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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That brings up two questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are their results:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not complicated.

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

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

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

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

It’s not complicated.

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

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

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

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

It’s not complicated.

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

It’s not complicated.

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

It’s not complicated.

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

It’s not complicated.

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

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

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

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

Current Louisiana legislators who are members of ALEC are:

House of Representatives:

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

Senate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all of ALEC’s proposals address public education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And keep reading LouisianaVoice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, not so much, it turns out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rank indeed has its privileges.

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

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

Only they were dead serious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, right.

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

Sound familiar?

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

Again, sound familiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And apparently state campaign finance laws agree with us.

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

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

That should be clear enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, hey, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand total: $30,551.41.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So what, precisely, is Alfred “Butch” Speer trying to hide?

And why?

Whatever he is hiding and the reasons behind his actions constitute déjà vu all over again.

Speer, clerk of the Louisiana House of Representatives, has refused to disclose the one-page application forms which all recipients of legislative scholarships to Tulane University must complete.

The New Orleans Advocate, WWL-TV and New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche requested copies of hundreds of the documents to see if the legislators were awarding the scholarships to relatives of fellow politicians.

A 130-year-old program allows each of Louisiana’s legislators to give one student per year a one-year scholarship—worth $43,000 annually—to Tulane. The mayor of New Orleans is allowed to give out five four-year scholarships per year.

It’s a trade-off dating back to Act 43 of 1884 that benefits Tulane financially. The school has to eat more than $6 million per year in free tuition but receives sales and property tax exemptions worth more than $23 million a year, according to one source. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_00a.htm

http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scandalfinale_05a.htm

Ostensibly, the scholarships are supposed to go to deserving students in the respective legislator’s district—not to legislators’ family members—but that system fell into widespread abuse and news coverage in the 1990s created a public outcry that prompted some reforms to the much-coveted legislative perk. To no one’s surprise the House in 1996 killed a bill designed to abolish both the scholarship program and the Tulane tax breaks.

Victoria Reggie, widow of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy and the daughter of Crowley judge Edmund Reggie, along with her five siblings were awarded 27 years’ worth of scholarships by the late Rep. John N. John and in 1993 then-New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy gave a four-year scholarship to his son. Former New Orleans Mayor Ernest Morial likewise gave his son and daughter and the daughter of a top aide and the children of two judges scholarships and former Mayor Moon Landrieu gave a scholarship to his nephew Gary Landrieu.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune went to court—and won—in its attempts to obtain Tulane records that showed other recipients of the scholarships included the children of Sens. John Breaux and J. Bennett Johnston and U.S. Reps. Bob Livingston, Jimmy Hayes and Richard Baker.

But in 1983, Capitol News Service, operated by LouisianaVoice, broke a story that State Sen. Dan Richie of Ferriday had awarded his scholarship to a relative of State Rep. Bruce Lynn of Shreveport and that Lynn had given his scholarship to Richie’s brother.

The single-page document being sought by WWL, the New Orleans Advocate and attorney Goyeneche contains two statements: “I am related to an elected official,” and “I am not related to an elected official.” Each recipient is required to check the box next to the appropriate statement and if the student checks that he or she is related to an elected official, the student must list the official’s name and explain the relationship.

Simple enough.

Except that Speer is trying to keep nosy reporters from taking a peek at those records.

To illustrate to what length he is willing to go to protect those records, he first responded to the requests by claiming that the forms belonged to Tulane and were not in his possession.

But then Tulane officials promptly provided the forms to the legislative bodies, leaving Speer in a quandary. No problem, Deftly sidestepping state public records laws Speer, claiming to be speaking for Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp, said he had determined the records are not public and thus, he is not required to provide them.

He even promoted himself to a judgeship on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal which ruled in the 1990s legal battle that “All records related to the contract and the giving of scholarships fall within the broad definition of public records” when he said the application forms do not come under that definition because he was told the forms are only shown to legislators who request to see them.

“Therefore, only those forms Tulane University provided to a legislator for use in awarding a scholarship are public records,” Speer said in his letter.

Wow. What a legal mind.

So, is public servant Speer protecting the public’s right to know?

You can check that box “No.”

Public servant Butch Speer is in the business of protecting legislators from public embarrassment and by all measures, he does his job quite well.

