chance to invest in a 2.5 percent interest in every well the company drills. McClendon in turn used the 2.5 percent stakes as collateral on those same loans. Analysts, academics and attorneys who reviewed the loan documents said the structure raised the potential for conflicts of interest and raised questions on the corporate governance and business ethics of Chesapeake Energy’s senior management. The company disagreed that this is a conflict of interest or a violation of business ethics.
  • Current CEO Doug Lawler was responsible for laying off over 800 employees—roughly 16 percent of the workforce—within a few months of taking the position. Lawler released waves of employees over the course of a few months. All of the layoffs culminated in October of 2013 when Lawler released a staggering 800 employees nationwide, 640 of whom were from the corporate office in Oklahoma City.
  • In June of 2014, the state of Michigan filed felony fraud and racketeering charges against Chesapeake Energy, alleging that the company canceled hundreds of land leases on false pretenses after it sought to obtain oil and gas rights. Chesapeake Energy disputed all charges.

CHEVRON EMPLOYEES PAC: $10,000

  • In 2003 a class action lawsuit against Chevron was sued in Ecuadorian court for $28 billion for making residents ill and damaging forests and rivers by discharging 18 billion US gallons of formation water into the Amazon. Chevron claimed that agreements with the Ecuadorian Government exempted the company from any liabilities.
  • In 2011, Ecuadorian residents were awarded $8.6 billion, based on claims of loss of crops and farm animals as well as increased local cancer rates. The award was later revised to $19 billion on appeals, which was then appealed to the Ecuadorean National Court of Justice. Chevron described the lawsuit as an “extortion scheme” and refused to pay the fine.
  • Chevron’s activities at its century-old Richmond refinery have been the subject of ongoing controversy. The project generated over 11 million pounds of toxic materials and caused more than 304 accidents. The Richmond refinery paid $540,000 in 1998 for illegally bypassing waste water treatments and failing to notify the public about toxic releases. Overall, Chevron is listed as potentially liable for 95 Superfund sites, with funds set aside by the EPA for clean-up.
  • Chevron’s operations in Africa have also been criticized as environmentally unsound. In 2002, Angola became the first country in Africa to levy a fine on a major multinational corporation operating within its borders when it demanded $2 million in compensation for oil spills allegedly caused by Chevron.
  • On October 16, 2003, Chevron U.S.A. settled a charge under the Clean Air Act, which reduced harmful air emissions by about 10,000 tons a year. In San Francisco, Chevron was ordered to spend almost $275 million to install and utilize innovative technology to reduce nitrogen and sulfur dioxide emissions at its refineries. In 2000, after violating the Clean Air Act at an offline loading terminal in El Segundo, California, Chevron paid a $6 million penalty as well as $1 million for environmental improvement projects.

CITIGROUP: $3,500

  • In 2003, Citigroup published an investment brochure advising clients that “There is no ‘average consumer…Economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few.”
  • Heavy exposure to troubled mortgages compounded by poor risk management led Citigroup into trouble as the subprime mortgage crisis worsened in 2008. Citigroup announced on April 11, 2007, that it would eliminate 17,000 jobs, or about 5 percent of its workforce. Even after brokerage firm Bear Stearns ran into serious trouble in summer 2007, Citigroup decided the possibility of trouble with its CDO’s was so tiny that they excluded them from their risk analysis. With the crisis worsening, Citigroup announced on January 7, 2008 that it was considering cutting another 5 to 10 percent of its 327,000 member-workforce.
  • By November 2008, Citigroup was insolvent, despite its receipt of $25 billion in taxpayer funded federal TARP funds. On November 17, 2008, Citigroup announced plans for about 52,000 new job cuts—on top of 23,000 cuts already made during 2008.

COMCAST: $10,000

  • Comcast’s customer satisfaction often ranks among the lowest in the cable industry.
  • With $18.8 million spent in 2013, Comcast has the seventh largest lobbying budget of any individual company or organization in the United States. Comcast employs multiple former U.S. congressmen as lobbyists.
  • Comcast also supports lobbying and PACs on a regional level, backing organizations such as the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association and the Broadband Communications Association of Washington PAC. Comcast and other cable companies have lobbied state governments to pass legislation restricting or banning individual cities from offering public broadband service. Municipal broadband restrictions of varying scope have been passed in a total of 20 US States, including Louisiana.

DUKE ENERGY: $4,000

  • In 1999 the EPA initiated an enforcement action against Duke Energy for making modifications to old and deteriorating coal-burning power plants without getting permits under the Clean Air Act.
  • In 2002, researchers identified Duke Energy as the 46th-largest corporate producer of air pollution in the United States, with roughly 36 million pounds of toxic chemicals released into the air annually. Major pollutants included sulfuric and hydrochloric acid, chromium compounds, and hydrogen fluoride. The Political Economy Research Institute ranks Duke Energy 13th among corporations emitting airborne pollutants in the United States.

