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Archive for the ‘Campaign Contributions’ Category

While the candidates for governor try to turn our eyes away from the circus in Iowa long enough to make their case of why they should be chosen to clean up the Bobby Jindal mess, there is another statewide race that is quietly flying under the radar which deserves our attention.

If ever there was a case to be made for prohibiting campaign contributions from industries and individuals the candidates would be regulating once in office, it would have be with the races for Louisiana Insurance Commissioner, Public Service Commission, and Louisiana Attorney General. An examination of contributions to candidates for those offices stands as the poster child for campaign reform.

Matt Parker is trying to change that. The Monroe native owns and operates an auto body shop and it his experience with insurance companies through his business that has led him to defy all political odds and run against incumbent Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon. http://mattparkerforlouisiana.com/

The single biggest black mark against Parker’s name is that he was an All-State football player at Neville High School in Monroe. Being an alumnus of district rival Ruston High (Magna Cum Barely, class of 1961), long a bridesmaid to the stellar football program of Neville, first under Bill Ruple and later Charles Brown, I find that to be a tough personal negative for Parker to overcome.

His entry into the cesspool of Louisiana politics stems from major problems independent body shops were having and continue to have with auto insurance companies. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/05/07/unlike-a-good-neighbor-state-farm-may-be-undermining-choice-of-auto-repair-shops-same-for-the-good-hands-folks/

Insurance claims departments were said to have had this nasty habit of steering claimants to shops of their own choosing, shops the complainants said that that while cheaper, were turning out inferior work and using sub-par after-market parts. This, said the shops being shut out, was endangering the lives of the motoring public.

The merits or qualifications of Parker are not up for discussion here. What is open for examination, however, is the list of campaign contributors for each of the two candidates. (A third candidate, Baton Rouge attorney Charlotte McDaniel McGehee, a Democrat, has just announced as a candidate but there are not campaign contributions records available for her as yet.)

Both Donelon and Parker are Republicans but you’d never know that from the campaign finance reports of the two candidates.

Donelon’s report is dominated by big money flowing into his campaign from insurance companies and individuals in the industry. No fewer than 75 such companies and individuals from out of state contributed nearly $130,000 to Donelon. That’s $50,000 more than all of Parker’s campaign contributions combined.

In all, Donelon has attracted about half-a-million dollars since January of 2014 while Parker has pulled in $76,800 total.

Sixteen Donelon contributors kicked in $5,000 each, exactly half of those from other states. Thirteen were from the insurance and banking industries.

One of those, Michael Karfunkel of New York City, is a co-founder, along with his brother, of AmTrust, described by the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation (SIRF) as “a high-flying insurance company.” SIRF found that while Michael Karfunkel and brother George were active grant-makers to synagogues and institutions linked to Brooklyn’s Haredi Judaism community, they reaped huge benefits from using their foundations to maintain family control of AmTrust.

Several years of IRS Form 990s, the annual report for tax-exempt foundations, showed that the Karfunkel brothers funneled AmTrust stock into their foundations in violation of IRS rules governing “excess business holdings.”

Basically, a foundation’s “disqualified persons,” an IRS term for foundation managers, family members, directors and key donors, are limited to stock ownership of 20 percent . The Karfunkel insiders owned more than 59 percent of AmTrust’s shares.

Michael Karfunkel and AmTrust each contributed $5,000 to Donelon.

Other insurance companies, attorneys, bankers, and individual in the insurance industry who contributed the $5,000 maximum to Donelon included GMAC Insurance Management, LUBA, USAA, Anchor Insurance Managers, the Republic Group, Joseph Kavanagh of New York City, and Greenberg Traurig of Miami.

Here is the complete list of JIM DONELON CONTRIBUTIONS of $1,000 and more.

Parker, who says on his Web page that he will not accept any contributions from the insurance industry, has received only three individual contributions of $5,000. One of those from Daniel Parker, presumably a relative. Another is from the Louisiana Collision Industry, which has had its cause taken up by Attorney Buddy Caldwell and which had its fight with insurance companies featured on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.

Of his 83 contributors, 41 gave $1,000 or more. By contrast, 282 of Donelon’s contributors gave $1,000 or more. Here is the list of MATT PARKER CONTRIBUTIONS

We have long maintained that no elected regulator should be allowed to receive so much as one dollar from individuals or industries they regulate. While the official may be incorruptible and the epitome of virtue and integrity, the perception is, and always will be, that their decisions will always come down on the side of the contributor. That is one facet of campaign reform that should be—must be—addressed before we can ever say with a straight face that we live in a democracy where everyone gets the same consideration.