Take our own experience with Speer in July of 2012. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/09/11/deliberative-process-defense-used-to-protect-alec-records-in-texas-reminiscent-of-2012-louisianavoice-experience/

Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) is the state chairman for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and in July of 2012 he sent out a letter on state letterhead soliciting contributions of $1,000 each to help defray the expenses of “over thirty” state legislators to attend a national conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Salt Lake City on July 25-28.

Harrison (R-Gray) mailed out a form letter on July 2 that opened by saying, “As State Chair and National Board Member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, I would like to solicit your financial support to our ALEC Louisiana Scholarship Fund.”

The letter was printed on state letterhead, which would make the document a public record so LouisianaVoice immediately made a public records request of Harrison to provide:

  • A complete list of the recipients of his letter;
  • A list of the “over thirty” Louisiana legislators who are members of ALEC.

ALEC membership, of course, is a closely-guarded secret but once the letter was printed on state letterhead—presumably composed on a state computer in Harrison’s state-funded office, printed on a state-purchased printer and mailed using state-purchased postage—the request for a list of members was included in the request for recipients of the letter.

Harrison never responded to the request despite state law that requires responses to all such requests.

LouisianaVoice then contacted Alfred “Butch” Speer to enlist his assistance in obtaining the records and last Thursday, July 12, Speer responded: “I have looked further into your records request.” (Notice he omitted the word “public” as in “public records.”) “Rep. Harrison composed the letter of which you possess a copy. Rep. Harrison sent that one letter to a single recipient,” Speer said. “If that letter was distributed to a larger audience, such distribution did not create a public record.

“R.S. 44:1 defines a public record as: ‘…having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the conduct, transaction, or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state…’

“My opinion is that the solicitation of donations for ALEC does not create a public record. The courts have been clear in providing that the purpose of the record is determinative of its public nature, not the record’s origin.”

It seems a stretch to contend that the letter went out to only recipient soliciting a single $1,000 contribution to cover the expenses of “over thirty” legislators to attend the conference.

Still, Speer persisted, saying, “…it is my responsibility to consult with Representatives and make the determinations as to what records are or are not public in nature.”

No, it is apparently Speer’s responsibility to cover the backsides of wayward legislators.

“…The contents of (Harrison’s) letter speak for itself….The origin of a document is not the determining factor as to its nature as a public record. The purpose of the record is the only determining factor. Whether the letter was or was not ‘composed on state letterhead, on a state computer, printed on a state-owned printer and mailed in state-issued envelope(s) does not, per force, create a public record. If the letter were concerning ‘any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state,’ then such a letter is a public nature,” he said.

Speer then offered a most incredulous interpretation of the public records statute when he said, “The fact that an official may be traveling does not place the travel or its mode of payment or the source of the resources used to travel ipso facto within the public records law. The purpose of the travel is the determining factor.”

You can tell Speer is a lawyer. They love to use ipso facto whenever they can. It appears to be their way of slipping in the Latin phrase which apparently means, “I’m way smarter than you.”

“What Rep. Harrison was attempting is of no moment unless he was attempting some business of the House or pursuing some course mandated by law,” he said. “Anyone’s attempt to raise money for a private entity is not the business of the House nor is it an activity mandated by law.

“Your personal interpretation of the law is not determinative of the actual scope of the law,” he told LouisianaVoice.

Speer apparently was overlooking the fact that the House and Senate combined to pay 34 current and former members of the two chambers more than $70,000 in travel, lodging and registration fees for attending ALEC functions in New Orleans, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Austin between 2008 and 2011.

Of that amount, almost $30,000 was paid in per diem of $142, $145, $152 or $159 per day, depending on the year, for attending the conferences. The per diem rates corresponded to the rates paid legislators for attending legislative sessions and committee meetings.

That would seem to make the ALEC meeting House business and thus, public record.

ALEC advertises in pre-conference brochures sent to its members that it picks up the tab for legislators attending its conferences. That would also raise the question of why legislators were paid by the House and Senate for travel, lodging and registration costs if ALEC also pays these costs via its ALEC Louisiana Scholarship Fund.

We have to wonder if Speer hangs out with Superintendent of Education John White to share strategy for shielding public records from the public.

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Editor’s note: This essay is more than twice the length of our usual posts but with the takeover of LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe set to take effect on Tuesday (Oct. 1), we felt it vital to provide more detailed information about the administration’s smokescreen that it likes to call a $125 million taxpayer savings. Please take the time to read it in its entirety.