EMPLOYEES OF NORTHROP GRUMMAN PAC: $9,000

  • From 1990-2002, Northrop Grumman contributed $8.5 million to federal campaigns. The company gave more than $1 million to federal candidates in 2005-2006 election cycle, compared to $10.6 million given by all defense contractors in the same cycle. This was behind only General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin in the defense industry. Former Northrop Grumman Electronics Systems chief James Roche served as Secretary of the Air Force for two years under George W. Bush. Roche was eventually nominated to head the Army, but was forced to withdraw his nomination among accusations of mismanaging a contract with Boeing and of failing to properly handle the Air Force sexual assault scandals of 2003. At least seven former officials, consultants, or shareholders of Northrop Grumman held posts in the Bush administration.
  • Northrop Grumman has dealt with multiple scandals during its history. In 1995, Robert Ferro, an employee for TRW, a company acquired by Northrop Grumman, discovered that satellite components manufactured for the U.S. Air Force were faulty and likely to fail in operation. TRW allegedly suppressed Ferro’s report and hid the information from the Air Force, even after a satellite in space equipped with the faulty components experienced serious anomalies. Ferro later sued Northrop Grumman in federal court under the federal whistle-blower law. In April 2009 Northrop Grumman agreed to pay $325 million to settle the suit. Ferro was awarded $48.8 million of the settlement.
  • The company was sued in 1999 for allegedly knowingly giving the Navy defective aircraft. This suit sought $210 million in damages. Then in 2003, the company was sued for allegedly overcharging the U.S. government for space projects in the 1990s. Northrop Grumman paid $111.2 million to settle out of court.
  • In 2010, Virginia’s computer operations experienced a week-long computer outage. Northrop Grumman operated these systems under a $2.4 billion contract. As a result, as many as 45,000 citizens could not renew their driver’s licenses prior to their expiration. Computer systems for 26 of the state’s 89 agencies were affected and some data may have been permanently lost.

EXXON MOBIL CORP. PAC: $2,500

  • ExxonMobil has drawn criticism from scientists, science organizations and the environmental lobby for funding organizations critical of the Kyoto Protocol and seeking to undermine public opinion about the scientific conclusion that global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Mother Jones Magazine said the company channeled more than $8 million to 40 different organizations that have employed disinformation campaigns including “skeptical propaganda masquerading as journalism” to influence opinion of the public and of political leaders about global warming and that the company was a member of one of the first such groups, the Global Climate Coalition, founded in 1989. ExxonMobil’s support for these organizations has drawn criticism from the Royal Society, the academy of sciences of the United Kingdom. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report in 2007 accusing ExxonMobil of spending $16 million, between 1998 and 2005, towards 43 advocacy organizations which dispute the impact of global warming. The report argued that ExxonMobil used disinformation tactics similar to those used by the tobacco industry in its denials of the link between lung cancer and smoking, saying that the company used “many of the same organizations and personnel to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue.” These charges are consistent with a purported 1998 internal ExxonMobil strategy memo, posted by the environmental group Environmental Defense, which said:

“Victory will be achieved when

  • Average citizens [and the media] ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the conventional wisdom;
  • Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy;
  • Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear out of touch with reality.”
  • In 2003, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that J. Bryan Williams, a former senior executive of Mobil Oil Corp., had been sentenced to three years and ten months in prison on charges of evading income taxes on more than $7 million in unreported income, including a $2 million kickback he received in connection with Mobil’s oil business in Kazakhstan. Documents filed with the court said Williams’ unreported income included millions of dollars in kickbacks from governments, persons, and other entities with whom Williams conducted business while employed by Mobil. In addition to his sentence, Williams must pay a fine of $25,000 and more than $3.5 million in restitution to the IRS, in addition to penalties and interest.

 GENERAL DYNAMICS: $2,000

  • In 2008, General Dynamics agreed to pay $4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the US Government claiming a GD unit fraudulently billed the government for defectively manufactured parts used in US military aircraft and submarines. The US alleged that from September 2001 to August 2003 GD defectively manufactured or failed to test parts used in US military aircraft.

