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Archive for the ‘Campaign Contributions’ Category

Did the former director of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control strong-arm New Orleans-area night club owners to contribute to the campaign of one of the candidates for governor in last fall’s elections?

A confidential source told LouisianaVoice that club owners and businesses in Orleans and Jefferson Parish were pressured during two separate meetings prior to the Oct. 24 primary election to contribute to the gubernatorial campaign of Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle.

There is no evidence that Angelle knew about or approved of the alleged coercion to contribute to his campaign.

Ten businesses or individuals subsequently contributed more than $30,500 to Angelle’s campaign, all of which was given prior to the primary election in which Angelle finished third to eventual winner John Bel Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

Why would club owners be asked to contribute to Angelle? One possible explanation might be that ATC Director Troy Hebert thought Angelle’s election represented his best chance for reappointment. Hebert resigned on Jan. 10, the day before John Bel Edwards became governor.

None of the 10 contributed to either of the other three candidates for governor though seven of them also contributed more than $19,000 to John Young’s unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor, campaign records show.

John Young’s brother, attorney Chris Young, represents numerous New Orleans clubs and bars in proceedings before the ATC. Chris Young also serves as a lobbyist for the Beer Industry League of Louisiana. Their sister, Judy Pontin, serves as ATC’s $71,000-per-year “executive management officer” in ATC’s New Orleans office.

The timing of Operation Trick or Treat, a joint sting operation conducted by ATC and Louisiana State Police, also raises the question of whether there may have been a pattern of selective investigations of French Quarter strip clubs, particularly in New Orleans, last September and October.

Eighteen clubs in Orleans and Jefferson Parish were subjected to the investigation. Seventeen of the 18 did not contribute to Angelle. Only Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club among those that contributed was among those clubs visited in Operation Trick or Treat, according to a list obtained from ATC by LouisianaVoice. No violations were found there.

In all, nine clubs were found in violation of infractions of underage alcohol sales, drug use and/or prostitution.

Were club owners who contributed to Angelle and/or Young deliberately passed over during the joint LSP-ATC operation? Or were they just lucky?

Did the undercover investigation just happen to coincide with the run-up to the 2015 election for governor and lieutenant governor? Were those clubs who had their liquor licenses pulled targeted for their failure to follow through with political contributions? And did the license revocations help eliminate French Quarter competition for favored clubs?

A source close to the events contacted LouisianaVoice by email several weeks ago. Writing under an assumed name, the source said that prior to the Oct. 24 primary election, Hebert held private meetings with several club owners “to shake down the businesses” for contributions to Angelle’s campaign fund. She said the meetings were held “on top of Oceana Restaurant on Conti and in Metairie on Veterans Highway at Cajun Canyons Restaurant” (Cajun Cannon), run by former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert (no relation to Troy Hebert). It wasn’t immediately clear if she meant the rooftop of the Oceana or on the top floor of the restaurant.

Bobby Hebert’s Cajun Cannon Restaurant & Bar is located at 4101 Veterans Memorial Blvd., but nowhere in the Secretary of State’s corporate records is Hebert listed as an officer of that or any other corporate entity in Orleans or Jefferson Parish.

Instead, the trade name Bobby Hebert’s Cajun Cannon is listed at 5828 Marcia Ave. in New Orleans—the same address as several other corporations.

Oceana Restaurant is located at 739 Conti Street, the same address as Oceana Enterprises, LLC. Wassek N. Badr is listed as both the registered agent and the only officer of Oceana Enterprises.

And this is where it gets really confusing.

The name Badr, or Bader, crops up in several other corporate filings in New Orleans, all with the same 5828 Marcia Ave. address as Bobby Hebert’s Cajun Cannon nightclub.

Others with Wassek Badr’s name listed as officer include Cajun Estates of 5828 Marcia, Cajun Conti, LLC, and Cajun Cuisine, LLC, both of 739 Conti (same address as Oceana Restaurant), and MRW Orleans, LLC (Mohamad Wassek Bader and Rami Wassek Badr), 5828 Marcia.

Moe Wassek Badr is listed as the agent and only officer of Cajun Maple, LLC, of 5828 Marcia while Mohamad “Moe” Badr is given as agent and only officer of Olde Creole Palace, LLC. And Rami Badr is listed as agent and only officer of Cajun Broad, LLC, both located at 5828 Marcia.

Additionally, Morton Bader is named as agent for Cajun Estates.

Amer Bader is listed in corporate records as a member of Wasek Badr, LLC, and it is Amer Bader who has said that he exchanged text messages with Hebert in which he accused Hebert of extorting sexual favors from a woman experiencing licensing problems with ATC. http://louisianavoice.com/2016/01/26/fbi-said-investigating-troy-hebert-for-using-office-to-extort-sex-from-woman-in-exchange-for-fixing-licensing-problems/

Campaign finance reports filed by Angelle would seem to indicate the meetings at Oceana and Cajun Cannon were likely held on or around Sept. 16 and Oct. 12, 2015, since all the contributions to Angelle were on those two dates.