False reasons for privatizing

The governor’s stated purpose of privatization was to improve quality, improve medical education, and save the taxpayers about $125 million (The Advocate 9/4/13).  His actions, however, support none of these stated purposes.

  • Improve quality?  There are many measures of quality, safety, and patient satisfaction that Medicare and others publish (see the discussion on NOLA.com September 14, 2013 story on East Jefferson and West Jefferson Hospitals).  Through a public records request I asked DHH what measures of quality they used in concluding that quality would be improved with these privatizations.  To no surprise, they did not attempt to review any data on quality despite this being one of the governor’s primary reasons for privatizing.  If you look at Medicare’s website http://www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare/search.html  the LSU facilities compare very favorably to the new private partners.  Furthermore, the Cooperative Endeavor Agreements (CEAs) do not have requirements of the partner hospitals to measure, report, and be held accountable for any quality measures.
  • Improve medical education?  This is vintage Jindal.  He creates a crisis to force change then regardless of the outcome, declares victory for staving off the crisis he created.  Compared to not having hospitals to train in, the partnerships are better, but the public hospital system under LSU prior to Jindal’s meddling was very supportive of medical education and programs were performing well there.  Since the governor slashed funding for the hospitals, however, the programs ran into difficulty because of the governor’s actions.
  • Save taxpayers about $125 million?  Go back to the Medicare website (http://www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare/search.html ) and compare the cost to Medicare for care delivered around a hospital stay at the LSU hospital and at the private partner.  In every case the care associated with the LSU hospital was much cheaper than the private partner.  The truth is the governor’s team never asked the private partners what their costs were.  In response to a public records request in which I asked DHH for their analysis comparing costs, DHH was unable to provide any documents demonstrating they compared the actual cost of care at the public and private hospitals prior to entering into the CEAs.  Even though the CEAs commit the state to paying the cost of care at the private hospitals, no one from the administration bothered to ask them what their costs were.  The LSU Board signed off on these agreements without knowing this basic information – an action they were willing to take with the public’s money but that none of them would be so irresponsible to do with his own business.

Here is the breakdown for all cost to Medicare for a patient from 3 days prior to hospitalization to 30 days after the hospital stay (from the Medicare website):

LSU     Hospital Private     Partner(s)
Medical Center of Louisiana     (Charity): $16,698 Touro: $20,022
University Medical Center     (Lafayette): $11,781 Lafayette General: $18,578
Leonard Chabert (Houma): $13,356 Terrebonne General: $18,961
Ochsner: $19,571
W.O.Moss (Lake Charles): $9,299 Lake Charles Memorial: $18,262
Earl K. Long (Baton Rouge): $12,017 Our Lady of the Lake: $21,133

 

So despite the governor’s claim, DHH has no evidence that these deals will save taxpayers $125 million and in fact the public data available indicate just the opposite.  The governor’s real plan is to quietly shift this added cost from state funds to federal funds.  It may save state funds but this approach does not match his public stance on rejecting additional spending, even federal funds since those are taxpayer dollars too.

 Examining the money

Why would the state agree to pay these private partners their costs without knowing how much that is?  Why would the state move its patient care from the lower cost state providers to higher cost private providers?  One explanation is that the higher cost will be borne by the federal government, not the state.  Last year, the public hospitals were appropriated $955 million.  Commissioner of Administration, Kristy Nichols, testified that in 2014 that number will exceed $1 billion.  As reported in The Advocate (May 28, 2013), “The total operating expense associated with the privatization of the LSU hospitals will hit $1 billion during the next fiscal year, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said Thursday. That’s more than there is in the current year’s budget – $955 million for the state to operate the charity hospitals…”

The private partners will participate with the state in a financing scheme that will allow the state to withdraw its support of the LSU hospitals while increasing the flow of federal funds.  The scheme involves at least 3 different components.  In isolation, each component may be (MAY BE) deemed allowable by the federal government but viewed together they demonstrate an effort to skirt federal requirements that the state put up its fair share of funding for the Medicaid program.

  1. Supplemental or extra payments from Medicaid to private hospitals using federal Medicaid dollars
  2. Lease payments including “up front” payments, in effect, the state “borrowing” funds from a private Medicaid provider (that it just prepaid a supplement using federal funds) in order to cover a state budget shortfall
  3. The state using the private hospital lease payments as match to draw more federal funds and then paying a portion of that back the private provider.