The best example of this is that of the billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks who amassed their fortunes in the West Texas fracking boom. The brothers ponied up $15 million to Cruz’s Super PAC. Now let’s say Cruz somehow, God forbid, becomes President. Later, West Texas residents become concerned about health issues associated with fracking. Their drinking water suddenly becomes contaminated and undrinkable and their livestock suddenly become sick or start dying. Should they even bother appealing to a President Cruz’s humanitarian side for help?

We all know you can check that box “No.”

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Does anyone truly believe it was coincidence that State Farm’s increasing homeowners’ deductibles from $500 and $1,000 to 5 percent of the home’s value for named storms in 2014? (If you have a home valued at $150,000, for example, your deductible for damage from a named storm just went from $500 or $1,000 to $7,500. Donelon’s “Oh, well” response? “I wish it were not happening, but it is the world of hurricane deductibles that we live in.” http://www.nola.com/business/baton-rouge/index.ssf/2014/07/state_farms_5_hurricane_deduct.html

Does anyone believe it was coincidence that Allstate kept two separate sets of rates for home repair, depending on whether or not the claims coverage was paid by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or by Allstate? Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Allstate deemed the cost of repairing Allstate-covered damage thusly: 76 cents per square foot for drywall, $23.48 per square yard for carpet, and 80 cents per square foot for painting. But when it came to administering claims under NFIP, claims that were paid by U.S. taxpayers, those same costs were estimated by Allstate as $3.31 per square foot for drywall, $28.43 per square yard for carpet and $1.15 per square foot for painting. (It should be pointed out here that Allstate received a fee for administering NFIP claims, but only if the claim was closed. Thus, it was to Allstate’s benefit to settle quickly—at the higher rates—since the money didn’t come out of Allstate’s pocket.

And does anyone think it coincidence that Allstate and State Farm, applying the tactic taught them by McKinsey and Company (the only private sector firm Bobby Jindal ever worked for) practiced the “delay, deny, defend” method of fighting claims of those who lost everything they owned in the hurricanes? Or that claims for homes where the only thing left was the slab on which the houses sat were denied because the homeowner was unable to prove the home had been destroyed by wind (covered) rather than rising water (not covered)? Or that Katrina blew shingles off roofs in Jackson, Mississippi, 180 miles north of New Orleans, but insurance companies denied similar claims in New Orleans because of a lack of proof that shingles weren’t damaged by rising water instead of wind? Allstate adjusters, worked under strict guidelines to protect the bottom line or risk losing their jobs. http://stlouis.legalexaminer.com/automobile-accidents/allstate-you-are-not-in-good-hands/

Does it seem strange to anyone that insurers were so easily able to pull these scams on premium-paying homeowners in Louisiana?

Or does it seem to be only politics as usual in a state where insurance companies and those affiliated with insurance, banking and defense attorney firms could virtually finance the political campaigns of an insurance commissioner who could be expected to grease the skids when the time came for the companies to employ these tactics against devastated homeowners desperate to settle—even for pennies on the dollar?

Parker or McGehee probably won’t win. The odds are stacked too heavily against them. If it even begins to look as if either one will make a dent in Donelon’s base, you can look for the attack dogs to take over the campaign ads.

But this state deserves better. Donelon might well be as honest as Abe, as righteous as Atticus Finch, as moral as Gandhi and as compassionate as Mother Teresa. I’m in no position to say otherwise.

But as long as the Commissioner of Insurance, Public Service Commission and the Attorney General campaign donations are dominated by regulated industries and individuals affiliated with those interests, the perception will always be there that the offices are bought, owned and run by special interests.

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The combined revenues of $3.5 billion and net profits of $697 million for 2014, America’s two largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group clearly illustrate the profit potential in the operation of private prisons.

It’s no wonder. With 2.4 million people incarcerated in this country, America easily leads the civilized world with more than 700 of every 100,000 of its citizens kept behind bars. The Russian Federation is a distant second at 474 per 100,000 imprisoned. Canada has 118 per 100,000 of its population incarcerated. The four Scandinavian countries have the fewest number per 100,000 in prison. The numbers for them are, in order: Denmark (73), Norway (72), Sweden (67) and Finland (58).

