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Archive for the ‘Lobbyist’ Category

On any given issue today, there is one thing that you can count on with all certainty: someone is going to interject the intent of The Founding Fathers into the dialog. But does the average man or woman really know what those wealthy white slave owners wanted for the country? Just as Christianity has splintered into many disparate sects and beliefs, so has the idea of what The Founding Fathers desired for this country.

Could they, for example, have ever intended that 535 individuals in a steamy town named for our first President (and one of The Founding Fathers) really represent the interests of 315 million people? Could they have foreseen that control over the world economy would rest in the hands of a few mega-rich investment bankers who buy and sell elected officials in much the same manner as the commodities in which they trade daily?

Niki Papazoglakis of Baton Rouge doesn’t think so.

That is why she has launched an ambitious enterprise called Freagle (Freeom+Eagle), the Virtual Town Square.

To be sure, Freagle is a huge undertaking, but Papazoglakis is unafraid of a challenge. She’s been there before. She ran against Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2011 where she gained many of the insights for the platform.

So, just what is Freagle and how does it work?

Just as in any complex system, there are no easy answers. But basically, Freagle is described by its creator as an “online non-partisan town square for average citizens, politicos, and activists.”

Papazoglakis has 15 years’ experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. She began her career with the Foster administration where she managed candidate registration and campaign finance reporting. From there she moved to the LSU Agricultural Center as legislative liaison. While serving in that capacity, she developed policy recommendations and lobbied the legislature successfully to create a comprehensive statewide water policy. She then spent 10 years as a sales executive with technology giants IBM, Unisys and Hewlett-Packard before becoming general manager for the Louisiana branch of a regional IT company.

“We cannot count on those within the broken political system to make the changes our nation needs,” she says. “It’s up to ‘We the People’ to restore accountability and trust to government.”

The problem in today’s political landscape, she believes, is the sheer size of government and the impossible demand on 535 members of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to effectively represent the will of 315 million living souls in this country.

“We believe that is the root of the dysfunction in our political system and the same problems at the federal level trickle down to state and local levels, as well,” she said. “Elected officials have no truly effective tools for engaging with their constituents and understanding their interests. The average district size for a U.S. Representative is almost 700,000 people. Without the ability to fully understand and represent constituent interests, coupled with the extremely high costs of reaching voters, money and special interests have become more powerful than the will of the people.

“We are building an online non-partisan town square by pulling back the curtain to expose the good, the bad and the ugly of government,” she says. “We’re connecting the dots between votes, political contributions and influence; we’re shedding light on the revolving door that industry and the political class use daily to their advantage, not ours; and we are speaking truth to power regardless of party, ideology or industry.”

Freagle will track campaign contributions for candidates nationwide, from President all the way down to municipal office holders. Moreover, it will follow votes to determine if campaign money influences candidates to vote against the will of those they represent.

Subscribers will be able to track legislation and to gain access to information and tools for communicating with elected officials.

Papazoglakis and her team are leveraging crowd funding—a relatively new mechanism to raise the funds necessary to complete product development.

Readers may click on the link below and learn more about this revolutionary new way to stay current on campaign contributions, political issues from local zoning to statehouse bills to congressional acts and appropriations, and of course, voting records as well as support this effort to restore representation in democracy.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/freagle-the-virtual-town-square

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Another survey is out that ranks Louisiana as number one in the nation but it’s not very likely that the results will appear on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s feel-good blog and perhaps not on the web page of his biggest cheerleader, the Baton Rouge Business Report.

Liz Farmer and Kevin Tidmarsh, writing for Governing magazine penned an eye-opening story which we apparently failed to properly attribute. Though we did make a point of including the link to their article, which we felt made it abundantly clear that we were not claiming the work as our own and were citing them—through inclusion of the link to their story—as our source, they nonetheless felt we should have done more to identify them as the authors. By simply including the link to Governing, we apparently did not go far enough in proper attribution and for that we apologize because they did a superb job in identifying the problem of money and politics.

In their story, they cited a report by the Public Administration Review that details states’ corruption risks, accountability practices and related laws puts Louisiana at the top of the list of states for public corruption. http://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/state-public-corruption-convictions-data.html

The report, released on Monday (June 9), also shows that states with higher levels of corruption are able to shape budget allocations and that they have a propensity to spend more money on capital outlay projects than for health and education.