The entire process is designed to cut out the state support and increase the federal support.

Reducing state support

In September 2011 a consulting group named Verite hired by DHH submitted a business plan review that was considered by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget at its September 2011 meeting when it voted to approve contracting for construction of the new hospital www.newhospital.org.  The report points out the average state funds in the Interim LSU Hospital (ILH or “Charity”) from 2006 – 2011 was $42.8 million.  It projected an average annual amount of state funds in years 2015-2020 of $52.5 million necessary to pay for the cost of caring for uninsured people.  The JLCB approved construction based on these expectations.

However, the 2014 state budget includes zero state funds for ILH.  How can this be?

Here is the scheme:  The private hospital pays LSU money to lease the LSU hospital.  That money does not stay with LSU; it ends up (directly or indirectly) being used as match in the Medicaid program.  After matching those lease payments with federal funds, the total, larger amount is paid back to the private partner in the form of a Medicaid payment.   The lease payments supplant the state funds.  However, the legislative fiscal office has already raised concerns about the leases being $39 million short which is  why the Division of Administration has already begun planning on “double” lease payments this year.  http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/09/new_orleans_shreveport_hospita.html

For years states have devised schemes to receive additional federal funds while reducing the state contribution for Medicaid.  There is a problem with these schemes, however.  Consider this from a 2009 report by the Congressional Research Office:

“In 1991, Congress passed the Medicaid Voluntary Contribution and Provider-Specific Tax Amendments (P.L. 102-234). This bill grappled with several Medicaid funding mechanisms that were sometimes used to circumvent the state/federal shared responsibility for funding the cost of the Medicaid program. Under these funding methods, states collect funds (through taxes or other means) from providers and pay the money back to those providers as Medicaid payments, while claiming the federal matching share of those payments. States were essentially “borrowing” their required state matching amounts from the providers. Once the state share was netted out, the federal matching funds claimed could be used to raise provider payment rates, to fund other portions of the Medicaid program, or for other non-Medicaid purposes.”

https://opencrs.com/document/RS22843/

DHH’s current scheme includes a “borrowing” component that looks similar to the practices this legislation was aimed at preventing.  Medicaid rules do not allow a Medicaid provider (read “hospital” here) to voluntarily donate money to the state when they know they will get this money back plus more (the federal share) as part of an increase in their Medicaid payments.  The federal oversight agency, CMS, has already expressed concerns to state officials that these lease payments could qualify as non bona fide provider donations http://louisianavoice.com/2013/06/26/cart-ahead-of-the-horse-cms-letter-to-sen-ben-nevers-continues-to-leave-jindal-hospital-plan-approval-up-in-air/ and they will be examining the hospital leases to determine this.    If CMS determines these are conventional fair market value leases, they will allow the payments.  Beyond the basic annual lease payments, the deals include “double lease payments” and other large up front lease payments designed to fix the state’s budget problem raising the specter of non bona fide provider donations.  If these payments are deemed to be non-allowable, the federal government will recoup any federal funds that were paid as match for these state funds http://louisianavoice.com/2013/06/26/cart-ahead-of-the-horse-cms-letter-to-sen-ben-nevers-continues-to-leave-jindal-hospital-plan-approval-up-in-air/.  This will likely be resolved after Jindal leaves office and can just be added to the huge mess the state will need to clean up when he departs.  The legislature is derelict in counting on these up front lease payments for at least two reasons: First, if they are legitimate, they are still borrowing from future years, and second, there is a good chance that they are not legitimate and will not be allowed by CMS.

A key question is, “Are these fair market value leases?”  The state and the complicit private hospital want the lease amounts to be as high as possible – this is how they will maximize the fund shift from private hospital to the state; then the funds will be used to generate the maximum amount of federal match which will be paid back to the hospital.  The state did not engage in a competitive bid process to determine the value of the leased facilities.  Instead, the state identified existing in-state private hospitals that it could pay additional funds through the Medicaid program to make the funding scheme work.  After receiving large up-front extra Medicaid payments, these hospitals would agree to lease the LSU hospitals and the lease payments would be used (recycled?) as match to replace the state funds the governor cut out.  The annual lease amounts are presumably based on an appraised value of the property being leased, but the actual payments which include large up-front amounts and multiples of the annual lease amounts – have nothing to do with the value of the property and everything to do with the state’s budget holes.  Furthermore, it is all but certain that none of the hospitals would garner the large lease amounts without the corresponding agreement by DHH to pay them higher Medicaid payments once they agree to lease the facilities.