Two contributions of $5,000 each were made on Sept. 16 by Hospitality Consultants and Magnolia Enterprises, records show, and Caire Hotel & Restaurant Supply gave $500 on that same date.

On Oct. 12, Quarter Holdings and ITMC Enterprises contributed $5,000 each to Angelle’s campaign, Bourbon Heat and Promenade Entertainment gave $2,500 each, and HDV No. 1, SB Entertainment, and CATS 701 each gave $1,666.66.

Here are those contributors to Angelle and the dates of their contributions:

  • Hospitality Consultants: $5,000 on Sept. 16, 2015;
  • Magnolia Enterprises, Inc.: $5,000 on Sept. 16;
  • Caire Hotel & Restaurant Supply, Inc.: $500 on Sept. 16;
  • Quarter Holdings: $5,000 on Oct. 12;
  • JTMC Enterprises: $5,000 on Oct. 12;
  • Bourbon Heat: $2,500 on Oct. 12;
  • Promenade Entertainment, LLC: $2,500 on Oct. 12;
  • HDV No. 1, LLC: $1,666.67 on Oct. 12;
  • SB Entertainment, Inc.: $1,666.67 on Oct. 12;
  • CATS 701 Bourbon, LLC: $1,666.66 on Oct. 12

Here are the seven who also contributed more than $19,000 to John Young’s unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor, according to campaign reports obtained from the State Board of Ethics:

  • Quarter Holdings, LLC: $5,000 on Dec. 29, 2014;
  • Magnolia Enterprises, Inc.: $3,000 on Feb. 26, 2015 and $1,000 on April 29, 2015;
  • SB Entertainment, Inc.: $1,666.67 on Aug. 21;
  • CATS 701 Bourbon, LLC: $1,666.67 on Aug. 24;
  • HDV No. 1, LLC: $1,666.66 on Aug. 24;
  • JTMC Enterprises, LLC: $834 on Aug. 24;
  • Bourbon Heat, LLC: $2,500 on Aug. 28, 2014 and $2,500 on Aug. 26, 2015.

Besides those businesses, also conspicuously absent from the list of clubs investigated by the joint ATC/LSP sting operation was Rick’s Cabaret. Rick’s bills itself on its web site as “New Orleans’ finest gentlemen’s experience.” Located at 315 Bourbon Street, it is within three blocks of all nine strip clubs which had their licenses suspended. Because of its proximity to the other clubs, it would stand to gain financially from business lost by the penalized establishments because of their inability to sell alcoholic beverages.

Robert Watters, owner of Rick’s Cabaret, is said to be friends with both Troy Hebert and State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

The corporate records on the businesses are equally confusing.

Magnolia Enterprises and Quarter Holdings, LLC, share the same agent, Marcus Giusti, and at least one officer, Kishore V. Motwani. Additionally, Aaron K. Motwani is an officer in Magnolia Enterprises. Kishore Motwani also is an officer for Quarter Holdings, Inc. All three share the same Canal Street mailing address.

Neither CATS 701 Bourbon, which runs Cat’s Meow Club at that address, nor HDV No. 1, which operates Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, list any officers on the Secretary of State’s corporate web site, but they list the same Reno, Nevada address as their domicile. Along with SB Entertainment, they give Durand, Michigan, as their mailing address and SB Entertainment lists two corporate officers, both in Reno.

Bourbon Heat, LLC lists Huey Farrell as its agent and Angelo and Regina Farrell as officers while Jude Marullo is both agent and officer for Promenade Entertainment, LLC. Likewise, Warren Reuther, Jr., is agent and the only officer listed for Hospitality Consultants.

Pat O’Brien is listed as manager of Pat O’Brien Developments, LLC while only agents and no officers are given for JTMC Enterprises, LLC and Caire Hotel & Restaurant Supply, Inc.

Attempts to reach spokesmen for the businesses who contributed to Angelle to determine if they were pressured to give to his campaign were unsuccessful.

 

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When Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) legal counsel Floyd Falcon defended political contributions in the 2015 gubernatorial campaign by LSTA, he cited a 1992 legal precedent which he said permitted the activity.

Apparently he had not counted on being outmaneuvered by a retired state trooper who was perfectly able to do his own legal research to counter Falcon’s argument at last week’s hearing before the State Police Commission.

Several retired state troopers, represented by spokesman Scott Perry, a retired captain with 26 years’ experience with LSP, appeared before the commission on Thursday (Jan. 14) to voice objections to the funneling of LSTA funds through its executive director David Young.

Perry was joined by retired Lt. Leon Millet who said more than $45,000 in political contributions were made without the knowledge or consent of the LSTA membership and that the action appeared to be a violation of the state constitution and State Police Commission regulations.