GLAXOSMITHKLINE PAC:  $1,000

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

KOCH INDUSTRIES: $10,000

  • From 1999 to 2003, Koch Industries was assessed more than $400 million in fines, penalties and judgments. In 2000, for 300 reported oil spills which had taken place across six states, Koch paid the largest civil fine ever imposed on a company for the illegal discharge of crude oil and petroleum products. The company agreed to pay a $30 million civil penalty, improve its leak-prevention programs and spend $5 million on environmental projects.
  • In 1996, an 8-inch-diameter steel pipeline operated by Koch Pipeline Company ruptured near Lively, Texas and began leaking butane gas. The vapor cloud ignited when two residents drove their pickup truck through the flammable vapors to get to a neighbor’s house to report the leak. The two were killed in the explosion. In 1999, a Texas jury found that negligence had led to the rupture of the Koch pipeline and awarded the victims’ families $296 million—the largest compensatory damages judgment in a wrongful death case against a corporation in U.S. history.
  • In 2000, a federal grand jury returned a 97-count indictment against Koch Industries for excess emissions of 85 metric tons of benzene, a known carcinogen. In 2001, Koch Industries was fined $20 million, of which $10 million was a criminal fine and $10 million to clean up the environment.
  • In 2008, Koch Industries discovered that the French affiliate Koch-Glitsch had violated bribery laws allegedly securing contracts in Algeria, Egypt, India, Morocco, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia after an investigation by Ethics Compliance officer, Egorova-Farines. After Koch Industries’ investigative team looked into her findings, the four employees involved were terminated. Egorova-Farines reported her findings immediately, and even after Koch’s investigators substantiated the findings, her “superiors removed her from the inquiry in August 2008 and fired her in June 2009, calling her incompetent.”
  • Koch Industries has spent more than $50 million to lobby in Washington between 2006 and October 2011.
  • The company has opposed the regulation of financial derivatives and limits on greenhouse gases. It sponsors free market foundations and causes and is one of the leading benefactors of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
  • According to the Center for Responsive Politics, many of Koch Industries’ contributions have gone toward achieving legislation on energy issues, defense appropriations and financial regulation reform. Koch Industries has been criticized for the role the company plays in affecting climate change policy in the U.S.

LOCKHEED MARTIN EMPLOYEES’ PAC: $2,000

  • Lockheed Martin received $36 billion in government contracts in 2008, more than any company in history. It does work for more than two dozen government agencies from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s involved in surveillance and information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Security Agency (NSA), The Pentagon, the Census Bureau and the Postal Service.
  • Lockheed is listed as the largest U.S. government contractor and ranks third for number of incidents, and 21st for size of settlements. Since 1995 the company has agreed to pay $606 million to settle 59 instances of misconduct.
  • Through its political action committee (PAC), the company provides low levels of financial support to candidates who advocate national defense and relevant business issues. It was the top contributor to House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-California), giving more than $50,000 in the most recent election cycle. It also topped the list of donors to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee before his death in 2012.
  • Lockheed Martin Employees Political Action Committee is one of the 50 largest in the country. With contributions from 3,000 employees, it donates $500,000 a year to about 260 House and Senate candidates.
  • In March 2013, Maryland State Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola, while he was said to be dating a Lockheed Martin lobbyist, cosponsored a resolution which would give Lockheed Martin tax rebate worth millions of dollars related to hotel taxes paid at its CLE facility in Bethesda, MD. This was after Montgomery County Council refused to pass a similar resolution.

MARATHON OIL EMPLOYEES PAC: $12,000

  • Marathon gave $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration promptly awarded Marathon subsidiaries $5.2 million in state funds.

MERCK & CO.:  $5,000

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

 MICROSOFT CORP. PAC: $8,500

  • One of Microsoft’s business tactics, described by an executive as “embrace, extend and extinguish,” initially embraces a competing standard or product, then extends it to produce their own version which is then incompatible with the standard, which in time extinguishes competition that does not or cannot use Microsoft’s new version. Various companies and governments have sued Microsoft over this set of tactics, resulting in billions of dollars in rulings against the company.
  • Microsoft has been criticized for its involvement in censorship in the People’s Republic of China. Microsoft has also come under criticism for outsourcing jobs to China and India. There were reports of poor working conditions at a factory in southern China that makes some of Microsoft’s products.
  • To avoid providing stock options and medical and retirement benefits to employees, Microsoft hires thousands of temporary workers (temps) for the designing, editing and testing of its software. When a federal judge (upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court) outlawed the hiring of temps for longer than six months, Microsoft got around the ruling by laying off its temps for 100 days and then rehiring them.