Let’s take a closer look at the New Orleans deal.

The LSU Interim Hospital will be leased by Louisiana Children’s Medical Center (LCMC), a health system that includes Children’s Hospital and Touro Infirmary.  In addition to the annual lease LCMC agreed to pay $110 million in an “up front” lease payment to be repaid by the state over the next 20 years.  LCMC is in essence loaning the state $110 million for its use in the Medicaid program.  In addition, LCMC agreed to pay an additional $143 million to the state in order to build the parking garage and clinic office building at the new hospital in New Orleans.

  • $110 million payment.  This amount is notably similar to the state fund shortfall that the governor imposed on LSU shortly after the 2013 legislative session.  Remember the meeting of LSU leadership, board members, and Alan Levine that Fred Cerise documented in the recently circulated memo http://louisianavoice.com/2013/08/21/cerise-townsend-firing-came-soon-after-fateful-2012-levine-meeting-with-lsu-officials-to-discuss-lsumc-privatization/)? The supposed purpose was to identify a way to deal with the massive budget cut that the governor was laying at LSU’s feet.  Cerise outlined the magnitude of the cut which was equivalent to $122 million in state funds and a total – including federal funds -of $329 million and the impact would result in the closure of over half of the LSU hospitals.  Those cuts were never made, yet the governor never explained how the funds were restored to LSU’s budget.  In the New Orleans CEA, LCMC agreed to make an upfront lease payment of $110 million to LSU on or before June 24, 2013.  So with one week left in the fiscal year, LCMC paid LSU $110 million to avoid the massive budget cuts that were assigned to LSU by the governor to prompt the wholesale privatization.  But the cuts were never made, savings never achieved.  Instead, the administration borrowed the money from a private partner.  These funds will be repaid to LCMC over the next 20 years.  The state “borrowed” from LCMC, a private entity, funds to be used as match in the Medicaid program  – a practice that is at the very least against the intent of the federal Medicaid regulations and which the state will be repaying for many years after Jindal is gone from office.  If CMS does not approve of this trick, the state will be repaying the federal funds too (which is a much larger amount).
  • $143 million payment for parking and clinic buildings.  When LSU finally gained legislative approval of its business plan for the new hospital in New Orleans at the JLCB on September 16, 2011, there was a gap of $130 million in funding needed to complete the project (it appears that has grown to $143 million).  LSU explained at the time that it intended to use an LSU- affiliated foundation to provide that funding.  The approval to enter into a contract for construction was based on that assumption which was included in the business plan the JLCB considered.

The motion by Senator Murray (stated at 1:08 on the video archive of September 16, 2011 by Rep. Leger) was to “authorize the Office of Facility Planning and Control to enter into contracts up to the amount of funding in place for construction and completion of UMC in New Orleans.”

LSU received a commitment from the LSU Health Sciences Center – New Orleans Foundation as stated in this excerpt from a letter from LSU President John Lombardi to Thomas Rish, the senior manager for the Division of Administration.

“The mechanism for accomplishing such financing involves the UMCMC  [University Medical Center Management Corporation] Board entering into an agreement with LSU for LSU to provide services to the UMCMC Board, as represented by that board to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on September 16, 2011, and in accordance with the business plan presented in open committee hearing at that time.  In carrying out that business plan and the above-described construction, it is expected and necessary for the UMCMC Board at the appropriate time to enter into one or more agreements with one or more other affiliated entities of LSU so that the affiliated entity will have a sufficient revenue stream to support the financing of the Ambulatory Care Building and the Parking Structure.  LSU has engaged in such financing methods in the past with great success, without affecting the state tax supported debt limit or relying upon the full faith and credit of the state.”

However, the UMCMC Board subsequently refused to commit to an agreement that acknowledged its support for LSU because a plan was already underway to reconfigure the governance structure into a private entity unencumbered with the commitments to LSU, commitments that LSU and UMCMC used in gaining approval for acquisition of private property and construction.  As a result, the LSU Foundation could not obtain this funding.

The Division of Administration proceeded to enter into a contract for construction of the entire project anyway (without the funding in place) in violation of the JLCB motion that authorized contracting for up to an amount of funding in place.  As construction proceeded and desperate for a funder so it could meet its obligations to the contractor, the Administration turned to LCMC for the funds which they agreed to provide on or before June 24, 2013.