Construction projects provide greater opportunity for the misappropriation of public funds for personal gain than expenditures on health, education and welfare, the study says.

The report provides an in-depth review of how some states showed progress while others remain behind the curve in mitigating corruption. Louisiana, with 384 public corruption convictions between 2001 and 2010, is far ahead of the pack both in terms of convictions per 100,000 population (8.5), and convictions per 10,000 public employees (10.5).

By contrast, Oregon (1.2) and Kansas (1.3) had the lowest rates of convictions per 10,000 public employees.

And though Pennsylvania and New Jersey had more convictions (542 and 429, respectively), their rate of corruption convictions per 10,000 public employees was less than Louisiana (7.1 for Pennsylvania and 6.7 for New Jersey). Neither Pennsylvania nor New Jersey appeared among the worst 10 states for the number of convictions per 100,000 population, the report shows.

Louisiana’s 384 total convictions during the 10-year period ranked behind Texas (697), California (679), Florida (674), New York (589), Pennsylvania (542), Ohio (495) and New Jersey (429), but with a considerably smaller population base than those states, Louisiana’s conviction rate was much higher.

“If levels of convictions are high, that’s a sample of the climate of the state, said Indiana University’s John Mikesell, who co-authored the report with Cheol Liu of the University of Hong Kong. “The convictions are just the ones who got caught. If there’re a lot of convictions, there’re probably a bunch that haven’t been caught.”

Among the higher profile convictions in Louisiana during the first decade of this century were former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, former Sen. William Jefferson, former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, and Mandeville Mayor Eddie Price.

In what should have been of particular embarrassment to the state, in December of 2010, the U.S. Senate closed out the decade by convicting Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of Federal District Court in Louisiana on four articles of impeachment and removed him from the bench, the first time the Senate has ousted a federal judge in more than two decades. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/09/us/politics/09judge.html?_r=0

 Judge Porteous, the eighth federal judge to be removed from office in this manner, was impeached by the House in March on four articles stemming from charges that he received cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, used a false name to elude creditors and intentionally misled the Senate during his confirmation proceedings.

Additionally, Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan announced his resignation in November of 2007 after what one observer called “almost five insufferable years in office.”  His resignation ended a tenure marked by a perceived failure to prosecute violent criminals, a jury verdict ruling that he racially discriminated against white employees, a seizure of the office’s assets and disruption of his staff’s salaries—all capped off when a robbery suspect fled to Jordan’s Algiers house only to then become a suspect in the shooting of a New Orleans police officer. http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/10/sources_talks_underway_for_jor.html

U.S. Sen. David Vitter dropped out of the 2003 gubernatorial race after reports surfaced of a relationship with a prostitute. He was elected to the Senate two years later but in 2007, his number appeared on telephone records belonging to Deborah Jeane Palfrey who was convicted in 2008 for running a high-end prostitution ring. He is an announced candidate for governor in the 2015 race.

And then there is Mr. Clean himself, Gov. Bobby Jindal, who attracted huge monetary contributions for a foundation run by his wife, Supriya Jindal, many of those from oil and gas companies. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/03/us/politics/03jindal.html?pagewanted=all

Those investments—and make no mistake, political campaign  contributions are just that: investments—paid off in spades last week when Jindal signed SB 469, pushed by another recipient of mega-contributions from oil and gas interests, Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton). SB 469 killed a lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) that sought to force 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies to restore the damage they inflicted on Louisiana’s wetlands through decades of abuse to the Louisiana coastal lands.

Farmer and Tidmarsh interviewed several sources for their story that says what we all know but which too often goes unreported.

“Legal corruption” they wrote, is even greater, according to Chuck Thies, a Washington, D.C., political consultant who said the “wink, wink, nod, nod” culture of campaign finance often runs right up to the line of bribery. http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-corruption-politics-spending-study.html

Thies said an example of that would be a contractor who is lobbying a politician for approval of his project. The politician, who is running for reelection, approaches the contractor to ask for a campaign contribution.

“It’s that simple,” Thies said. “It happens all the time. The savvy person knows not to say, ‘If I do my ($5,000), will you authorize my (contract)?’ But (both) know exactly that’s what just transpired.”