Perry, on Friday, followed his Thursday verbal request for an investigation with a written request. “Please accept this correspondence as a formal request pursuant to State Police Commission Rule ‘Chapter 16, Investigations,’” he wrote. Perry asked that the commission “investigate the allegation of Prohibited Political Active, 14.2 (A) (1), 14.2 (A) (4), 14.2 (A) (8), in regards to political endorsements and contributions.

“This request is made specifically against classified members of the Office of State Police acting in their capacity as elected officers of the Louisiana State Troopers Association.”

Following Perry’s address to the commission on Thursday, Falcon told the commission it had no authority to investigate LSTA because it is a private organization not subject to oversight by the commission.

Commission members agreed but pointed out that it is empowered to investigate illegal or questionable activity by individual state troopers. The commission is the equivalent of the Louisiana Civil Service Commission which serves the dual purpose of protecting the rights of state employees and investigating illegal or improper activities by state employees.

Falcon cited the 1992 case of Cannatella vs. the New Orleans Department of Civil Service. In that case, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal overturned a 30-day suspension handed down to police Sgt. Ronald Cannatella for violation of a city civil service rule prohibiting political activity. http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=718580336782666189&q=cannatella+v.+department+of+civil+service&hl=en&as_sdt=8000006&as_vis=1

Cannatella was president of the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) in January 1990 when PANO decided to endorse a candidate for mayor. PANO had polled its membership beforehand and Cannatella subsequently appeared at a public forum to announce the endorsement. The appellate court noted that Cannatella believed he was acting “pursuant to what he believed was a function of his position as the president of PANO.”

The court said that while the prohibition against political activity is “exclusively limited to commissioners and classified civil service employees and officers,” the prohibition “does not extend to a labor organization such as PANO, or its spokesperson, merely because its members are classified civil service employees.”

No sooner was Falcon finished citing the Cannatella case than Perry, who now works as an investigator for the Office of Inspector General, was on his feet. Perry presented a copy of a 2001 ruling by a three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal. The ruling he held, while not a legal precedent, nevertheless differed significantly with the Cannatella case and was identical to the circumstances of the LSTA action.

In the case of Kenner Police Department vs. Kenner Municipal Fire & Police Civil Service Board, five officers who signed off on a contribution check in their capacity as members of the executive board of the city police association were fired.

In the opinion written by Judge Clarence McManus, the Fifth Circuit said that while Cannatella held that members of PANO had the right to endorse a candidate without exposing the members to penalties under the civil service laws, “…Cannatella is not controlling or binding on this court, as counsel for appellants seems to suggest.”

It said Cannatella is distinguishable because it involved a different statute governed by a different provision of the constitution. “In this case the appellants are indeed classified civil service employees. Therefore, the prohibition against political activity clearly applies to them,” the decision said. But, the court noted, the officers claimed they did not individually make any campaign contributions, but rather PACK did. (PACK is an acronym for Police Association for the City of Kenner.)

The court said the appellants’ assertion that the contribution and endorsement were actions taken by PACK and not the fire appellants individually “is simply untenable. As for the contention that being members of a labor union exempts them from any and all responsibility under the civil service laws, we find this argument unpersuasive. To allow the appellants to do indirectly through the union or an association that which they cannot do directly as classified civil service employees will permit them to circumvent the statute’s prohibition.” (Emphasis ours)

The civil service board held that the campaign contribution check “was personal action taken by the officers individually, and not an action of the association,” said the appellate court in upholding their termination.  http://caselaw.findlaw.com/la-court-of-appeal/1285153.html

LouisianaVoice broke the story of the LSTA contributions on December 9. http://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/

In the LSTA case, Young acknowledged that he made the contributions in his name and was subsequently reimbursed by the organization.

In a statement that would seem to conflict with LSTA’s own legal counsel’s argument, Young said there were questions about the ability of state employees making political contributions. “So in order to avoid any of that,” he told the Advocate, “if I make a contribution as a non-state employee, there could never be a question later that a state employee made a contribution.”

Except there now are questions. Commission Vice Chairman W. Lloyd Grafton of Ruston observed that it “almost makes me think there was something suspect here because of the check writing. Why wouldn’t the association have made the contribution? It looks like someone was trying to circumvent something.”

Prior to that date, on Dec. 4, LouisianaVoice broke another story that State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson attempted to prevail upon the LSTA board to write a letter to then Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards endorsing Edmonson for reappointment to lead state police for another four years.

On Nov. 30, the board voted unanimously not to write the letter. Edwards subsequently reappointed Edmonson anyway, largely on the strength of the endorsement of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and the Louisiana Police Chiefs’ Association.

Edmonson twice denied that he had requested the LSTA board’s endorsement but LSTA Interim President Stephen LaFargue confirmed to LouisianaVoice, also on two separate occasions, that Edmonson asked him about the prospects of LSTA sending a letter to Edwards asking that Edmonson be reappointed.