If Louisiana were a nation, it would double the U.S. ratio. (At least we’re number one in the world at something.) Latest figures show 1,420 of every 100,000 Louisiana citizens (one of every 86 adults) is housed in a cell, giving Louisiana the distinction of having the highest rate in the world. Nearly two-thirds of those are non-violent offenders. We should be so proud. Louisiana’s rate of incarceration is three times that of Russia, nearly 10 times that of the United Kingdom, 12 times Canada’s rate, and 24 times that of Sweden.

But private prisons are not the only ones benefitting from the glut of prisoners in Louisiana. There are the prison telephone systems which charge exorbitant rates to prisoners’ families for collect calls home. The phone companies are protected by state contracts, making their operations a literal monopoly.

And then there are the privately-run prison work release, or “transitional work program” companies and that’s where the waters really get murky.

Most work release programs are supervised by parish sheriffs and some are kept in-house by the sheriffs. The one common thread is that all of them use the profits from inmate labor to underwrite other operations of the sheriffs’ departments. There have been private work release companies to spring up, operate for a while and then disappear, notably Northside Workforce in St. Tammany Parish as well as privately-run programs in Lafayette and Iberia parishes.

One such company isn’t likely to face the operational pitfalls experienced by the others, however. That is because of its connections to the top brass at the Louisiana Department of Corrections and Louisiana State Prison at Angola, connections that likely even extend into the governor’s office.

Louisiana Workforce, LLC (no connection with the Louisiana Workforce Commission) has been around for 10 years since it was founded on Feb. 4, 2005 by Paul Perkins. Both Perkins and Louisiana Workforce have been active in writing campaign checks to sheriffs, key legislators and Jindal since 2009.

It was not until 2014, however that Louisiana Workforce really burst onto the scene in a big way. Following an inmate’s escape from a Northside Workforce jobsite in St. Tammany that same year, Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary James LeBlanc mandated that local sheriffs not be approved for outsourcing work-release programs without first going through a competitive bid process.

The only problem was, the process turned out to be not so competitive.

That’s not unusual if you take the trouble to talk to business owners who find themselves shut out of the state contract bid process. If they are completely candid, they will tell you that if a state agency prefers a given vendor, the specifications can be—and often as not, they are—written in such a manner as to eliminate all but the preferred vendor.

The practice is similar to, though not quite as blatant as, the north Louisiana parish police jury which, way back in the 1970s when I was a young reporter, decided to purchase a used bulldozer. When the advertisement for bids was published in the parish’s official journal (the local newspaper), the specifications included the serial number of the ‘dozer which quite understandably narrowed the field of eligible bidders somewhat.

It turned out that even though six private providers, along with a representative from the Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Office, attended a pre-bid conference, Louisiana Workforce, LLC, in partnership with the Beauregard sheriff’s office, submitted the only bid.

Perkins is a former assistant warden at Louisiana State Prison at Angola who was earning $75,000 a year until his retirement in 2001. He also is a former business partner of both LeBlanc and Angola Warden Burl Cain. All that may or may not have played a part in the apparent easy manner in which Louisiana Workforce got the contract by default, but one competitor suggested that it may not have hurt.

It also may not have hurt that Perkins and Louisiana Workforce combined to pour nearly $40,000 into the political campaigns of five of the six sheriffs with whom Louisiana Workforce has contracts, or that another $15,000 was contributed to Bobby Jindal, or that thousands more to members of the legislature who sit on key committees like House Appropriations, House Criminal Justice or one of the three Senate judiciary committees.

Perhaps it is only a coincidence that Burl Cain asked for and received a favorable ruling from the State Board of Ethics in 2012 permitting him to be compensated for providing consulting services on a part-time basis to Louisiana Workforce—and even allowing him to have a “small minority ownership” in the company. It is not known whether or not Burl Cain actually performs any consulting work or receives any monetary recompense because while he, like all administrative personnel, is required to file a financial disclosure form with the state, he is not required to fill out a complete disclosure.

Even LeBlanc in 2006 received Ethics Board approval to offer consulting services or even own an interested in an unspecified work-release program.

Perkins said that while he feels Cain would be a valuable addition to his company and even though the Ethics Board approved such an arrangement, he felt that it would be a mistake for Cain to work for him while also serving as Angola warden.

But that does not by any measure preclude the presence of Cain influence on operations at Louisiana Workforce. The Louisiana prison system over the years has indisputably become a Cain family fiefdom.

DOC has something called Prison Enterprises which, on the surface, is a good thing in that it allows prisoners to learn marketable skills while at the same time providing a source of income to help fund prison operations. But Prison Enterprises is more than simply a means to sell soybeans, corn and cotton grown on the sprawling Angola farm; it is also a means of enrichment for enterprising (forgive the pun) entrepreneurs.