MORGAN STANLEY: $2,000

  • In 2003, Morgan Stanley agreed to pay $125 million in order to settle its portion of a $1.4 billion settlement brought by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the National Association of Securities Dealers, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, (SEC) and a number of state securities regulators, relating to intentionally misleading research motivated by a desire to win investment banking business with the companies covered.
  • Morgan Stanley settled a sex discrimination suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for $54 million in July 2004. In 2007, the firm agreed to pay $46 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by eight female brokers.
  • In July 2004, the firm paid NASD a $2.2 million fine for more than 1,800 late disclosures of reportable information about its brokers.
  • In September 2004, the firm paid a $19 million fine imposed by NYSE for failure to deliver prospectuses to customers in registered offerings, inaccurate reporting of certain program trading information, short sale violations, failures to fingerprint new employees and failure to timely file exchange forms.
  • The New York Stock Exchange imposed a $19 million fine on January 12, 2005 for alleged regulatory and supervisory lapses, the largest fine ever imposed by NYSE at the time.
  • In 2005, a Florida jury found that Morgan Stanley failed to give adequate information to Ronald Perelman about Sunbeam thereby defrauding him and causing damages to him of $604 million. In addition, punitive damages were added for total damages of $1.450 billion after the firm’s attorneys infuriated the court by failing and refusing to produce documents, and falsely telling the court that certain documents did not exist. The ruling was overturned in 2007.
  • Morgan Stanley settled a class action lawsuit in 2006 by both current and former Morgan Stanley employees for unfair labor practices instituted upon those in the financial advisor training program. Employees of the program had claimed the firm expected trainees to clock overtime hours without additional pay and handle various administrative expenses as a result of their expected duties. Morgan Stanley settled for $42.5 million.
  • In May the firm agreed to pay a $15 million fine after the Securities and Exchange Commission accused the firm of deleting emails and failing to cooperate with SEC investigators.
  • FINRA announced a $12.5 million settlement with Morgan Stanley in 2007 over charges that the firm’s former affiliate, Morgan Stanley DW, Inc. (MSDW), failed on numerous occasions to provide emails to claimants in arbitration proceedings as well as to regulators. The company had claimed that the destruction of the firm’s email servers in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center resulted in the loss of all email before that date. In fact, the firm had millions of earlier emails that had been retrieved from backup copies stored in another location that was not destroyed in the attacks. Customers who had lost their arbitration cases against Morgan Stanley DW Inc. because of their inability to obtain these emails to demonstrate Morgan Stanley’s misconduct received a token amount of money as a result of the settlement.
  • In July 2007, Morgan Stanley agreed to pay $4.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit for incorrectly charging clients for storage of precious metals.
  • In August 2007, Morgan Stanley was fined $1.5 million and paid $4.6 million in restitution to customers related to excessive mark-ups in 2,800 transactions. An employee was charged $40,000 and suspended for 15 days.
  • Under a 2008 settlement with New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, the firm agreed to repurchase approximately $4.5 billion worth of auction rate securities. The firm was accused of misrepresenting auction rate securities in their sales and marketing.
  • In April 2010, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced the firm agreed to pay $14 million related to an attempt to hide prohibited trading activity in oil futures.
  • The Department of Justice sought a $4.8 million fine from Morgan Stanley for its part in an electricity price-fixing scandal. Con Edison estimated that the crime cost New York state consumers about $300 million. Morgan Stanley earned revenues of $21.6 million from the fraud.
  • Morgan Stanley agreed to pay a $5 million fine to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and an addition $1.75 million to CME and the Chicago Board of Trade after employees improperly executed fictitious sales in Eurodollar and Treasury note futures contracts.
  • On August 7, 2012, it was announced that Morgan Stanley would have to pay $4.8 million in fines in order to settle a price fixing scandal, which has been estimated to have cost New Yorkers $300 million.

MONSANTO CO. CITIZENSHIP PAC: $1,000

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

NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION POLITICAL VICTORY FUND: $4,500

NEWS CORP. PAC: $1,000

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

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

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

 

PFIZER, INC. PAC: $6,500

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

SAFARI CLUB INTERNATIONAL PAC: $1,000

  • SCI has been criticized by the Humane Society for supporting the hunting of endangered African antelope at fenced game ranches in Texas and Florida and for giving awards for the hunting of big cats and elephant, lion, rhino and buffalo in Africa.
  • In 2005, controversy erupted over tax write-offs taken by big game hunters for donations of trophies to museums. IRS rules allowed only the fair market value of such donations to be deducted. In most cases, the donations were worth only a fraction of the claimed value, and often accumulated in museum storage facilities.
  • For the tax year ending June 2006, SCI reported $2.9 million in revenue from SCI publications, $3.2 million in membership dues, $205,967 in interest on savings and temporary investments, $75,771 from sales of assets other than inventory, $6.9 million from special events such as the annual convention, $156,014 from sales of inventory, and $6,089 miscellaneous income.
  • In 2007, the New York legislature earmarked $50,000 of public funds for SCI.

GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP PAC: $4,000

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

HOME DEPOT PAC: $10,000

  • In July 2005, former employee Michael Davis filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Home Depot, alleging that his discharge was in retaliation for refusing to make unwarranted backcharges against vendors. Davis alleges that the Home Depot forced its employees to meet a set quota of backcharges to cover damaged or defective merchandise, forcing employees to make chargebacks to vendors for merchandise that was undamaged and not defective.
  • In the settlement of the litigation, Home Depot changed some of its corporate governance provisions. Home Depot also agreed to pay the plaintiff’s counsel $6 million in cash and $8.5 million in common stock.

