Archive for the ‘Grant, Grants’ Category

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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It’s one thing when Gov. Bobby scoots off to Iowa or Georgia or appears at a CPAC conference or on Faux News to spin his laughable look how great I am distortions about the “Louisiana Miracle.” It’s quite another when respected publications like the Washington Post or the New York Times, or even USA Today (aka McNewspaper) allow him space in their op-ed pages to spread his bovine excrement.

Gov. Bobby’s latest attempt to give unsuspecting readers and blind loyalists in the other 49 states his view of Louisiana through those rose-colored glasses is an op-ed in USA Today in which he, apparently oblivious to shame or any sense of irony, bloviates that he has succeeded in his promise “to make the economy bigger and the government smaller” and that he accomplished “what the federal government has failed to do.” http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/03/08/tax-cuts-louisiana-gov-bobby-jindal-editorials-debates/24613069/

If you’re into gallows humor, you’ll love these excerpts from his piece which, if we didn’t know better, was written for Comedy Central rather than a national newspaper. Here are a few of the accomplishments for which he takes credit and which the rest of us somehow missed:

  • Balanced budgets. (WTF? Does a $1.6 billion deficit looked balanced to anyone else? Does patching the budget all seven years of his administration with one-time money appear “balanced”?)
  • (We have) over 30,000 fewer state workers, than when we took office in 2008. Well, not quite. The actual figures, according to the Department of Civil Service, show that 13,577 positions have been abolished and 8,396 state employees have been laid off. The difference between abolished positions and layoffs can be attributed to targeting vacant positions for abolishment. So the actual reduction in the number of employees is 72 percent lower than his claims. Just another Jindal lie.ELIMINATED STATE POSITIONS BY YEAR
  • Louisiana’s economy is stronger than ever. (Wait. What? The last time we looked, the median household income in Louisiana was eighth lowest in the nation and our poverty rate the third highest with 10.7 percent of all households reporting an income of less than $10,000 per year.
  • Louisiana has received eight credit rating upgrades. (Both Moody’s and Standard & Poor are threatening to degrade the state’s credit rating. Sarah Palin’s lipstick on a pig comment comes to mind here. It would be interesting to see how you square your pontifications with the facts here.)
  • Louisiana’s economy has grown nearly twice as fast as the national economy. (Quite simply, a lie. All surveys show the state’s economic growth rate to be slower than the nation as a whole and the state is generally ranked 34th. In fact the nation’s GDP growth in 2013 was 1.8 percent, compared to Louisiana’s 1.3 percent. Even Mississippi’s was higher.)
  • We have outlined ways to minimize budget reductions to vital services such as higher education and health care. (Tuition at state colleges has increased 52 percent, eighth highest in the nation, since Gov. Bobby took office and his refusal to accept Medicaid expansion has deprived health care to 270,000 Louisiana residents and forced the closure of one of Baton Rouge’s busiest emergency rooms.) http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4135
  • “I do not measure Louisiana’s success by the prosperity of our government. I measure it by the prosperity of our people.” (That being the case, you are a colossal flop as a leader, politician, governor, and as a human being because it is your policies that have mired this state in the mud of mediocrity. You have deliberately set this state on a disastrous course—a course which you, for whatever reasons, continue to defend—of destruction. You have destroyed higher education, you have destroyed health care, you have destroyed the state’s infrastructure, you have destroyed the economy, you have destroyed a $500 million reserve fund set aside to guarantee uninterrupted medical care for state employees, retirees and their dependents, you have obliterated a $1 billion surplus when you took office seven years ago, somehow turning it into a $1.6 billion deficit. And worse than all that, you have turned your back on your people and the job they elected you to do so that you might continue on your fool’s errand of chasing an impossible dream of become president while the metaphorical crops rot in the fields back home.)

As a means of returning to reality, Gov. Bobby might wish to take a look at the USA Today poll that accompanied his latest work of fiction. At last check by LouisianaVoice, the poll showed that 13 percent of readers strongly agreed with Gov. Bobby while 3 percent simply agreed. Two percent had no clue while 9 percent disagreed and 73 percent strongly disagreed. Bottom line: 16 percent were in accord on some level with what he wrote while a whopping 82 percent weren’t buying.

Gov. Bobby, it should be pointed out, has opposed equal pay for women, rejected grants that would have gone to early childhood development and to expand broadband internet services in rural areas of the state, rejected a federal grant to help develop a high-speed rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and robbed funds from state agencies in order to patch over budget holes—things he never mentions in those stand up comedy acts at CPAC or in his op-ed pieces.