DOC’s own web page touts its Transitional Work Program (formerly work release) which certain eligible offenders may enter from one to three years prior to their release, “depending on the offense of conviction.” Participants “are required to work at an approved job and, when not working, they must return to the structured environment of the assigned facility,” the web page’s description of the program says. The “assigned facility,” of course, refers to the housing provided by private companies like Louisiana Workforce.

“Probation and Parole Officers are assigned monitoring responsibilities for contract transitional work programs,” it said. Claiming that transitional work programs are successful in assisting in the transition from prison back into the work force, the web page claims that 10 to 20 percent of offenders “remain with their employer upon release.”

Additionally, the two-paragraph description says, a second program called the Rehabilitation and Workforce Development Program, allows prisoners who have become skilled craftsmen to be placed in higher paying jobs where they “are able to make wages to maintain self-sufficiency.”

But then a peculiar thing occurs when readers are instructed to “click here” to see a list of transitional work programs throughout the state. Thinking we would find other companies similar to Louisiana Workforce, we clicked and presto! We were returned to DOC’s main page.

So, with Prison Enterprises overseeing the operations of DOC’s Transitional Work Program, who do you suppose presides over Prison Enterprises?

That would be Michael Moore, who earns $128,500 per year as Prison Enterprise Director. But serving right under him is none other than Marshall Cain, one of Burl Cain’s two sons who holds the title of DOC Prison Enterprise Regional Manager at $63,500 per year. Cain’s other sun, Nathan Cain, earns $109,000 per year as Warden of Avoyelles Correctional Center. (The elder Cain pulls down $167,200 as Angola Warden.)

But the key person in all this is Seth Smith, Burl Cain’s son-in-law, who earns $150,000 per year as a DOC Confidential Assistant. That’s more than his boss, LeBlanc, who makes $136,700 as DOC Secretary. So what does a confidential assistant do for that salary? Well, for openers, he assigns which prisoners go into the Transitional Work Program for parish sheriffs and private operators like Louisiana Workforce.

And since Louisiana Workforce gets to keep 62 percent of each prisoner’s earnings, plus $5 per day for each inmate it houses, it certainly would be to the company’s benefit to receive the most skilled workers for placement in the Transitional Work Program. After all, 62 percent of say, $15 per hour for skilled labor is considerable more than 62 percent of a minimum wage job like flipping hamburgers, for example.

One employer who hired an inmate through the program, wrote in a letter to the editor of the Baton Rouge Advocate last November that the system was rigged against the inmate. He cited an example of an inmate earning $200 per week. After the 62 percent is held out, he would be left with $76 before taxes and Social Security, leaving him only about $36 for a week’s work.

Then, he said, the program runs a commissary where inmates are charged “inflated prices” for necessities such as soap, toothpaste, deodorant, etc., leaving them with “virtually nothing to start a new life.” http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/10768344-123/letter-inmates-left-with-pittance#comments

There are two sides of this scenario, of course. There is the argument that they are in prison because they committed a crime and therefore, should not be afforded favorable treatment. The other argument is that by working at below-market wages, they are keeping honest, law-abiding people from jobs they need to support their families.

But lost in both those arguments is the windfall profits reaped by the private vendors who are fortunate enough to have an inside track to the decision-makers at DOC and the sheriffs who run their own prisons.

Perkins and his company, Louisiana Workforce, LLC, have combined to contribute to five of the sheriffs with whom his company has contracts:

  • East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux: $15,000;
  • Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard: $4,500;
  • Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal: $7,000;
  • Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter: $4,340;
  • West Feliciana Parish Sheriff Austin Daniel: $6,850.

But the combined $37,690 to those five sheriffs doesn’t end there; he and his company have also contributed $15,000 to Jindal and thousands more to members of key legislative committees.

Small wonder.

An article in the New Orleans Advocate on Oct. 13, 2014, noted among other things that with Louisiana Workforce’s acquisition of the Phelps Correction Center in DeRidder, the company had about 1,200 inmates working in its work-release program. At an average of say, 62 percent of an average of only $10 per hour, plus another $5 per day for housing each inmate, Louisiana Workforce would receive nearly $17 million a year. At an average of $12 per hour, the paper said, the income would approach $20 million annually. http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/features/music/10477753-171/work-release-operator-with-ties-to

It’s a system open for abuse with only minimal oversight. On Sunday, Associated Press moved a story in which inmates at a privately-run Nashville, TN., jail operated by Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison operation in the U.S., say they worked without pay to build commemorative games, bird houses, dog beds, and plaques which prison officials then sold online and at a flea market. http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/inmates-say-they-worked-for-free-for-jail-officials/ar-BBlNdCG?ocid=iehp

To back up their claim, two of the prisoners said they concealed their names and the number of the Tennessee statute that makes it illegal for prison officials to profit off inmate labor beneath pieces of wood nailed to the backs of the items.