UNITEDHEALTH GROUP PAC: $5,000

 

  • In 2010, UnitedHealth Group spent more than $1.8 million on lobbying activities to achieve favorable legislation, and hired seven different lobbying firms to work on its behalf. In addition, its corporate political action committee spent an additional $1 million on lobbying activities in 2010.
  • In 2006, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began investigating the conduct of UnitedHealth Group’s management and directors, for backdating of stock options. Investigations were also begun by the Internal Revenue Service and prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. The investigations came to light after a series of Wall Street Journal stories in May 2006, claiming backdating of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stock options by UHC management. The backdating apparently occurred with the knowledge and approval of the directors, according to the Journal. On October 15, 2006, CEO William McGuire was forced to resign, and relinquish hundreds of millions of dollars in stock options. In December 2007, the SEC announced a settlement under which McGuire would repay $468 million, as a partial settlement.
  • In June 2006, the American Chiropractic Association filed a national class action lawsuit against the American Chiropractic Network (ACN), which is owned by UnitedHealth Group and administers chiropractic benefits, and against UnitedHealth Group itself, for alleged practices in violation of the federal Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

WALMART STORIES PAC: $4,000

  • Wal-Mart is the beneficiary of $96.5 million in economic development subsidies in Louisiana and $1.2 billion in tax breaks nationwide. http://www.walmartsubsidywatch.org/state_detail.html?state=LA Yet, in 2011, Walmart, four of whose owners are among the 11 richest Americans, decided to roll back health care coverage and to increase premiums for its employees. (Does this sound familiar, Bobby Jindal?) Wal-Mart still boasted that 90 percent of its employees had health coverage, neglecting to mention that more than half of those got their coverage through their spouses’ group coverage. The company provides no health coverage at all for new part time employees despite the company’s 24.7 percent gross profit martin that same year.
  • An April 2012 New York Times investigative report revealed that a former Walmart executive alleged that, in September 2005, Walmart de Mexico paid bribes throughout Mexico in order to obtain construction permits, information, and other favors. Concerns were raised that Walmart executives in the United States concealed the allegations. Reportedly, bribes were given to speed up construction permits, which gave Walmart a substantial advantage over its business competitors. A follow-up investigation by The New York Times published December 17, 2012, revealed evidence that regulatory permission for siting, construction, and operation of 19 stores were obtained through bribery.
  • A paper published in Farm Foundation in 1997 found that some small towns can lose almost half of their retail trade within ten years of a Walmart store opening.
  • A 2004 paper by two professors at Penn State University found that counties with Walmart stores suffered increased poverty compared with counties without Walmarts due to displacement of workers from higher-paid jobs in retail stores which customers no longer choose to patronize. A study in Nebraska looked at two different Walmarts, the first of which had just arrived and was in the process of driving everyone else out of business by cutting their prices to the bone. In the other Walmart, “they had successfully destroyed the local economy, there was a sort of economic crater with Wal-Mart in the middle; and, in that community, the prices were 17 percent higher.”
  • The Economic Policy Institute estimates that between 2001 and 2006, Walmart’s trade deficit with China alone eliminated nearly 200,000 U.S. jobs. Another study found that a new store increases net retail employment in the county by 100 jobs in the short term, half of which disappear over five years as other retail establishments close.
  • Walmart has been criticized by labor unions, community groups, grassroots organizations, religious organizations, environmental groups, and even Walmart’s own customers and employees. They have protested against the company’s policies and business practices, including charges of racial and gender discrimination. Other areas of criticism include the corporation’s foreign product sourcing, treatment of product suppliers, employee compensation and working conditions, environmental practices, the use of public subsidies, the company’s security policies and slavery. Wal-Mart denies doing anything wrong and maintains that low prices are the result of efficiency.

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The process of tracking PAC campaign contributions for the candidates for Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race and the six congressional seats up for grabs this November is a daunting task but one which we feel is important in order that voters can cut through all the trash ads on TV and make intelligent choices for themselves.

By now Louisiana citizens have to be completely turned off both U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and challenger 6th District Rep. Bill Cassidy as the distortions, half-truths and outright lies bombard our living rooms from both camps.

Political consultant Ray Strother recently said on Baton Rouge Public Radio’s Jim Engster Show that after 200 times, listeners/viewers tend to tune out a political ad. If that is really the case, we long ago stopped listening to ads for those two.

Today, we examine the PAC contributions of 4th Congressional District incumbent Rep. John Fleming, probably one of the most narrow-minded members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation.

And as you scroll down this list, be sure to ask yourself where you fit in the overall scheme of things. Do you really matter or do you, like the rest of us, simply become an insignificant pawn as these PACs ply our elected officials with dirty money so that they can continue their quest for more power and money—at our expense?

Fleming, a doctor who apparently did not make enough money as a medical practitioner, once ran a payday loan company, an enterprise that offers short-term loans to low income families at the friendly annualized interest rate of up to 390 percent.

He even boasted that he “only” had $600,000 left over after his businesses (UPS and Subway sandwich shops) brought in $6.3 million because the remaining $5.7 million went to business expenses that included paying some 500 employees, according to his own figures. If you don’t even allow for rent, utilities, equipment and insurance for his businesses, that would compute to only $11,400 per year per employee (again, using numbers provided by Fleming), which was the approximate poverty level in this country in 2010.