“Col. Edmonson attended the board meeting and he told me he was going to apply for reappointment,” LaFargue said. “He then asked about the possibility of the LSTA board writing a letter of endorsement. I told him I didn’t know, that it would have to be taken up by the board.” Because of questions raised by LouisianaVoice, the board subsequently agreed unanimously not to write the letter to Edwards.

A meeting summary of a Troop I (Lafayette) affiliate meeting noted that LaFargue also “took responsibility” for the LSTA’s endorsement of Edwards in the Nov. 21 runoff election against U.S. Sen. David Vitter. Edwards defeated Vitter by a 60-40 percentage point margin.

Edwards also was one of several candidates who received contributions from LTSA. Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo told the Baton Rouge Advocate last Thursday that the governor had no knowledge that Young was reimbursed by LSTA and that Edwards would return the $8,000 received from LSTA through Young “if the contributions were made improperly.” http://theadvocate.com/news/14574305-124/head-of-state-police-group-says-nothing-wrong-with-his-political-donations-gov-edwards-said-he-will

Louisiana State Police Commission Chapter 14 to which Perry referred specifically says that no member of State Police shall:

  • Participate or engage in political activity, including, but not limited to, any effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office or support or oppose a particular political party in an election;
  • Make or solicit contributions for any political purpose, party, faction, or candidate;
  • Directly or indirectly, pay or promise to pay any assessment, subscription, or contribution for any political party, faction or candidate, nor solicit or take part in soliciting any such assessment, subscription or contribution, and no person shall solicit any such assessment, subscription or contribution of any classified employee in the State Police Service.

http://laspc.dps.louisiana.gov/laspc.nsf/c4b8169248104d4286256ead0069b9bd/582526be4d41dca786256ea000667ce2?OpenDocument

So in the end, we have:

  • State police officers who comprise the LSTA board making a political endorsement in direct contravention of rules and regulations.
  • The Superintendent of State Police leaning on the LSTA board in an effort to get the board to send the new governor a letter endorsing him for reappointment.
  • The executive board of the LSTA, comprised of state police officers under the jurisdiction of the State Police Commission making the decision to make more than $45,000 in political contributions—contributions that were laundered through its non-state employee executive director—by the director’s own admission, and without bothering to poll its membership for approval.

All three of which were in violation of State Police Commission regulations.

Any questions?

 

 

 

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The legal counsel for the Louisiana State Troopers Association was true to the time-honored tradition of blaming the messenger for bad news during Thursday’s meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission.

According to lawyer Floyd Falcon, yours truly is the bad guy in all the flap about the LSTA’s contributions to political campaigns during the recent election cycle.

Never mind that active troopers as well as retirees who are members of LSTA have openly voiced their objections to the decision of the LSTA board to launder more than $45,000 in contributions through executive director David Young.

As publisher of LouisianaVoice, I apparently am the problem. I am a “common complainant,” according to Falcon, who said he would refused to respond to any questions put to him by me.

I guess we’re just supposed to sit still and shut up and not ask questions about how our public officials comport themselves. Perhaps Mr. Falcon spent so much time watching the legislature do just that during the eight years of the Bobby Jindal administration that he truly believes that’s how it should be.

Well, Mr. Falcon, my grandfather always taught me to question motives and to never accept things at face value. “Never listen to what a politician says,” he told me over and over. “Listen to what they don’t say.”

And at Thursday’s commission meeting, there was plenty that wasn’t said.

Never mind that the contributions were fronted by Young who was then repaid from a slush fund handed by LSTA: I am the one who writes “convoluted stories,” according to Falcon.

Never mind that Falcon, when asked point-blank, said he did not know why the checks to various political candidates, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, were made in Young’s name.

Never mind that Young said he made the contributions as a non-state employee so “there could never be a question later that a state employee made a contribution,” which is against state civil service rules.

But the fact is, the state employees, in this case, state troopers, did make the contributions since the LSTA is supported in large part by membership dues from troopers and retired troopers.

When retired state trooper Scott Perry of Opelousas, complained that he was refused copies of checks and receipts after making a public records request, Falcon said those records were available for the asking.

When I asked him to confirm that, and he responded in the affirmative, I then asked why the checks and receipts for reimbursement to Young were not made available, Falcon bristled. “Mr. Aswell is not a member of LSTA. He is a common complainant and I decline to answer his questions,” he said.

If exposing questionable activities of governmental agencies and officials defines me as a “complainant,” it is a mantle I wear with considerable pride, Mr. Falcon’s intended insult notwithstanding. No less a statesman than Thomas Jefferson said, if given a choice of government without a free press or a free press without government, “I would not hesitate to choose the latter.”