In 2010, the Louisiana Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report that said Louisiana Workforce employees forged or altered several dozen employer work-release forms and inmate authorization forms upon learning that DOC was going to make a site visit to its East Baton Rouge Parish facility. One employee, an assistant warden, admitted to forging at least 26 such forms and the OIG report said that higher-ups at Louisiana Workforce knew of the actions.

LeBlanc, in his response to the report, said that DOC had “no jurisdiction” to discipline the Louisiana Workforce staff, in effect saying that Louisiana Workforce is left to discipline itself.

And in 2013, the Legislative Auditor’s Office issued a report that challenged the use of inmate labor by then-Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Vernon Bourgeois to renovate a building used by Louisiana Workforce’s program. The audit said the cost of that labor was about $350,000 and the auditor’s office said the use of free inmate labor for the project may have been in violation of the Louisiana Constitution

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Three news stories on the last day of July and first day of August raised more questions than they answered about Bobby Jindal’s personal and campaign finances and, at the same time, re-opened a controversy over the funneling of $4.5 million in state funds to a family member of one of Jindal’s campaign contributors at the expense of Louisiana’s developmentally disabled.

It was a pair of stories by CNN and Associated Press on July 25 and Aug. 2, however, that again reminded us of the insanity of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which opened the door for the corporatocracy and its affiliated special interests to usurp the democratic process from America’s citizenry.

The first story, on Friday, July 31, revealed that Jindal’s net worth was somewhere in the range of $3.3 million and $11.3 million. That’s a pretty big range, to be sure, but the federal financial disclosure forms are written that way—deliberately, most likely, to allow elected officials to comply with financial reporting laws while still managing to conceal their true worth.

The following day, August 1, two stories appeared in the Baton Rouge Advocate. The first, on Page 3A, announced that boat builder Gary Chouest, one of Jindal’s major donors—and a grateful beneficiary of legislative projects pushed by Jindal—contributed $1 million to Believe Again, a super PAC supporting Jindal. In that same issue of the Advocate, on page 3B was a story that a company headed by a Chouest family member who had received $4.5 million from the state in 2014 was being sued over money owed Andretti Sports Marketing by the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana and NOLA Motorsports Park. The owner of NOLA Motorsports Park is Laney Chouest and the amount in question is…$1 million.

More on that later.

It was the pair of stories by CNN and AP, however, which shone the glaring light of undue influence of PAC money, particularly in national elections. Julie Bykowicz and Jack Gillum, writing for AP, noted that it took U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz three months to raise $10 million for his 2015 presidential campaign but a single check from hedge fund manager Robert Mercer eclipsed that number with a single, $11 million contribution to Keep the Promise, Cruz’s super PAC.

Not to be outdone, billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, who amassed their fortunes in the West Texas fracking boom, chipped in $15 million to Cruz’s super PAC, according to a July 25 CNN story by Elliot Smilowitz. Should we wonder which side of the fracking debate Cruz comes down on? If he wins the Republican nomination and is subsequently elected President, should West Texas residents, concerned about the quality of their drinking water or about their sick and/or dying livestock, even bother appealing to Cruz’s humanitarian side?

You can check that box “No.”

But back to Jindal and his unexplained wealth. A 44-year-old multi-millionaire can’t be found on any old street corner, especially a 44-year-old who has spent all but a single year of his adult working life in the public sector. Upon completion of his studies at Oxford University, he joined the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. for about 11 months. He left McKinsey to become a congressional intern for U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery before being appointed by Gov. Mike Foster as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at the tender age of 24. Four years later, he appointed the youngest-ever president of the University of Louisiana System and in 2001, he was named by President George W. Bush as Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation. After losing his first campaign for governor to Kathleen Blanco in 2003, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives the following year and was re-elected in 2006 before being elected governor in 2007.