When one follows the money into the campaign coffers of Louisiana’s most powerful politicians, it becomes a simple matter to understand in unmistakable terms just how much money runs—indeed, corrupts—the political process. The $10 and $25 contributor has little chance in being heard over the roar of the $5 million that oil and gas companies poured into the campaigns of the state’s 144 legislators and another $1 million that was funneled to Jindal.

Easily available campaign contributions allow legislators to enjoy the perks of eating at the finest restaurants, buy gasoline for personal vehicles, hiring family members as campaign “workers,” and purchasing luxury boxes at LSU, Saints, and Pelicans games, ostensibly for “entertaining” constituents.

So when those contributors come calling, as they most surely will, what legislator—or governor—is going to stand up to the special interests?

When lobbyists outnumber legislators by a 5-1 ratio, it becomes difficult for John Q. Citizen to squeeze his way into the conversation.

It all comes down to who our elected officials really represent, and the answer is obvious—and not pretty.

Louisiana fits the profile perfectly in that it killed Medicaid expansion that would have provided expanded health care access to the state’s indigent citizens while the legislature passed a $5.6 billion construction budget that includes sports complexes, golf courses, local road projects, fish hatcheries, and non-government agencies—all at a time when the state is in dire financial straits.

The classic shakedown can also encourage the culture of corruption while discouraging those who attempt to play by the rules.

A north Louisiana contractor has a lawsuit pending against the State of Louisiana and the Department of Transportation and Development for just such an alleged shakedown attempt by state employees that he said ultimately put him out of business because he refused to go along with the efforts to extract payoffs from him.

And there’s no incentive in spending time and money on a bid when the winning bidder has already bought political sufficient influence to “win” the contract or when the bid specifications have been written in such a way as to qualify a single bidder.

Several years ago in north Louisiana, a parish police jury wanted to purchase a used bulldozer. But not just any used bulldozer; police jury members had already spotted the one they wanted. The answer? The police jury advertised for bids in its legal journal, the local newspaper. Included in the bid specifications along with the make, year and horsepower was….the serial number.

It’s all part of the process that we call Louisiana politics.

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“The signing of SB 469 is a huge victory for the oil and gas industry as well as the economy for the state of Louisiana…” 

—Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, commenting on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signing of SB 469 which effective kills the lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies.

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1974 Louisiana Constitution-Declaration of Rights

§22. Access to Courts

Section 22. “All courts shall be open, and every person shall have an adequate remedy by due process of law and justice, administered without denial, partiality, or unreasonable delay, for injury to him in his person, property, reputation, or other rights.”

(Special thanks to Tony Guarisco for researching this provision of the State Constitution.)

 

 

This is about yet two more examples of how Gov. Bobby Jindal conveniently manages to look the other way instead of being up front when confronted with issues that most might believe could present a conflict of interest

When Jindal signed SB 469 into law on Friday he not only killed the pending lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) but he also placed in extreme jeopardy the claims by dozens of South Louisiana municipalities and parish governments from the disastrous 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill that killed 11 men and discharged 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, spoiling beaches and killing fish and wildlife.

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with its accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like blow flies buzzing around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

Russel Honore said it another way, observing wryly that the Exxon flag still flies over the State Capitol.

Blogger Lamar White, Jr. observed that former Gov. Edwin Edwards spent eight years in a federal prison for accepting payments from hopeful casino operators for his assistance in obtaining licenses—all after he left office. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was similarly convicted of using his position to steer business to a family-owned company and taking free vacations meals and cell phones from people attempting to score contracts or incentives from the city.

So what is the difference between what they did and the ton of contributions received by Adley and Jindal? To paraphrase my favorite playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare, a payoff by any other name smells just as rank.

And while big oil money flowed like liquor at the State Capitol (figuratively of course; it’s illegal to make or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session), what many may not know is that Jindal may have had an ulterior motive when he signed the bill into law against sound legal advice not to do so, thus protecting the interests of big oil over the welfare of Louisiana citizens who have seen frightening erosion of the state’s shoreline and freshwater marshes.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is one of the firms that represented BP in negotiating a $4.5 billion settlement that ended criminal charges against the company. Included in that settlement amount was a $1.26 billion criminal fine to be paid over five years.