But try as you might, you cannot open a dialogue with Fleming on these issues. You see, he brooks no dissenting opinion on his Facebook page.

Fleming, in his four terms in office, has become notorious for blocking critical comments on his Facebook page so even if a constituent attempted to initiate a discussion about legitimate concerns, Fleming simply cuts them off. Apparently he represents only select people in the 4th District.

But he cannot block LouisianaVoice. And we invite open discussion. That is why we never block comments on our blog posts unless they are racist or otherwise offensive to any person or group. So long as the topic is about an issue, our readers have carte blanche to speak their minds, which is more than Fleming can say.

So, without further discussion, here are some of the major PAC contributors to Fleming:

BURGER KING CORP. PAC: $1,000

  • Burger King’s plan to buy Canadian coffee chain Tim Horton’s and relocate over the border to reduce its U.S. tax liability isn’t going over well with some of the fast food store’s customers. Instead of the usual chatter on Burger King Facebook posts, recent updates on the company’s social media page have drawn dozens and dozens of angry comments relating to the merger and promising to boycott the company over its tax practices.
  • “If you become a tax cheat you can count my family of seven as former customers,” reads one post with 97 likes. “If Burger King moves to Canada then US will boycott its restaurants,” says another that’s been liked over 700 times. The top comment on the store’s most recent post includes a promise to “never step foot in another Burger King again.”

AT&T PAC: $4,000

  • AT&T is the second-largest donor to United States political campaigns, and the top American corporate donor, having contributed more than US$47.7 million since 1990, 56% and 44% of which went to Republican and Democratic recipients, respectively. Also, during the period of 1998 to 2010, the company expended US$130 million on lobbying in the United States. A key political issue for AT&T has been the question of which businesses win the right to profit by providing broadband internet access in the United States.
  • Bobby Jindal rejected an $80 million federal grant for the expansion of broadband internet service in rural Louisiana even as AT&T was contributing $250,000 to the Foundation run by Jindal’s wife Supriya after Gov. Jindal signed SB- 807 into law (Act 433) in 2008 over the objections of the Louisiana Municipal and the State Police Jury associations. The bill, the Consumer Choice for Television Act removed from local and parish governments their authority and responsibility to negotiate cable franchise agreements with companies that relied largely on locally-owned public infrastructure such as utility poles. The bill also allows AT&T to sell cable television service without the necessity of obtaining local franchises.
  • Bill Leahy, representing AT&T, sits on the Private Enterprise Board of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

EMPLOYEES OF NORTHROP GRUMMAN PAC: $9,000

  • From 1990-2002, Northrop Grumman contributed $8.5 million to federal campaigns. The company gave more than $1 million to federal candidates in 2005-2006 election cycle, compared to $10,612,837 given by all defense contractors in the same cycle. This donation amount was only behind that of General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin in the defense industry. Former Northrop Grumman Electronics Systems chief James Roche served as Secretary of the Air Force for two years under George W. Bush. Roche was eventually nominated to head the Army, but was forced to withdraw his nomination among accusations of mismanaging a contract with Boeing and of failing to properly handle the Air Force sexual assault scandals of 2003. At least seven former officials, consultants, or shareholders of Northrop Grumman” have held posts in the Bush administration.
  • Northrop Grumman has had to deal with multiple scandals during its history. In 1995, Robert Ferro, an employee for TRW, a company acquired by Northrop Grumman, discovered that satellite components manufactured for the U.S. Air Force (USAF) were faulty and likely to fail in operation. TRW allegedly suppressed Ferro’s report of the problem and hid the information from the Air Force, even after a satellite in space equipped with the faulty components experienced serious anomalies. Ferro later sued Northrop Grumman in federal court under the federal whistle-blower law. On April 2, 2009 Northrop Grumman agreed to pay $325 million to settle the suit. Ferro was awarded $48.8 million of the settlement.
  • The company was sued in 1999 for allegedly knowingly giving the Navy defective aircraft. This suit seeks $210 million in damages and is ongoing. Then in 2003, the company was sued for allegedly overcharging the U.S. government for space projects in the 1990s. Northrop Grumman paid $111.2 million to settle that suit out of court.
  • In 2010, Virginia’s computer operations experienced a week-long computer outage. Northrop Grumman operated these systems under a $2.4 billion contract. As a result, as many as 45,000 citizens could not renew their driver’s licenses prior to their expiration. Computer systems for 26 of the state’s 89 agencies were affected and some data may have been permanently lost.