In 2005, a year into his first term as a congressman, Jindal’s net worth was reported to be between $1.18 million and $3.17 million. A short year later, that estimate was between $1.3 million and $3.5 million, according to federal financial reports, ranking Jindal as the 118th richest of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. By 2015, ten years following that initial report, his net worth has tripled to $3.8 million on the low range or $11.3 million on the high range—all on a public servant’s salary of $165,200 per year as a congressman, for all of three years, and $130,000 per year as governor for less than eight years.

He listed on his financial reports, besides his salary, income from investments. But how does an elected official find the time to tend to the business of the nation or the state and see to the concerns of his constituents, engage in re-election fundraising, and play the market? Jindal, the avowed advocate of transparency, has never explained how his wealth was attained other than to quip, “I tried to be born wealthy, but that plan didn’t work.” As the son of immigrant parents, both state employees, he is probably correct in saying he was not born rich.

But what he did do was coerce the Senate Finance Committee in 2014 into ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and reallocating the money for the Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish. It is that $4.5 million that has come into question in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.

In order to bring the IndyCar race to Avondale, NOLA Motorsports created a nonprofit affiliate, or non-government organization (NGO), to apply for and receive a $4.5 million from the state to fund improvements at the track.

Andretti Sports Marketing subsequently signed a three-year contract to organize the Grand Prix beginning in 2015. Andretti, in its lawsuit, claims NOLA Motorsports Park used $3.4 million of that state grant to pay for improvements which did not leave enough to pay Andretti and other vendors. NOLA, on the other hand, claims it used only $2.6 million on improvements.

It should be a simple matter for NOLA Motorsports Park to verify the expenditure of every nickel of that $4.5 million state grant. After all, under rules enacted after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, any NGO that receives money from the state general fund is required to provide quarterly reports on how the money is used. Officials of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism verified that all required records were submitted by NOLA Motorsports. “We would not have released the money unless they were incompliance,” said one CRT official.

And even as the claims and counterclaims were surfacing in Court, Gary Chouest was plowing $1 million into Believe Again, reminding us to, well, believe again that the Citizens United Supreme Court decision snatched control of America’s elections, and necessarily, of the government itself, from its citizens and hand delivered that control to the corporatocracy and its well-financed lobbyists.

But let us not forget that while all those millions were being tossed around what with Gary Chouest dropping a cool million on Jindal’s super PAC and with opposing parties quarreling in federal court over payments to promote Laney Chouest’s $75 million, (did we mention it is privately-owned?) racetrack, the big loser in all this were Louisiana’s developmentally disabled.

With the lone exception of State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), the Senate Finance Committee, in taking its marching orders from Jindal, removed $4.5 million from the developmentally disabled in 2014—just a year after he vetoed a 2013 appropriation of extra funding to help shorten the waiting list for services for those same developmentally disabled.

State campaign finance records show that between 2007 and 2010—long before the 2014 $1 million contribution to Believe Again—members of the Chouest family and their various business interests contributed $106,000 to Jindal—all in the interest of good government, of course.

 

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Two emails popped up on our computer on Wednesday that we simply could not ignore and while the messages concern men who have an intense dislike for each other, the emails are nevertheless related in ways that should offend every voter citizen in Louisiana.

If you were not already turned off by Bobby Jindal and David Vitter, these should do it. If not, then you are part of the problem.

The first is a response to one of our readers from U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the odds-on favorite to become Louisiana’s next governor.

Our reader had written Vitter to ask for his support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that said corporations and unions may not be restricted from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections, in effect giving corporations the same rights as citizens. (The exception is that citizens may be sentenced to prison terms for white collar crimes while corporations may only be fined—usually in amounts far less than the financial gains realized from the criminal activity.)

Anyone who still does not see the manner in which money buys elections in this country—from legislators all the way up to president of the United States—either is a special interest lobbyist, a corporatist power broker, or someone who lives under a rock.

Vitter, in his response, somehow managed to morph the request for the regulation of campaign finance to the muzzling of free speech. “Thank you for contacting me in support of a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress and states to regulate campaign finance and political speech,” he said.

“As you know,” he said, “more than 40 Senate Democrats are supporting an amendment to the Constitution to allow regulations on political speech during federal elections. This proposal comes in response to multiple United States Supreme Court cases upholding the free speech protections enshrined in the First Amendment.”