An associate of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who has defended clients in government audit cases and in several whistleblower cases is one Nikesh Jindal.

He also is assigned to the division handling the BP case.

Nikesh Jindal is the younger brother of Gov. Piyush, aka Bobby Jindal.

Suddenly, John Barry’s words take on a little more significance: “We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

And that’s not the only instance in which Jindal neglected to be completely candid about connections between him and his brother.

In yet another of his increasingly frequent op-ed columns, this one for the Washington Examiner, prolific writer and part time governor Jindal staked out his position of support of for-profit colleges in their battle against the Obama administration.

A 2012 report by the Senate Committee on Health, Labor and Pensions said that between 2008 and 2009, more than a million students attended schools owned by for-profit companies and by 2010, 54 percent of those had left school without a degree or certificate.

The committee also found that associate degree and certificate programs cost an average of four times the cost of degree program at comparable community colleges. Moreover, bachelor’s degree programs at for-profit colleges cost 20 percent more than flagship public universities.

Jindal disputed proposed U.S. Department of Education “gainful employment” rules that would tie federal aid at for-profit and public and private vocational and certificate programs to their success in preparing students for gainful employment.

“The message from this administration couldn’t be clearer,” Jindal wrote in suggesting that the Obama administration policies are tantamount to “redlining educational opportunities” for low-income and minority youths. “If you want to attend an elite professional school you could end up having tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt forgiven by your school and the federal government. But if you’re a struggling African-American single mother relying on a certificate program at a for-profit school or a community college and you like your current education plan—under this administration, you have about as much chance of keeping it as you do your health plan.”

Critics of the for-profit institutions, however, claim that the schools recruit vulnerable students, some of whom do not even possess a high school diploma, charge exorbitant tuition and encourage students to take out huge student loans they will never be able to repay.

Once again, it was what went unsaid that is significant.

Nikesh Jindal, it turns out, has represented the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), in an earlier legal battle with the Obama administration.

Nikesh Jindal “historically has been part of the team representing APSCU in litigation,” said Noah Black, APSCU spokesman, and was listed as one of the attorneys for the association in its successful challenge to a Department of Education rule that colleges must become certified in each state in which they enroll students.

For a man of repeated claims of transparency, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s lack of candor is awfully opaque.

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It has been a little over four years since democracy officially died in this country and sufficient time has passed to safely proclaim that you, the American voter, are no longer relevant. You have gone the way of the Edsel and the 8mm movie camera.

If indeed, your voice ever really was heard in the halls of Congress and in the 50 state legislatures, it has been officially muted by the U.S. Supreme Court which, on Jan. 21, 2010, officially handed over the reins of government in this country to corporate entities and power broker billionaires like the Koch brothers, Bill Gates, Sheldon Adelson and the Walton family.

And yes, we were exposed to enough civics and American history in school to know that we do not live in a democracy but rather a representative republic which, by definition, is a representative government ruled by law—in our case, the U.S. Constitution.

But the question must be asked: representative of whom or more accurately, representative of whose interests?

To illustrate how elected officials react to the jingle of loose lobbyist change as opposed to the real needs of constituents, let’s bring the story up close and personal as we consider the story of Billy Tauzin.

Remember Billy Tauzin, the Louisiana Democrat turned Republican from Chackbay?

Tauzin, you may recall, was Louisiana’s congressman from the 3rd Congressional District from 1980 to 2004.

In a move that should cloud the rosiest of rose colored glasses, Tauzin in 2003 helped draft the bill that created a Medicare drug benefit but which, at Tauzin’s insistence, barred the government from negotiating drug prices. In other words, whatever the pharmaceutical firms wanted to charge for prescription drugs for Medicare patients was what they got. No discounts as when Medicare discounts physician and hospital charges. Pharmaceutical prices were set in stone.

Then, in December of 2004, Tauzin abruptly resigned from Congress to become president of….(drum roll, please)…the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

As if that were not egregious enough, Tauzin in his role as PhRMA President, later cut a deal with President Obama in which PhRMA volunteered to help cover the uninsured and to reduce drug prices for some senior citizens in exchange for a promise from Obama that the administration block any congressional effort to allow the government to negotiate Medicare drug prices. The deal was Tauzin’s effort to concede a few bucks on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry in exchange for a guarantee that a much more lucrative—and long-term—deal would remain intact.