Mr. Falcon may not like it, but I am every bit as qualified as a member of the Fourth Estate as any reporter for any medium. I hold a degree in journalism and I spent more than 25 years as a reporter and editor of several Louisiana newspapers and even owned and ran my own news service in the State Capital for a number of years, providing coverage of state government for about 30 newspapers across the state. Along the way I’ve managed to pick up a few awards for feature writing, breaking news coverage, and investigative reporting.

I will put my credentials as a reporter alongside Mr. Falcon’s credentials as an attorney any day of the week. And I damn sure don’t mind being labeled a “complainant.”

At least I didn’t go before the commission to argue that there was nothing for it to investigate as did Mr. Falcon. LSTA, he huffed, is a private entity and not subject to public records requests and not subject to any investigation by the State Police Commission. Well, that certainly makes everything hunky dory. LSTA, he said, is no different than a teachers union or other union of public employees. Well there is one slight difference, Mr. Falcon. The teachers unions and other public employee unions, when political contributions are made, they are done in the name of the union and not through some straw donor. And the union membership generally knows about the endorsements and contributions—or at least knows there will be endorsements and contributions to someone.

One retired member of LSTA, when informed of the contributions said, “Holy s—t! We had no idea this was going on.” Another said LSTA’s membership had never been told of the contributions. “They knew nothing about it,” he said. “We’re not supposed to get involved in politics.” http://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/

Tanny Devillier, a retired state police deputy commander, said he was “one of two members still alive” who founded LSTA in 1969. “LSTA was not created for political contributions,” he said. “It was created to provide support for troopers who suffered misfortune.”

“It almost makes me think there was something suspect here because of the check writing,” said commission Vice Chairman Lloyd Grafton. “Why wouldn’t the association have made the contribution? It looks like someone was trying to circumvent something.”

Perry, who now works as an investigator for the Office of Inspector General, cited Louisiana revised statute 18:1505.2 which says, “No person shall give, furnish, or contribute monies, materials, supplies, or make loans to or in support of a candidate or to any political committee, through or in the name of another, directly or indirectly. This prohibition shall not apply to dues or membership fees of any membership organization or corporation made by its members or stockholders, if such membership organization or corporation is not organized primarily for the purpose of supporting, opposing, or otherwise influencing the nomination for election, or election of any person to public office.”

He said if LSTA establishes a precedent of making campaign contributions, it will encourage candidates for every office “to come to LSTA with their hands out and that’s not what LSTA is for.”

Leon Millet, a retired lieutenant who served more than 20 years with LSP, reiterated the payments were made without the knowledge or consent of the membership. At the same time, he said members who are still active troopers refuse to come forward out of fear of reprisals.

State Police Commission Chairman Franklin M. Kyle III said the commission lacks jurisdiction over private groups such as LSTA but that the commission and LSTA have a “common denominator,” which he described as the shared membership of state troopers. He requested that LSTA provide more documentation on its finances and issued an invitation to the unhappy retired troopers present to reappear at a future meeting.

A spokesman for Gov. Edwards, Richard Carbo, told the Baton Rouge Advocate that if it is determined that the contributions were made improperly, the LSTA contribution to the Edwards campaign ($8,000) would be returned. http://theadvocate.com/news/14574305-124/head-of-state-police-group-says-nothing-wrong-with-his-political-donations-gov-edwards-said-he-will.

Meanwhile, Mr. Falcon, I will happily continue being the “common complainant” whenever I see things that don’t appear in the best interest of the citizens of Louisiana.

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Gov. John Bel Edwards hasn’t even issued the call yet for a special legislative session to deal with the state’s budgetary woes and already state lawmakers appear to have the collective attention span of a gypsy moth.

A couple of years ago, a person who knows me well (my wife) commented that after Bobby Jindal leaves office, I would have nothing to write about. She’s dead-on with most of her evaluations but with this one, she failed to take into account we still have a legislature.

That’s the body that allowed Bobby Jindal to run roughshod over this state for eight long years with hardly a peep of protest. And that’s the body that must, in the final analysis, be held accountable for the damage inflicted by Bobby.

The legislature allowed Jindal to rape higher education. It looked the other way when he gave away the state hospitals. It was shamefully mute when he closed or privatized mental health hospitals and cut funding for the developmentally disadvantaged.

No questions were asked when it was revealed on this blog that Department of Public Safety Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux picked up an extra $46,000 in spare change by taking advantage of a retirement incentive offer (along with an additional $13,000 in unused leave) in April of 2010 only to return to work the next day—at a promotion from deputy secretary to undersecretary (Funny, when Sally Clausen did that at the University of Louisiana System, the mainstream media was apoplectic).

Lawmakers blindly went along with a last-minute amendment to a bill in the closing hours of the 2014 session that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an additional $50,000 or so in retirement income in violation of an irrevocable decision he had voluntarily made years before that locked in his retirement. Only when LouisianaVoice stumbled upon the amendment and publicized it was action taken to rescind the amendment.