Right away, he manages to turn it into a Democrat vs. Republican rather than a bipartisan issue. Somehow, when they get to Washington, they just have to make everything an us vs. them fight—like it would kill them to ever admit anyone in the other party might have a good idea. No wonder Congress has such a low approval rating, right down there with televangelists. And we just as quickly get the feeling that Vitter isn’t going to be very sympathetic to any suggestion of campaign reform. Not that’s any real surprise; a special super political action committee was set up on Vitter’s behalf earlier this year to help catapult him into the governor’s office. That PAC, The Fund for Louisiana’s Future, immediately funneled more than $3 million into his campaign.

But back to his email:

“Proponents of the amendment argue that corporations and individuals should be limited in their ability to indirectly support or oppose federal candidates, but the amendment would grant Congress power to pass new statutory limitations on political speech that could impact anyone,” he said.

Oh, please.

“I fear that its adoption would allow Congress to regulate everyone from the Sierra Club to the National Rifle Association, pro-life and pro-choice groups, and could even suppress publishers and producers from releasing new books and movies that pertain to a candidate.”

What unmitigated B.S.

“Moreover, nothing in this amendment is limited to corporations or billionaires; it could easily include limitations on the rights of every American. A free society must engage in robust discourse in search of truth,” he continued in his self-serving gooneybabble.

“Objectionable speech should be confronted in the free marketplace of ideas where the best ideas win out, not through government regulations.

“Never in the history of the Constitution have we amended the Bill of Rights. I firmly disagree that we should do so now, especially not a right so fundamental to who we are as a nation. Although we disagree, rest assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind.”

So the bottom line is Mr. Vitter, who desires to be our next governor, wants corporations, lobbyists and special interest organizations with the financial clout to continue to buy access while drowning out our voices—to club our ideas, letters, emails and small (read: meaningless) contributions into so much pulp with their millions of dollars.

Mr. Vitter’s version of free speech—speech that favors those who are connected and who have the financial resources to purchase elections and politicians—is precisely what is wrong with the political system in the United States—and Louisiana.

The plain truth is Vitter is trying to purchase the governor’s office with his PAC and well-heeled political supporters who are contributing to his campaign not in the interest of good government but in the expectation of some quid pro quo in the form of contracts or favorable legislation. In other words, the buddy system wins, the state of Louisiana loses.

That email is just the sort of thing that State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) should plaster all over every newspaper and television station in the state to show the real manner in which David Vitter views democracy and free speech.

And those views have nothing to do with representative government. They are to be used as a vehicle to roll over honest, hard-working citizens and, in the process, to make them think he’s doing them a favor. It’s all about convincing the great unwashed to vote against their own best interests by waving the flag and finding new enemies to hate.

The other email was a report in Wednesday’s online edition of the Baton Rouge Business Report, edited by Rolfe McCollister, a Jindal appointee to the LSU Board of Supervisors and who served as campaign treasurer of Jindal’s gubernatorial campaign and who now serves a treasurer of his presidential campaign.

That story said Jindal, who announced he was a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination just a week before the close of the second quarter fundraising period, raised $578,758 in that first week.

In all, he has raised more than $9 million, with the bulk of that (more than $8.6 million) raised through super PACs—the American Future Project, Believe Again, and the America Next non-profit—which only reinforces what we said above about the unlevel playing field created by PACs.

The report said that 87 percent of Jindal’s campaign donors contributed $100 or less.

That’s the same kind of garbage he once tried to feed us about the contributions to his governor’s campaign. Trouble is, readers should not listen to what he says but rather to what is not said.

In poring over his initial presidential campaign report (yes, we do that), we found 180 contributors gave the maximum $2,700. That included multiple members of the same household, or in the case of the Madden Construction family in Minden, eight separate Maddens contributed $2,700 each.

The 180 individual donors combined to account for $486,000 of that $578,758. Two of those donors were listed as giving additional checks of $5,400 each (which exceeds federal limits, but we’ll leave that to the Federal Elections Commission). Moreover, an organization identified as the Smoke Bend Political Action Committee ponied up another $5,000.

That runs the subtotal to $501,800.

Continuing down the list, we find that 14 individuals gave $1,000 each, 21 gave $500 each, 42 contributed $250 each, five gave $350 and two more chipped in $300 each.

Altogether, that comes to $538,800, or 93 percent of the total $578,758 and it leaves only about $40,000 for that 87 percent who gave $100 or less. Don’t listen to what they say; hear what they’re not saying.

So the point is, the big money donors simply overwhelm the small donors and to say that most of his donors were small donors is deliberately misleading and disingenuous.

But just for argument’s sake, let’s take a look at a few of major donors.