COMCAST CORP.: $2,000

  • Comcast has the seventh largest lobbying budget of any individual company or organization in the United States. Comcast employs multiple former U.S. Congressmen as lobbyists. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which has multiple Comcast executives on its board, also represents Comcast and other cable companies as the fifth largest lobbying organization in the United States, spending $19.8 million in 2013. Comcast’s PAC, the Comcast Corporation and NBCUniversal Political Action Committee, is among the largest PACs in the US, raising about $3.7 million from 2011-2012 for the campaigns of various candidates for federal office. Comcast is also a major backer of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association Political Action Committee, which raised $2.6 million from 2011-2012.
  • Comcast also backs lobbying and PACs on a regional level, backing organizations such as the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association and the Broadband Communications Association of Washington PAC. Comcast and other cable companies have lobbied state governments to pass legislation restricting or banning individual cities from offering public broadband service. Municipal broadband restrictions of varying scope have been passed in a total of 20 States.

CHESAPEAKE ENERGY CORP. PAC: $2,500

  • Former Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon borrowed as much as $1.1 billion against his stake in thousands of company wells. The loans, which had been undisclosed to shareholders, were used to fund McClendon’s operating costs for the Founders Well Participation Program, which offers him a chance to invest in a 2.5 percent interest in every well the company drills. McClendon in turn used the 2.5 percent stakes as collateral on those same loans. Analysts, academics and attorneys who reviewed the loan documents stated the structure raised the potential for conflicts of interest and raised questions on the corporate governance and business ethics of Chesapeake Energy’s senior management. The company disagreed that this is a conflict of interest or a violation of business ethics and issued a detailed statement.
  • Current CEO Doug Lawler is responsible for laying off over 800 employees—roughly 16 percent of the workforce—within a few months of taking the position. He released several directors and executives within two months of taking power. Shortly after the executive positions were cut, Lawler released waves of employees over the course of a few months. All of the layoffs culminated on Oct. 8, 2013 when Lawler released a staggering 800 employees nationwide, 640 of which were from the corporate office in Oklahoma City.[
  • On June 5, 2014, the state of Michigan filed felony fraud and racketeering charges against Chesapeake Energy, alleging that the company canceled hundreds of land leases on false pretenses after it sought to obtain oil and gas rights. Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette claimed that the company “obtained uncompensated land options from these landowners by false pretenses, and prevented competitors from leasing the land.” Chesapeake Energy disputed all charges.

CITIZENS UNITED POLITICAL VICTORY FUND: $5,000

  • The Citizens United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.
  • That ultimately led to the creation of the super PACs, which act as shadow political parties. They accept unlimited donations from billionaires, corporations and unions and use it to buy advertising, most of it negative.

CHEVRON PAC: $1,000

  • In 2003 a class action lawsuit against Chevron was filed in Ecuadorian court for $28 billion by indigenous residents, who accused Texaco of making residents ill and damaging forests and rivers by discharging 18 billion US gallons of formation water into the Amazon. Chevron claimed that the 1998 agreements with the Ecuadorian Government exempted the company from any liabilities.
  • In 2011, Ecuadorian residents were awarded $8.6 billion, based on claims of loss of crops and farm animals as well as increased local cancer rates. The plaintiffs said this would not be enough to make up for the damage caused by the oil company. The award was later revised to $19 billion on appeals, which was then appealed again to the Ecuadorean National Court of Justice.
  • Chevron described the lawsuit as an “extortion scheme” and refused to pay the fine.
  • Chevron’s activities at its century-old Richmond refinery have been the subject of ongoing controversy. The project generated over 11 million pounds of toxic materials and caused more than 304 accidents. The Richmond refinery paid $540,000 in 1998 for illegally bypassing waste water treatments and failing to notify the public about toxic releases. Overall, Chevron is listed as potentially liable for 95 Superfund sites, with funds set aside by the EPA for clean-up.
  • Chevron’s operations in Africa have also been criticized as environmentally unsound. In 2002, Angola became the first country in Africa ever to levy a fine on a major multinational corporation operating within its borders, when it demanded $2 million in compensation for oil spills allegedly caused by Chevron.
  • On October 16, 2003, Chevron U.S.A. settled a charge under the Clean Air Act, which reduced harmful air emissions by about 10,000 tons a year. In San Francisco, Chevron was ordered to spend almost $275 million to install and utilize innovative technology to reduce nitrogen and sulfur dioxide emissions at its refineries. In 2000, after violating the Clean Air Act at an offline loading terminal in El Segundo, California, Chevron paid, a $6 million penalty as well as $1 million for environmental improvement projects.

GENERAL ELECTRIC CO. PAC:  $1,000

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

HOME DEPOT PAC: $2,000

  • The Home Depot was embroiled in whistleblower litigation. In July 2005, former employee Michael Davis filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Home Depot, alleging that his discharge was in retaliation for refusing to make unwarranted backcharges against vendors. Davis alleges that the Home Depot forced its employees to meet a set quota of backcharges to cover damaged or defective merchandise, forcing employees to make chargebacks to vendors for merchandise that was undamaged and not defective.
  • Home Depot has settled the dispute in 2008. In the settlement, Home Depot changed some of its corporate governance provisions. Home Depot also agreed to pay the plaintiff’s counsel $6 million in cash and $8.5 million in common stock.