Even USA Today, apparently feeling some remorse for giving Gov. Bobby a stage on which to spew his rhetoric, was compelled to run its own piece in which it pointed out that not all is well in the land of gumbo and Mardi Gras. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/03/08/tax-cuts-state-louisiana-gov-jindal-kansas-gov-brownback-editorials-debates/24616613/

“Louisiana’s jobless rate has gone from much better than the national rate in 2008 to much worse,” the paper said, adding that Gov. Bobby “cherry-picks the years” on the economic growth rates and “doesn’t mention that since 2010, the state has lagged behind the national recovery.”

Pointing out that both Louisiana and Kansas have implemented huge tax cuts, USA Today says, “The results have been dismal. Growth has been sluggish in both states, and the plunge in revenue has devastated both states’ budgets.”

Recently, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported that Gov. Bobby spent 45 percent of 2014 outside the state as he chased the Republican president nomination. Jim Beam, writing in the Lake Charles American Press, said that in addition to becoming a national and international political critic, Gov. Bobby “continued to tell the rest of the world how great things were going back home. His listeners seldom bothered to check the facts.” http://www.americanpress.com/Beam-column-3-8-15

Beam, who has been around the state’s political scene for decades, noted that under Gov. Bobby, tax credits, exemptions and breaks given to business and industry which were projected to produce increased state revenue have not done so despite a cost of almost $7 billion per year.

After enduring seven years of non-stop sliding into economic and political oblivion under this administration, we have some unsolicited advice for Gov. Bobby:

Your term of office will end in approximately 10 months. Back the U-Haul up to the governor’s mansion, pile your belongings in it and hit I-10 and keep going. Don’t stop until you have settled in Iowa, New Hampshire, at some think tank in Washington, or on the Faux News set. Anywhere but Louisiana. Take Timmy Teepell, LABI apologist Steve Waguespack (who apparently does not believe in the First Amendment and who believes a college professor has no right to an opinion or the right to write a political column on his own time), and Kristy Nichols with you.

And please, whatever you do….don’t come back.

….And there’s really no need to wait until next January since you’ve already quit.

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Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who has been uncharacteristically quiet in his campaign to succeed U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District seat, came out swinging at his opponent at Monday’s appearance before the Baton Rouge Press Club.

At the same time, the campaign of his opponent, Garret Graves, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s hand-picked candidate, appears to be doing everything it can to go into a self-destruct mode with Graves following smear tactics against a first primary opponent with a vitriolic email-writing campaign to reporters perceived by him to be antagonistic.

One veteran Baton Rouge reporter described Graves’ strange behavior as the campaign enters its stretch drive as “weirdly Nixonian.”

Edwards was also critical of Graves’ role in attempts to stifle the lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E). “Someone needs to restore our coastal lands and who better than the ones who destroyed it?” he asked.

The event was intended to serve as a face-off between the two candidates, but Graves chose not to attend.

Edwards, meanwhile, took the opportunity of renewing earlier claims of $130 million contracts awarded to Graves’ father under his watch as President of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities.

“Not only was he responsible for $130 million in contracts to his father’s engineering company,” Edwards said, “but 18 sub-contractors got another $66 million in contracts. Those companies gave $250,000 to Graves’ campaign and $360,000 to Gov. Jindal’s campaign. This is a scheme by Jindal and Graves to maintain and to perpetuate the control of the flow of dollars from the Corps of Engineers and the BP spill.

“Gov. Jindal took $160 million in BP grant funds and wasted it on the construction of a sand berm and gave the contract to a Florida firm. That berm, as was predicted, is long gone.

“Jindal then took another $35 million to $40 million to build the million-square-foot Water Campus in Baton Rouge,” Edwards said.

He said the Water Campus office complex and research center under construction in Baton Rouge, will house the agency Graves once headed. The leasing agent for office space in the facility, Edwards said, is Randy White, Graves’ brother-in-law. “They’re going to lease one million square feet of office space at probably $25 to $50 per square foot,” he said. “At a commission of 2 or 3 percent, that’s a $1 million a year. I guess it would be accurate to say Graves is a family man.”

More recently, Graves has ramped up an email-writing campaign to reporters that borders on paranoia, accusing veteran reporters of ganging up on him, not liking him, and being against him. The emails more resemble incoherent rants than logical communications with some making wild accusations, a tactic that has puzzled various recipients.