Why would LCMC, in addition to an annual rent payment for the hospital agree to pay an additional $253 million up front to the state?  Likely because the state gave them the money first.  On June 18, 2013, DHH made a series of supplemental Medicaid payments to Children’s Hospital and Touro Infirmary in the amount of $250 million.  DHH made Medicaid payments (which include federal money) to LCMC affiliates so that LCMC could return those funds to the state to use as match for more federal funds.  You have to appreciate this scheme from a governor who doesn’t like federal money.

Annual lease payments.

In addition to the $253 million up-front payments, Children’s will make its first annual lease payment this year.   But that won’t be enough money to fill the budget hole for the 2014 budget year.  Remember, any lease payment Children’s makes is to be multiplied with federal match dollars and repaid to Children’s so they have every incentive to pay as much “lease” as possible.  Given federal prohibition on “provider donations” these lease payments must be restricted to fair market value amounts.  In order to address the state budget shortfall, the state will borrow from future year lease payments and have Children’s make a “double” lease payment this year (in addition to the $110 million “up front” lease payment to be repaid over the next 20 years).  The Times Picayune reported this plan by Commissioner Nichols’s to have Children’s make a “double lease payment” of $68 million to plug the current year’s budget hole by encumbering future administrations and legislatures with a payback of state funds and potentially the federal match as well.  http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/09/new_orleans_shreveport_hospita.html

The state will use this $68 million to draw down additional federal funds ($107 million in federal funds based on most recent match rate for Louisiana) and pay the entire amount back to Children’s or an affiliate of Children’s for Medicaid services.  Who wouldn’t put up a double payment?  Why not triple payment?  Quadruple?  Only CMS can put the brakes on this scheme.  They have been through this type of thing before in Louisiana and so will be closely scrutinizing the entire arrangement.  Jindal is calculating that any recoupment of funds will come well after he has destroyed the public hospital system and celebrated his success.  He seems to believe he can violate the CMS provider donation provisions by simply calling the donations “lease payments.”  We’ll see if CMS agrees.

Let’s review:

  1. The state is building a replacement hospital for Charity Hospital in New Orleans using $474 million in federal funds from FEMA and $300 million in other hurricane recovery funds.
  2. The state agreed to lease this facility built with federal funds to a private entity that is a Medicaid provider.
  3. Those lease dollars will be used annually as match in the Medicaid program to draw additional federal dollars.  “Monetizing” an asset built with federal funds, the state will generate additional federal funds as match dollars to support the operation. This will allow the Division of Administration to renege in its commitment of state funds to LSU (which the legislature accepted in the business plan submitted to JLCB as a condition for approval of construction).
  4. In addition, the state made a $250 million Medicaid payment to the private provider on June 18, 2013.  This Medicaid payment included roughly 2/3 federal funds.
  5. The private provider then made a $253 million payment back to the state on June 24, 2013.
    1. $110 million of that payment was directly or indirectly used as match in the Medicaid program to draw more federal money by which LSU was able to meet its budget for 2013.
    2. $143 million of that payment is targeted to complete construction of the new hospital in New Orleans (and qualify as all future rent payments for LCMC) that will be operated as a private facility.

That’s a lot of recycling federal dollars and private handouts, even for Louisiana.  Surely the governor must be proud of this innovation in financing.  Why is he not clearly explaining it to the public?

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Because we have all the metaphorical snakes we can kill right here in Louisiana, it’s rare that we dwell on events in other states unless there is a direct link to developments in the Louisiana political arena.

But a request for public records in Texas pertaining to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) under that state’s Freedom of Information Act raised a red flag when a favorite but questionable phrase of Louisiana officials was invoked by a Texas legislator in an effort to prevent the release of records.

For the record, we do not believe it a coincidence that the “deliberative process” ploy, so popular with Gov. Bobby Jindal and his minions reared its ugly head in Texas over the issue of whether or not ALEC records are public.

It is our opinion, impossible to prove because of the veil of secrecy thrown over this organization in an effort to conceal its agenda from public scrutiny, that Jindal did not originate the deliberative process maneuver to protect public records from becoming just that—public.

But he certainly knows how to use—perhaps abuse is a better word here—the exception that he slipped into a law that he proudly points to in his national travels as the “gold standard” of transparency that he rammed through the legislature in 2009.