So now here we are in January of 2016, staring down the barrel of a $2 billion-plus budgetary shortfall for next fiscal year and about $700 million just to make it to the end of this fiscal year (June 30).

I’m about to make citizens angry at legislators’ lack of focus. I’m going to make women furious at lawmakers’ lack of sensitivity towards equal pay for them. I’m about to make those struggling to feed a family on minimum wage wonder (actually, they’ve never stopped wondering) if anyone in elective office even cares. And I’m about to send state employees who have gone for years without a pay raise into orbit.

And no matter which group you fall into, you can look to the legislature as the cause of your continued struggles.

And just so you don’t forget, I want to remind you that it is legislators like Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) who use not their own money, but campaign contributions to dine at the finest New Orleans restaurants, purchase season tickets to LSU athletic events and to Saints and Pelicans pro football and basketball games, and to lease luxury vehicles like BMWs and Mercedes. Others use funds to pay fines for campaign violations (the ultimate irony) and to even pay personal federal income taxes as well as to purchase season tickets to athletic events.

The Baton Rouge Advocate on Wednesday (January 13) ran a front page story about Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter’s attempt to convey to House members just how severe the state’s financial plight really is.

So the House members were riveted to Carpenter’s presentation, hanging onto every word, right?

Wrong. Elizabeth Crisp, writing for The Advocate, said the budget talk was “met with mild interest” from members “who mingled about and talked throughout the more than two hours of presentations.” http://theadvocate.com/news/14553820-123/state-house-members-hear-gloomy-budget-outlook

The chamber was called to order, she said, in an attempt to quiet the “loud chatter” and some members posed questions in an attempt to get fellow members’ attention, “though it had little effect,” she wrote.

What the hell? I mean, WHAT THE HELL?

Did we send a bunch of juvenile delinquent dumbasses to Baton Rouge to party and have a good time at taxpayer expense? Apparently so.

If these legislators had kids who got their hands on dad’s credit cards and maxed them out and the kids started chattering and laughing during the lecture on fiscal responsibility that followed, dad would—and should—jerk a half-hitch in them. We, in our parental roles, should remind these jerks, these spoiled brats in no uncertain terms why they were elected.

Remember State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia)? He’s the one who slipped the infamous Edmonson Amendment in during the closing hours of the 2014 session. That was the amendment that would’ve kicked Edmonson’s retirement up by some $50,000.

Well, guess what? Though he was frothing at the mouth to get Edmonson his money in 2014, he went on record today (January 13, 2016) as opposing any increase in the minimum wage. Greg Hilburn, writing for the Monroe News-Star, quoted the incoming chairman of the Senate Labor Committee as justifying his opposition to an increase: “The Louisiana economy is struggling,” he sniffed.

Well, DUH!

Yes, Senator, the economy is struggling. When you have people trying to exist on $7.25 an hour, they’re going to struggle. They won’t be able to purchase appliances, cars, or homes, the very consumer products that drive the economy. Where did you get your economics degree, Senator? Oh, that’s right, I forgot. You run a couple of mortuaries. Do they teach economics in embalming school? I bet you don’t pass up an opportunity to increase prices on those shiny coffins, do you? How much do you charge for a funeral today as compared to say, ten years ago? Five years ago? One year? Betcha a dollar to a doughnut those rates haven’t remained stagnant.

There was no one in Louisiana more skilled than C.B. Forgotston at chronicling the antics of those he referred to as the leges. C.B. sadly is no longer with us, so it falls to those of us who can only aspire to his observational skills to keep Louisiana’s citizens abreast of the shenanigans of the 144 members of the Louisiana House and Senate.

With that said, here’s another reason the economy in Louisiana is struggling: Women in Louisiana, on average, make 66 cents for every dollar paid a man for the same job. Where is the equity in that, Senator?

Here’s a news flash for you. Politico Magazine has just issued its annual “States of our Union” report. Any guesses as to where Louisiana ranks?

If you said 50th, you would incorrect. We’re 51st. It seems the District of Columbia was also included in the rankings (coming in at 39th overall).

There’s a thing called the Gini coefficient, or Gini index, factored into the rankings. The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent income distribution, or more accurately, to reflect income disparity (the gap between the haves and the have-nots).

In that measure, the District of Columbia is the worst but we’re not far behind. We have the nation’s fourth-worst income inequality. But Neil Riser doesn’t want to increase the minimum wage.

Here are a few other rankings that contributed to the state’s overall anchor position:

  • Per capital income: 11th worst at $24,775;
  • Unemployment rate: 6th worst at 6.3 percent;
  • Percentage of population living below poverty level: 3rd worst at 19.8 percent;
  • Percentage of high school graduates: 3rd worst at 83.6 percent;
  • Life expectancy at birth: 4th worst at 75.7 years;
  • Infant deaths per 1,000 births: 5th worst at 7.49.