Edwards reserved most of his disgust, however, for Graves’ smear campaign against Paul Dietzel, III, in the Nov. 4 primary election. Graves intimated during the campaign that Dietzel, grandson of legendary former LSU football coach Paul Dietzel, was gay.

“At the time, the contest for the runoff position was between Graves and Dietzel,” Edwards said. “Dietzel is a fine young man and he never recovered from that scurrilous attack.” Dietzel finished third in the primary with 13.55 percent of the vote. Graves finished second to Edwards with 27.36 percent.

Edwards said that while he has not spent any money on media advertising “because I really didn’t think it was necessary,” he intends to begin a media blitz early next week.

He and Graves are scheduled to meet in their only scheduled head-to-head debate in Denham Springs next Tuesday.

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Our October fund raiser enters its final five days and we still need assistance to help us offset the cost of pursuing legal action against an administration that prefers to conduct its business behind closed doors and out of sight of the people to whom they are supposed to answer.

We also are launching an ambitious project that will involve considerable time and expense. If Gov. Bobby Jindal does seek higher office as it becomes more and more apparent that he will, the people of America need to know the real story of what he has done to our state and its people. Voters in the other 49 states need to know not Jindal’s version of his accomplishments as governor, but the truth about:

  • What has occurred with CNSI and Bruce Greenstein;
  • How Jindal squandered the Office of Group Benefits $500 million reserve fund;
  • The lies the administration told us two years ago about how state employee benefits would not be affected by privatization;
  • The lies about how Buck Consultants advised the administration to cut health care premiums when the company’s July report said just the opposite;
  • How Jindal attempted unsuccessfully to gut state employee retirement benefits;
  • How Jindal attempted to sneak a significant retirement benefit into law for the Superintendent of State Police;
  • How Jindal appointees throughout state government have abused the power entrusted to them;
  • How Jindal has attempted a giveaway plan for state hospitals that has yet to be approved by the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS);
  • How regulations have been skirted so that Jindal could reward supporters with favorable purchases and contracts;
  • How Jindal fired employees and demoted legislators for the simple transgression of disagreeing with him;
  • How Jindal has refused Medicaid expansion that has cost hundreds of thousands of Louisiana’s poor the opportunity to obtain medical care;
  • How Jindal has gutted appropriations to higher education in Louisiana, forcing tuition increases detrimental to students;
  • How Jindal has attempted to systematically destroy public education in Louisiana;
  • How Jindal has refused federal grants that could have gone far in developing internet services for rural areas and high speed rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans;
  • How Jindal has rewarded major contributors with appointments to key boards and commissions;
  • How Jindal attempted to use the court system to persecute an agency head who refused to knuckle under to illegal demands from the governor’s office;
  • How Jindal has manipulated the state budget each year he has been in office in a desperate effort to smooth over deficit after deficit;
  • And most of all, how Jindal literally abandoned the state while still governor so that he could pursue his quixotic dream of becoming president.

To this end, LouisianaVoice Editor Tom Aswell will be spending the next several months researching and writing a book chronicling the Jindal administration. Should Jindal become a presidential contender or even if he is selected as another candidate’s vice presidential running mate, such a book could have a national impact and even affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

This project is going to take time and involve considerable expense as we compile our research and prepare the book for publication in time for the 2016 election.

To accomplish this, we need your help.

If you are not seeing the “Donate” button, it may be because you are receiving our posts via email subscription. To contribute by credit card, please click on this link to go to our actual web page and look for the yellow Donate button: http://louisianavoice.com/

If you prefer not to conduct an internet transaction, you may mail a check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

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Holy New Living Word, Bat Man!

John White’s Department of Education just can’t seem to keep tabs on all these pop-up private for-profit education facilities that have proliferated under his and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sweeping educational reform programs.

Questionable expenditures by an organization under contract to the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) have been flying under the radar, overshadowed as it were, by corruption charges against internal auditors with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

Remember New Living Word up in Ruston? That’s the school that was approved for some 300 vouchers even though there were no instructors, no computers, and no facilities—and obviously, no vetting. Just an application from the school was all that was needed, and BAM! Instant approval.