While that 2009 law requires elected and appointed officials to disclose their personal finances, it did little to open up the records of the governor’s office to public examination.

Now, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas (FOIFT) has filed a brief with the Texas Attorney General in support of a request for records by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).

That request challenges ALEC’s efforts to declare its communications immune from state public records law—even communications with Texas elected officials.

FOIFT’s brief, filed late last month, supports CMD’s position and raises additional arguments countering claims by Rep. Stephanie Klick that the lobbying organizations communications with lawmakers are not subject to disclosure.

Texas was the first state in which ALEC made a formal request of the Attorney General that its records should be exempt from Texas sunshine-in-government laws. ALEC has even begun stamping documents with a disclaimer that says materials such as meeting agendas and model legislation are not subject to any state’s open records laws.

FOIFT counters that assertion by saying the arguments by Klick and ALEC are “mutually inconsistent.”

“Rep. Klick invokes the deliberative process privilege, which involves policy discussions internal to a governmental body,” not between a legislator and a third-party special interest group funded by lobbyists trying to influence legislation,” the brief says. At the same time, it says, “ALEC invokes its members’ First Amendment right of association, which involves its internal discussions and membership.”

Accordingly, it says, because ALEC is communication with Klick in her official capacity as a state representative, the requested documents should be officials records to which the public has a First Amendment right of access.

All of which raises the question of which came first the chicken (Jindal) or the egg (ALEC) insofar as the origination of deliberative process?

Our opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Jindal devised that ploy straight from ALEC’s playbook—just as have so many of his policies, from privatization of prisons and hospitals to school vouchers and charters to pension, healthcare and workers’ compensation reform to massive layoffs of state employees.

Jindal and his legislative floor leaders are in lock step with ALEC and that’s a sad commentary on those officials’ inability to think and act for themselves. Their every move is dictated by ALEC, which writes “model legislation” for its members to introduce in state legislators and assemblies back home.

Sometimes, lawmakers even forget to change key wording in their bills, exposing their efforts for what they are—shams, sacrifices offered up at the altar of profiteering enterprise either by puppets or co-conspirators.

It’s no wonder that ALEC wants to protect its records at all costs.

The affair in Texas is reminiscent of our own experience with Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) in July of 2012.

Harrison, the State Chairman of ALEC, sent out a letter on state letterhead soliciting contributions of $1,000 each from an unknown number of recipients of his form letter to finance the travel of Louisiana legislative ALEC members to an ALEC conference in Salt Lake City set for July 25-28.

The letter opened by saying, “As State Chair and National Board Member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), I would like to solicit your financial support to our ALEC Louisiana Scholarship Fund.”

Not college scholarships, mind you, but to support “over thirty Louisiana Legislators serving on ALEC Task Forces.” Contributions, Harrison said, “will allow the opportunity (for legislators) to attend conferences funded by the ALEC Scholarship Fund.

“The conferences are packed with educational speakers and presenters, and gives (sic) the legislators a chance to interact with legislators from other states, including forums on Medicaid reform, sub-prime lending, environmental education, pharmaceutical litigation, the crisis in state spending, global warming and financial services and information exchange. All of these issues are import (sic) to the entire lobbying community.

“I, along with other members of the Louisiana Legislature, greatly appreciate your contribution to the scholarship fund. Your $1,000 check made payable to the ALEC Louisiana Scholarship Fund can be sent directly to me at 5058 West Main Street, Houma, Louisiana 70360.

LouisianaVoice submitted a public records request to Harrison requesting, since the contribution solicitation was written on Louisiana House of Representatives letterhead, that Harrison provide the identities of every person to whom the solicitation was sent.

Harrison never responded to the request but House Clerk Alfred “Butch” Speer jumped into the fray, responding, “I have looked further into your records (omitting the word “public” from our request). Rep Harrison sent that one letter to a single recipient,” he said, overlooking the fact that it was a form letter that opened with “Dear Friend.” Not a very personal way for a letter to be sent to a single recipient.

Also unexplained by Speer was how a single $1,000 contribution might cover the travel expenses of “over thirty” legislators to attend the conference.

Speer, ignoring that the letter was printed on state letterhead, said, “The origin of a document is not the determining factor as to its nature as a public record. Whether the letter was or was not composed on state letterhead…does not, per force, create a public record.

“What Rep. Harrison was attempting is of no moment unless he was attempting some business of the House,” he said.