Except it didn’t. And only when the deal unraveled did we learn the sordid details of the aborted agreement.

Ironically enough, it was the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the very committee that Tauzin chaired when he cut his original deal to prevent negotiating drug prices in 2004 that ultimately torpedoed him by amending the health reform bill to allow Medicare drug negotiation.

“Who is ever going to go into a deal with the White House again if they don’t keep their word?” sniffed the man who sold his soul—and his office—to PhRMA.

Should we feel betrayed by Tauzin? Should we be outraged?

Why should we? The little episode just described is only one of hundreds upon hundreds of cases of greed-driven deceit carried out by virtually each of the 535 members of Congress. In short, what he did is only symptomatic of a much larger problem in Washington and which filters down to every one of the 50 state legislatures and assemblies.

Whoever coined the phrase “Money talks, B.S. walks” should be enshrined in some kind of exclusive (as in its only member) philosopher’s hall of fame—and dual membership in the political hall of fame as well.

It’s been that way for more than a century now of course, but on Jan. 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court made it official with its 5-4 ruling on Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. All that ruling did was open the floodgates for corporate money to flow on behalf of any member of Congress who might be for sale. (And just in case it may still be unclear, make no mistake that the word “any” in this case is synonymous with “all.”)

The Citizens United decision said that the government had no business regulating political speech—even by corporations which were—and are—still prohibited from contributing directly to federal campaigns but were now free to pour unlimited funds into political action committees (PACs) which in turn could purchase political advertisement on behalf of or in opposition to any issue or candidate.

Those PACs, more accurately described as “Super PACs,” proliferated overnight, cluttering the landscape with TV ads baring nothing more than a tiny “paid for” line at the bottom of the screen to identify the origins of the attack ads.

Like her or not, Hate or love the Affordable Care Act, it should gall every Louisiana citizen to know that it is one of those Super PACs that is buying all of those TV attack ads trying to tie Sen. Mary Landrieu to President Obama. It should nauseate television viewers in this state to know (of course they don’t tell you) that all those TV ad testimonials from Louisiana citizens that tell how Obamacare has devastated their lives and wrecked their homes come from actors—none of whom are Louisiana citizens. That is deceptive advertising in every sense of the word and yet it’s perfectly legal—all the illegitimate child of Citizens United.

So, what exactly is Citizens United? We hear the word bandied about but no one tells us just what it is. Well, here it is in all its ugly trappings:

Citizens United was founded as a PAC in 1988 by Washington political consultant Floyd Brown. More important than the founder’s identity was is the fact that the bulk of the organization’s funding comes from none other than the infamous Koch brothers, the moving force behind the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

So, on the one hand, the Koch brothers financially underwrite favorable federal candidates to the tune of millions of dollars through Citizens United. On the other hand, at the state level, ALEC conducts training sessions to develop “model legislation” for state legislators to take back to their home states for passage—legislation, for example, that keeps the minimum wage down, denies medical coverage for the poor, insures the continued existence of those payday loan companies, privatizes prisons and other services for the profit of member companies who run them, establishes “education reform” through charter schools and online virtual schools, and opposes employee unions while gutting employee pensions.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with the Kochs are members of the Walton family, Bill Gates and Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate to whom all the 2016 Republic presidential hopefuls, Bobby Jindal included, paid the requisite homage recently by making the pilgrimage to Vegas to bow and scrape before his throne in the hope that he would anoint one of them as the Republican candidate for President. (It must have been a sickening sight to watch those sycophants suck up to him like so many shameless American Idol audition hopefuls.)

As the Super PACs proliferated, so, too, did the money poured into political spending. Comparing the last two presidential election years, we see that Super PAC spending on all federal races went from nearly $40 million in 2008 to almost $90 million in 2012.

Being realistic, suppose that you, a citizen, contribute $1,000 to a congressional candidate who at the same time benefits from hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on his behalf by a Super PAC representing, say, a large pipeline company owned by someone like, say, the Koch brothers. That pipeline is projected to run right across prime cattle grazing land that you own and you aren’t too keen on the idea. So you contact your congressman to voice your opposition. Now, just who do you think has his ear—you and your $1,000 contribution or that Super PAC and its hundreds of thousands of dollars? That’s what we thought.