And just for good measure, another survey shows that Louisiana is the sixth most violent state in America with 514.7 violent crimes per 100,000 population. The state’s murder rate (10.3 per every 100,000 residents) is the highest in the nation and more than double the national rate (4.5 per 100,000 people). http://247wallst.com/special-report/2016/01/12/the-10-most-dangerous-states/2/

Statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Justice show a direct correlation between poverty and crime. http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5137

But let’s not raise the minimum wage, Senator.

Here’s the real irony with Riser: he represents one of the poorest senatorial districts in the state which means he is undermining the interests of his own constituents. Could it be he does not want to pay his employees more?

At least Edwards has signed an executive order expanding Medicaid which will provide health care to some 300,000 citizens who were denied it under the Jindal administration.

And finally, for those state employees who have gone without raises, I’m sure by now you are well aware that state troopers received back-to-back raises totaling some 30 percent over a six-month period last year. http://theadvocate.com/news/legislature/12940806-123/state-troopers-get-hefty-back-to-back

But did you know that Edmonson is working quietly behind the scenes to implement an automatic annual pay increase for state troopers in addition to the usual merit raises (which, we need not remind you, have been denied other state employees)?

That’s right. He calls it a “longevity” increase and if he is successful, it will give state troopers, many of whom already make six-figure incomes, automatic raises each and every year, merit be damned. Longevity means by virtue of hanging onto one’s job, troopers get automatic raises.

While state employees may belong to a union (The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—AFSCME—is the main player), state civil service rules prohibit state employees from striking. But why not a state employee association? That’s a pretty benign term. We have RSEA, the Retired State Employees Association of Louisiana. Members pay their own dues and a state employee association could be set up in the same manner. No one has the authority to ban an employee association—especially if there is no payroll deductions for dues. And for the more sensitive types, it removes the stigma of the word union from the discussion. (People forget, however, that it was unions’ efforts that ended child labor in oppressive sweat shops. Unions gave us the 40-hour work week. They fought for a minimum wage and for our retirement and medical benefits. And it was unions that led the fight for equal rights for women and minorities. We should never lose sight of those facts because unions, like ’em or not, were instrumental in creating America’s middle class that Republicans seem hell-bent on eliminating.)

An association, after all, would only be a large social club—sort of like that other organization…what’s it called? Oh, yeah, the Association of Louisiana Lobbyists. Or maybe the Fraternal Order of Police.

And such an association would never call for a widespread sickout of state employees in order to make a point (wink, wink) on an issue like say, longevity pay increases for state police while civil service employees continue without even cost of living increases for years on end.

Seriously, if leges (with apologies to C.B.) don’t get their collective heads out of… (and we’re not talking about sand here), they will end up creating just such an organization. People (teachers, state employees, women, minorities—all voters, mind you) are tired of being dumped on. They’re tired of patchwork budgets, tired of legislators turning deaf ears on their problems, tired of the elitist attitudes and campaign-funded perks of the power structure.

They want solutions and the leges would be wise to pay attention in class and to take their jobs seriously—or get out so someone else will.

 

 

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I am certain that I will not agree with every move John Bel Edwards makes as governor. The re-appointment of Mike Edmonson as Superintendent of State Police comes immediately to mind. Such is the nature of politics. No man alive can please everyone every time.

And when I do disagree, as in the Edmonson re-appointment, I will say so. I believe Edwards understands and respects that.

In the meantime, I am willing give him a chance. He has a monumental task before him in his efforts to help the state overcome eight years of Bobby Jindal’s reign of error. He must form coalitions with Republicans in the legislature in order to even approach a successful administration. But I certainly don’t expect legislators to be the whipped puppies they were during Jindal’s misrule.

I gave Jindal that same benefit of the doubt. If I am to be honest, I have to admit that I voted for Jindal not once, but twice. I voted for him in 2003 when he lost to Kathleen Blanco and again in 2007 when he won. I honestly thought he meant it when he said he supported state employees and that he stood for transparency and a high ethical bar. I believed him when he said his appointments would be based on “what you know, not who you know.”

Well, we all know how that went down. He tried to gut state retirement, he destroyed the Office of Group Benefits, gave away the state charity hospital system, drove higher education to the brink of exigency (bankruptcy), and worse, he set a new low in the areas of transparency and ethics. And one only has to examine his appointments to the myriad state boards and commissions. They are dominated (and that’s putting it lightly) with major donors to his various political campaigns. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bobby-jindals-biggest-donors-benefited-from-his-administration_55e9e976e4b002d5c075fb17

http://louisianavoice.com/category/campaign-contributions/

Moreover, “what you know” didn’t go too far in other areas, either. The number of state employees and legislators he teagued for daring to disagree with him is a very long list. And his “deliberative process” catch-all denial of public records threw a heavy blanket on any hopes of transparency.