HONEYWELL PAC: $4,000

  • The EPA says that no corporation has been linked to a greater number of Superfund toxic waste sites than has Honeywell. Honeywell ranks 44th among U.S. corporations causing air pollution. The firm released more than 9.4 million pounds of toxins per year into the air. In 2001, Honeywell agreed to pay $150,000 in civil penalties and to perform $772,000 worth of reparations for environmental violations.
  • In 2003, a federal judge in New Jersey ordered the company to perform an estimated $400 million environmental remediation of chromium waste, citing “a substantial risk of imminent damage to public health and safety and imminent and severe damage to the environment.” In the same year, Honeywell paid $3.6 million to avoid a federal trial regarding its responsibility for trichloroethylene contamination in Illinois. In 2004, the State of New York announced that it would require Honeywell to complete an estimated $448 million cleanup of more than 165,000 pounds of mercury and other toxic waste dumped into Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, N.Y.

EXXON MOBIL CORP. PAC: $2,500

  • ExxonMobil has been accused of paying to fuel disinformation about and denial of anthropogenic global warming.
  • ExxonMobil has drawn criticism from scientists, science organizations and the environmental lobby for funding organizations critical of the Kyoto Protocol and seeking to undermine public opinion about the scientific conclusion that global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Mother Jones Magazine said the company channeled more than $8 million to 40 different organizations that have employed disinformation campaigns including “skeptic propaganda masquerading as journalism” to influence opinion of the public and of political leaders about global warming and that the company was a member of one of the first such groups, the Global Climate Coalition, founded in 1989. According to The Guardian, ExxonMobil has funded, among other groups, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, Heartland Institute, Congress on Racial Equality, TechCentralStation.com, and International Policy Network. ExxonMobil’s support for these organizations has drawn criticism from the Royal Society, the academy of sciences of the United Kingdom. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report in 2007 accusing ExxonMobil of spending $16 million, between 1998 and 2005, towards 43 advocacy organizations which dispute the impact of global warming. The report argued that ExxonMobil used disinformation tactics similar to those used by the tobacco industry in its denials of the link between lung cancer and smoking, saying that the company used “many of the same organizations and personnel to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue.” These charges are consistent with a purported 1998 internal ExxonMobil strategy memo, posted by the environmental group Environmental Defense, stating:

“Victory will be achieved when

  • Average citizens [and the media] ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the conventional wisdom;
  • Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy;
  • Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear out of touch with reality.”

 

  • In 2003, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that J. Bryan Williams, a former senior executive of Mobil Oil Corp., had been sentenced to three years and ten months in prison on charges of evading income taxes on more than $7 million in unreported income, including a $2 million kickback he received in connection with Mobil’s oil business in Kazakhstan. Documents filed with the court said Williams’ unreported income included millions of dollars in kickbacks from governments, persons, and other entities with whom Williams conducted business while employed by Mobil. In addition to his sentence, Williams must pay a fine of $25,000 and more than $3.5 million in restitution to the IRS, in addition to penalties and interest.

LOCKHEED MARTIN EMPLOYEES’ PAC: $6,000

  • Lockheed Martin is active in many aspects of government contracting. It received $36 billion in government contracts in 2008 alone, more than any company in history. It now does work for more than two dozen government agencies from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s involved in surveillance and information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Security Agency (NSA), The Pentagon, the Census Bureau and the Postal Service.”
  • Lockheed is listed as the largest US government contractor and “ranks third for number of incidents, and twenty-first for size of settlements on the ‘contractor misconduct’ database maintained by the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-DC-based watchdog group.” Since 1995, the company has agreed to pay $606 million to settle 59 instances of misconduct.
  • The company’s 2010 lobbying expenditure by the third quarter was $9.9 million (2009 total: $13.7 million).
  • Through its political action committee (PAC), the company provides low levels of financial support to candidates who advocate national defense and relevant business issues. It was “the top contributor to the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Republican Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, giving more than $50,000 in the most recent election cycle. It also topped the list of donors to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee before his death in 2012.
  • Lockheed Martin Employees Political Action Committee is one of the 50 largest in the country, according to FEC data. With contributions from 3,000 employees, it donates $500,000 a year to about 260 House and Senate candidates. That compares with $515,000 from General Dynamics’ political action committee and $122,850 from BAE Systems North America, the center’s data showed.
  • In March 2013, Maryland State Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola cosponsored a resolution which would give Lockheed Martin tax rebate worth millions of dollars, related to hotel taxes paid at their CLE facility in Bethesda, MD, even while he was allegedly dating Lockheed Martin’s lobbyist. This was after Montgomery County Council refused to pass a similar resolution.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAQs

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

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

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

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

HHS_2013_SNPS_35_Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the LFO report here: LFO_OGBReport_August_2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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