All these Super PACs were formed as either 501(c)(4) or 527 organizations—both tax exempt but with one major difference.

Tax-exempt 527s must make available the names of all their contributors while 501(c)(4) PACs can keep their donors’ identities a closely held secret, thus giving birth to the term “dark money” in political campaign vernacular. When Jindal formed his Believe in Louisiana as a 527 several years ago, for example, he dutifully listed all contributors, as well as all expenditures, as required. That may have embarrassing after LouisianaVoice published a lot of the names of both contributors and expenditures, including millions paid Timmy Teepell and OnMessage.

When Jindal formed his new America Next PAC earlier this year, it was formed as a 501(c)(1), meaning he could keep the names of his donors confidential so as to continue to promote his transparency doctrine as he gads about the country in his attempt to grab the brass ring. He apparently learned a lesson about forming as a 527 and about true transparency.

So, we reiterate: you the voting citizen of Louisiana and America are no longer relevant. Your vote has already been decided by those 527s, the 501s and the political consulting firms that will package the TV ads purchased by the PACs to present to you, the pawns in a huge chess game, so you can validate those ads by obediently trekking to the polls to pull the lever in an election whose outcome will have already been pre-ordained. Oh, there will be some upsets along the way just to keep up the appearance of democracy in action but in the long run, it won’t matter one whit.

The voice of the candidate whose passion is sincere, who is concerned about the issues, who cares for the voters, and who holds the ideals of fairness and constituents’ interests close to his heart, will never be heard. His appeals to justice and equality and a promise of an office that will not be for sale will be drowned out by anonymous actors flickering across your TV screen who pretend to be one of you—but really aren’t—and who will pound into your brain the truth as determined by corporate interests—a message that will resonate with you despite the efforts of that obscure candidate who would, if he only could, be an example of everything that should be good about this country.

That is the sad epitaph for the American representative republic (b. July 4, 1776; d. Jan. 21, 2010).

And if this doesn’t make your blood boil, shame on you.

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

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

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

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

Current Louisiana legislators who are members of ALEC are:

House of Representatives:

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

Senate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all of ALEC’s proposals address public education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And keep reading LouisianaVoice.

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Washington attorney/political fundraiser Charlie Spies wants to make it even easier for those with the financial resources to continue to buy elections in Louisiana to the increasing detriment of the rest of us.

So what else is new?

Spies, chairman of The Fund for Louisiana’s Future (FLF), the Super Pac created earlier this year, says Louisiana should voluntarily remove the $100,000 limit on contributions to political action committees.

As if it weren’t difficult enough already for the average voter to make his voice heard in our legislative halls.

Spies, it should be noted, also served as chairman for the Restore Our Future PAC for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its 2010 Citizens United decision that third-party groups may spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns, Louisiana still has a maximum cap on individual contributions to PACs of $100,000 per election cycle.

Spies, with an eye to bankrolling the 2015 governor’s race on behalf of an as-yet unnamed candidate (but most probably U.S. Sen. David Vitter),  has written a letter to the Louisiana Board of Ethics asking the state to conform with what he calls “clear constitutional precedent.”

To quote our friend and Livingston Parish Poet Laureate Billy Wayne Shakespeare, “A skunk by any other name stinks just as bad.”

What Spies and all those PACs that have proliferated since the 2010 Citizens United decision really want is the unfettered ability to buy future elections in Louisiana on a scale unprecedented in the state’s history. That would include not only the governor’s election but in all likelihood other statewide races and key legislative contests as well.

In his letter to the ethics board, Spies said that such limits on political committees that make independent expenditures run afoul of the First Amendment “are unconstitutional on their face and should no longer be enforced by the board.”

He said FLF could suffer “irreparable harm” if the issue is litigated and courts subsequently find that the limits infringe on constitutional rights. He said FLF and others’ political speech is being “burdened and chilled.”

What he doesn’t seem to realize is that in Louisiana, raising the limit isn’t really necessary: Louisiana politicians have historically sold out on the cheap.

In his otherwise persuasive argument (lawyers love to wax eloquent and I like saying that), Spies conveniently ignored how ordinary citizens have their political speech “burdened and chilled” by the ability of super PACs to drown out the voices of the electorate.