Not that New Living Word was the only one; there were others, including one in which the director had a long of history of legal problems and another in which the director referred to himself as a “prophet.” And there was the charter school that decided it could conduct random pregnancy tests on female students after one girl was expelled when it was learned she was pregnant, though no punishment was meted out for the dad, a member of the school’s football team. Only threatened legal action by the ACLU reversed the ill-considered policy.

Still, New Living Word became the instant poster child for DOE’s bureaucratic ineptitude.

Until now.

Now we have Open World Family Services, Inc. a New Orleans education “nonprofit” established ostensibly to “strengthen the family through education and training,” and paid through grants under the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally-financed program funded through a $1.4 million contract with DOE that ran from May 1, 2009 through April 30, 2012.

Or perhaps we should have said had Open World Family Services, Inc. It closed its doors on May 31, 2012, a month after its contract with DOE ran out.

But not before its administrator managed to misappropriate, misspend, mishandle, mismanage, fold, staple and mutilate more than $300,000, according to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office.

To read entire audit report, click here: 000011D0

Included in that amount were $116,323 in expenses which Open World did not incur, $148,596 in unapproved purchases and expenses that included debit card withdrawals ($16,758) airfare to Monrovia, Liberia ($7,204) and payments to the immediate family of Executive Director Kim Cassell ($18,414).

Cassell’s attorney assures us it was all just your basic “lack of knowledge of grant management” that led to a number of “errors in funds management.”

That would be the usual errors, like requests for reimbursements listing 129 specific checks (all payable to vendors) totaling $221,624 when only 74 of those checks totaling $105,301 actually cleared Open World’s bank accounts. But what of the remaining 55 checks? Well, Cassell’s former administrative assistant told state auditors that Cassell instructed her to pull blank checks and use or record the blank check numbers on reimbursement requests for “projected” vendor expenses.

“By submitting reimbursement requests that included false information, Open World improperly received $129,402 in reimbursements from DOE and may have violated state and federal laws,” the audit report said.

Just an error in funds management.

Kinda makes you wonder about those seven contracts worth a combined $430,000 that the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) has awarded to Open World Family Services since 2008 to combat asthma and tobacco use. Did that money go up in smoke as well?

Open World, the audit says, submitted requests and received reimbursements for employee benefits totaling $13,079 for which no expense was incurred.

Another simple error in funds management.

From May 2009 to October 2011, Cassell improperly used public funds totaling $11,108 for veterinary bills and pet supplies, a homeowner’s insurance payment, personal travel and college tuition payments, according to the audit report.

Ditto on the error in funds management.

Cassell’s time sheets from Sept. 18, 2010, to Oct. 19, 2010, indicate that she was on vacation and traveling. But during that same time period, the audit says, she made debit card withdrawals in Monrovia, Liberia, totaling $4,576 and that she incurred airfare charges totaling $200 on Oct. 17, 2010.

She explained to auditors that she traveled to Liberia for the purpose of registering Open World as a Non-Government Organization (NGO) in West Africa.

She also incurred charges on the organization’s debit card totaling $1,099 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, while on travel to that state in November of 2010.

In all, the audit says that from May 2009 to February 2012, only a couple of months before her grant contract with DOE ran out, she used $148,596 in grant funds for puchases and expenses not included in approved grant budgets. That amount included $97,961 for rent, utilities and building improvements; $16,758 in undocumented debit card withdrawals; $7,204 in undocumented airfare charges; $15,340 for insurance policies, and $11,333 for vehicle expenses. “By using grant funds for unauthorized purposes, Open World appears to have violated its grant agreements and may be required to reimburse funds improperly spent,” the report says.

New Orleans attorney Jauna Crear wrote a five-page letter of response to the audit’s findings but basically defended her client’s actions in a single sentence:

“An overall review of the allegations, along with Ms. Cassell’s explanations, clearly shows a lack of understanding of the non-profit governance rules as opposed to a willful disobedience thereof.”

All of which raises several questions:

  • Does DOE customarily hand out multi-million dollar contracts to non-profits with inadequate experience in handling public funding?
  • What safeguards does John White have in place to prevent abuse, theft, and misapplication of public funds by other organizations under contract to DOE?
  • Does John White believe it might be worthwhile to conduct a review of other such contracts/grants?
  • Is it possible that DOE, like DHH, may have eliminated the position(s) of internal auditor as a cost-cutting measure?
  • Will DHH review the seven current and past contracts it has awarded to Open World Family Services totaling $430,000?

Sometimes you just gotta scratch your head and wonder…

Other times you look at who is running this state and then you know…

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