So, it was with some surprise that I read Rolfe McCollister’s diatribe in his Baton Rouge Business Report this week. https://www.businessreport.com/article/publisher-whats-big-secret

Of all the ones to whine about any lack of transparency on the part of the governor-elect who has yet to even take office, Rolfe stands alone as the singular standard-bearer of double standards.

He contributed $17,000 to Jindal’s campaigns in 2003, 2006, and 2008. He was treasurer of Jindal’s 2007 gubernatorial campaign and served as chairman of Jindal’s transition team after his 2007 election. He served as director of Jindal’s first fundraising organization, super PAC Believe in Louisiana, and most recently served as treasurer of Believe in Louisiana as it raised funds for Jindal’s presidential campaign.

His Louisiana Business, Inc. partner, Julio Melara also was a player. Melara and his wife contributed an additional $8,500 to Jindal campaigns

And what did Rolfe and Julio get in return for all that?

Well Julio wound up with a pretty nice appointment to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome Board), complete with all the perks that go with the appointment.

McCollister was named to the LSU Board of Supervisors and that’s where the hypocrisy really boils to the surface. Board members get choice tickets to LSU sporting events (including a private suite in Tiger Stadium). http://forgotston.com/2013/07/16/need-a-lsu-tuition-break/

And until the quota was reduced earlier this year, each member could award up to 20 tuition-free scholarships to LSU. Even after the reduction, they still get 15 scholarships each. http://theadvocate.com/news/11898955-123/lsu-board-revamps-number-of

Those perks could mean more than $100,000 per year per board member. In 2012 alone, the board handed out $1.3 million in scholarships to their friends—even as college tuition was skyrocketing for the average student with no contacts on the board. http://thelensnola.org/2013/07/11/lsu-board-of-supervisors-awards-1-3-million-through-little-known-scholarship-program/

Rolfe didn’t invent the perks and though he tied with two other members for the fewest scholarships awarded—five. But you never heard him raise a single objection to their abuse.

Rolfe, as publisher of the Business Report, purports to be an objective chronicler of political news. You would think that as such, he would champion all efforts to obtain records of a public body.

You would think wrong. He, along with four other members, did not respond to an email from reporter Tyler Bridges, then writing for The Lens of New Orleans, seeking comment. How’s that for transparency?

He certainly came off as a bit petulant this week when he went on a rampage about Edwards’s education transition team’s meeting in private “at least four times.”

There’s more. “McCollister notes it was Edwards who proclaimed at a Public Affairs Research Council forum in April that his administration would be more transparent than previous administrations, saying ‘a scope of secrecy’ has been allowed to exist,” his staff wrote today (Wednesday, Dec. 23). https://www.businessreport.com/article/publisher-gov-elect-edwards-transition-committees-discussing-public-education-big-issues-behind-closed-doors?utm_campaign=dr_pm-2015_Dec_23-15_05&utm_medium=email&utm_source=dr_pm

“But what does conducting all of the discussions of the transition committees behind closed doors in secret do for the citizens? What I haven’t seen yet is an editorial from The Advocate or The Times-Picayune objecting to the discussion of ‘public’ education in private. Why not? I thought transparency was their big issue.

Rolfe has a very short memory. I can’t recall the Jindal transition team over which Rolfe presided ever holding a public meeting prior to Jindal’s taking office. And when The Advocate, the Times-Picayune and the LSU Reveille were demanding the release of the names of all the candidates for the LSU presidency, where was he?

It’s hard to tell because the very one who should have been front and center in championing the right of the public to know who those candidates were, was strangely mute.

Not a peep out of Rolfe who was in a unique position to reason with the boy blunder to release the names.

Likewise, when the LSU Board agreed to that hospital privatization contract with the 50 blank pages, he should have been the first one on his feet shouting that a blank contract was not just questionable, but also not a legal document. Instead, he sat quietly as the contract was approved, laying the groundwork for the litigation over state hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe now winding its way through the courts.

Likewise, not one word of protest when the contract was awarded to a foundation in Shreveport whose CEO was…(wait for it)…a fellow member of the LSU Board.

“The public knows very little in specifics about what Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards will propose and how far he will take some issues,” McCollister wrote. “Transition teams are made up of a majority of his friends, advisers and supporters—or those who think like he does (and Jindal’s wasn’t, Rolfe?). While this exercise is often ceremonial, it can reflect the views and direction of the new governor—and his closest friends and allies who will be whispering in his ear for the next four years (and of course, you never once “whispered in Jindal’s ear, right?). The public education committee has had five meetings in secrecy. What did they talk about, and who said what? We won’t read or hear about it in the media because they weren’t allowed inside—and the press never uttered a peep (Perhaps they learned from your example on the LSU Board, Rolfe.).

To those who don’t know your history, you sound like a champion of pure, open government.

Unfortunately, your words fall far short of matching your actions. Those indignant protests would carry a lot more weight if you had the track record to back them up.

That’s called hypocrisy, Rolfe. And that’s unfortunate, though not necessarily unexpected.

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