Speer again apparently ignored the fact that the House and Senate routinely pay per diem, travel and lodging for lawmakers to attend ALEC conference. In fact, between 2008 and 2011, the House and Senate combined to pay 34 current and former members more than $70,000 for attending ALEC functions in New Orleans, San Diego, Washington, C.C., Phoenix, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Austin.

If those ALEC trips were not for state business, why in hell were the House and Senate shelling out that money for legislators’ expenses and per diem?

Mr. Speer’s reasons for protecting the names of the recipients of that letter was, to say the lease, quite disingenuous and his effort to protect that information goes against the grain of everything for which a public servant is sworn to uphold, protect and serve.

What’s more, his arguments don’t even come close to accurately defining what is and what is not a public record. We don’t claim to be attorneys at LouisianaVoice, but we can read the public records act.

For Mr. Speer’s erudition, it can be found in LA. R.S. 44:1-41 and Article XII, Section 3 of the Louisiana Constitution.

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As anticipated, Deloitte Consulting, which met regularly with state officials over the past year to assist in planning for a comprehensive consolidation of information technology (IT) services for the Division of Administration, was named winner of the contract for “Information Technology Planning and Management Support Services,” according to an email announcement by the Division of Administration (DOA) that went out to IT employees Thursday morning.

The announcement, which did not mention a contract amount, came only hours after LouisianaVoice indicated that Deloitte had the inside track for the contract on the strength of its working with state officials in the planning of a request for proposals (RFP) for the work.

The email said that the evaluation of proposals was complete and that work under the contract is slated to begin on Monday, September 16.

The announcement cited five other states with full IT consolidation. These included Michigan, Utah, Colorado, New Hampshire and New Mexico. It also listed eight other states with limited IT consolidation: Alaska, Arizona, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey and North Carolina.

The email, however, made no mention of the massive cost overruns experienced by several states in attempts at computer conversion and IT consolidation, including North Carolina, one of those put forward by the administration as an example:

  • North Carolina, one of the states cited as a model by the email has seen costs of a contract to modernize only one system, one to process the state’s Medicaid payments, go from the original $265 million to nearly $900 million;
  • California pulled the plug on its court computer system that was to connect all 58 of the state’s counties when the price tag leapt from $260 million to more than $500 million—with only seven courts using the system before the project was terminated.
  • Tennessee experienced repeated delays, missed deadlines and cost overruns and finally stopped work after seven years of development of its Vision Integration Platform (VIP). As is becoming more and more common with bad news, the announcement came late on a Friday in order to have minimal political impact. Tennessee also experienced problems with its much ballyhooed IT state projects that affected the Department of Children’s Services, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the state’s Project Edison payroll system. Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, by the way, announced last April that all of the state’s 1,600 information technology workers would be required to reapply for their jobs.
  • A consolidated service and network support project was supposed to consolidate IT services for 20 state agencies in Wisconsin at a cost of $12.8 million but cost overruns ran the price to more than $200 million, wiping out anticipated savings.
  • In Virginia a 10-year, $2.3 billion contract with Northrop Grumman to consolidate the state’s computer systems has been an ongoing nightmare of cost overruns and missed deadlines

The email touted lower overall operating costs through leveraging volume procurement, elimination of duplication, data center virtualization and standardization of IT architecture statewide.

It also said the project’s approach strategies would include capitalizing on vendor experience in other states, phased approach to consolidation of staff, agency involvement in the process and effective communication with agency staff regarding consolidation goals.

Now that Deloitte has been chosen for the contract, the next steps, according to the DOA announcement will be the selection of a project team, education of the vendor on Louisiana’s IT infrastructure and operations, survey and assessment, development of a plan of operational changes, and the request of software and hardware inventory.

Nothing was mentioned in the approach strategies about impending layoffs of state employees but that is a near certainty given the track record of other privatization/consolidation schemes rolled out by the administration.

And while DOA assures us that 36 states were reviewed in reaching the decision to consolidate the state’s IT services, one has to wonder if any time was spent examining other states in an effort to determine the cause of massive cost overruns, delays and missed deadlines.

Or is this simply yet another program fronted by Gov. Bobby Jindal but being pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council?

This is not to say IT consolidation is the wrong thing but with the state’s budget already in the tank, it seems that a more open discussion, more sunshine as it were, would be appropriate before plunging into something that could ultimately break the bank—and still leave us with an inoperative system.

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