  • Rolfe McCollister (LSU Board of Supervisors member) and Gene McCollister of Baton Rouge, $2700 each;
  • Hank Danos (LSU Board) and Rodlyn Danos of Larose, $2700 each;
  • Jack Lawton (LSU Board) and Holly Lawton of Lake Charles, $2700 each;
  • Jim McCrery (LSU Board), $2700;
  • Robert Yarborough (LSU Board) and Marsha Yarborough of Baton Rouge, $2700 each;
  • Chester Lee Mallett (LSU Board) and son Brad Mallett of Iowa, LA., $2700 each;
  • James Moore (LSU Board) and Lynn Moore of Monroe, $2700 each;
  • Scott Ballard (LSU Board) and Kristi Ballard of Covington, $2700 each;
  • Blake Chatelain (LSU Board) of Alexandria, $2700;
  • David Madden, Connie Madden, Sharon Madden, Lydia Madden, James Madden, John Madden, Melissa Madden and Douglas Madden, all of Minden, $2700 each;
  • Former Congressman Robert Livingston and Bonnie Livingston of Alexandria, VA., $2700 each;
  • Former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater of Baton Rouge, $2700;
  • Louisiana Department of Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield and Nan Barfield of Baton Rouge, $2700 each;
  • Publisher of Baton Rouge Business Report Julio Melara of Baton Rouge, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, $2700;
  • Robert Bruno of Covington, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, $2700;
  • J.E. Brignac of Prairieville, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, $2700;
  • William Windham of Bossier City, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, and Carol Windham, $2700 each;
  • Former Jindal Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth of Pineville, $2700.

Those are just a few, but they account for $94,500. Not too much in the way of contributions outside Louisiana. Apparently the price of being appointed to a prestigious board or commission is not only to vote the way you’re told (see LSU board’s vote on firing presidents, doctors and attorneys, and on giving away state hospitals) but to pony up campaign funds when the boss comes calling.

Conspicuously absent (with only a couple of exceptions), however, were the names of Indian-Americans who practically lined up to contribute to his gubernatorial campaigns of 2003, 2007 and 2011 before watching in dismay as he began to distance himself from his Indian heritage, claiming that he did not believe in hyphenated-Americans.

 

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PLEASE MOVE TO THE END OF THE LINE(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

On the eve of Bobby Jindal’s anticipated earth shaking announcement that he is squeezing himself into the clown car of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, I thought we should let our readers know that I am still on the job, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

As we wait with collective bated breath for word that Bobby is not only available but more than willing to do for the nation what he has done for Louisiana (God help us all, Tiny Tim), I remain cloistered in my cluttered home office, working diligently on my book, as yet untitled, in which I intend to fully document precisely what he has done for to Louisiana.

Among the topics to be covered are public education, higher education, health care, the state budget, campaign contributions, political appointments, ethics, privatization, his ALEC connections, the explosion in corporate tax breaks during his two terms, the lack of progress as reflected in myriad state rankings and surveys throughout his eight years as our largely absentee governor, the lack of transparency, his thinly veiled use of foundations and non-profit organizations to advance his political career, his intolerance for dissent (teaguing), his actual performance as compared to campaign promises as candidate Bobby, and his general incompetence.

I was asked on a local radio show if I could be fair to Jindal, given my personal feelings about his abilities as reflected in more than a thousand posts on this site. The short answer is: probably not. The long answer is I can—and will—be as fair to him as he has been to the state I love and call home. Because I do not claim to be objective (as opposed to the paid media who cling to that word as if it were some kind of Holy Grail), I am not bound by any rules that place limits on the expression of my opinions. I see what he has done, I understand the adverse effect his actions have had on this state, and I will offer my take on them for the reader to either accept or reject. If that is not fair, then so be it.

I have written about 60,000 words of an anticipated 100,000-word manuscript thus far. A couple of other writers have volunteered to contribute chapters, which should add another 20,000 words. I have a self-imposed deadline of July 1—give or take a few days—in which to have the rough draft completed. I also have several very capable editors poring over the chapters as they are completed. Their corrections, deletions, additions and suggestions will be incorporated into the final manuscript which is to be submitted to the publisher by late August.

The publisher originally gave me a publication target date of next Spring but recently moved the anticipated publication date up to January, with an e-book to be released possibly as early as this Fall.

That would coincide nicely with Jindal’s second ghost-written book, scheduled out in September.

There will be one major difference in our books: Mine will be based on his record while the source of his claims of balanced budgets and other wild, unsubstantiated assertions are certain to remain a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma (with apologies to Winston Churchill).

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