A person who gives his hard-earned $50 contribution to a candidate should be heard just as easily as the big donor after the election. But when that person’s interests clash with those of a super PAC that poured $100,000 into the candidate’s campaign, who do you think will get the ear of that elected official?

It’s not as if the $100,000 cap is really enforced in Louisiana. Nor for that matter is the $5,000 on individual contributions particularly sacred. Take Lee Mallett of Iowa, Louisiana, for example. Mallett, a member of the LSU Board of Stuporvisors, has contributed nearly $160,000 to Gov. Bobby Jindal through personal contributions and those of seven of his corporations. And both he and his son each have made four contributions between them, each for the maximum allowable amount of $30,800 to the Republican National Committee. Other LSU board members contribute personally and through spouses, children and their companies to easily circumvent the $5,000 contribution limit.

FLF has already raised more than $700,000, thanks in large part to separate $100,000 contributions by the Chouest family-owned Galliano Marine Services and the Van Meter family-controlled GMAA, LLC. Both families were major contributors to Jindal campaigns.

Here are a few examples of contributions to Gov. Bobby Jindal by the Chouest family and corporations of Galliano since 2003:

  • Chouest Offshore: $5,000;
  • Carol Chouest: $5,000;
  • Damon Chouest: $5,000;
  • Ross Chouest: $7,500;
  • Andrea Chouest: $5,000;
  • Casey Chouest: $5,000;
  • Dionne Chouest: $5,000;
  • Dino Chouest: $5,000;
  • Joan Chouest: $5,000;
  • Carolyn Chouest: $5,000;
  • Gary Chouest: $5,000;
  • Chouest Offshore Services: $5,000;
  • Gary Chouest: $5,000;
  • C-Port: $5,000;
  • C-Port 2: $5,000;
  • Offshore Support Services: $5,000;
  • Martin Holdings: $5,000;
  • Martin Energy Offshore: $5,000;
  • Galliano Marine Services: $5,000;
  • Alpha Marine Service: $5,000;
  • Beta Marine Services: $5,000;
  • Vessel Management: $10,000.

Grand total: $117,500.

Things were only slightly less obscene for the Bollinger family of Lockport and its corporations:

  • Chris Bollinger: $5,000;
  • Bollinger Algiers: $10,000;
  • Bollinger Gretna: $5,000;
  • Bollinger Shipyards: $9,850;
  • Bollinger Calcasieu: $5,000;
  • Charlotte Bollinger: $12,000;
  • Bollinger Fourchon: $5,000;
  • Bollinger LaRose: $6,000;
  • Bollinger Morgan City: $6,000;
  • Donald Bollinger: $1,500;
  • Andrea Bollinger: $1,500;
  • Southern Selections: $1,000;
  • Gulf Crane Services: $4,000;
  • Ocean Marine Contractors: $500.

Grand total: $73,350.

And that doesn’t even include money contributed to Jindal’s wife’s foundation, the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children or to Jindal’s Believe in Louisiana nonprofit organization which in reality is a PAC that exists solely for political fundraising.

Nor does it include any other candidates, legislative or congressional, to whom these families—the Malletts, the Chouests and the Bollingers—and their corporate entities may have contributed.

What does all this mean to the average voter?

Quite simply, it means he cannot compete with that kind of money. Period. He does not enjoy the luxury of voting for the candidate of his choice—because he doesn’t have a choice. He really never did.

It is the rare candidate today who can eschew PAC money and win.

The glut of money being poured into PACs is used to buy slick mailers and expensive TV time which tend to drown out the voices of the lesser-financed candidates. Catch the disclaimer at the end of those TV ads or read those mailers closely to see pays for them. The billionaire Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, for example, pays for all those Mary Landrieu-bashing ads you see on TV these days. Landrieu’s performance, good or bad, is not really the issue; it’s repetition of negativity that counts and only money can buy that.

Even though you may think you are an informed voter, you are so inundated with propaganda from PAC money that your will to resist political rhetoric is beaten down and you end up believing in their candidate because you saw more TV ads saying he was the one who is best qualified to lead the state or nation.

The PAC money drowns out the other candidate who may have great ideas for solving political problems but who can never be heard above the white noise enabled by Citizens United because his campaign war chest is dwarfed by that of the Super PAC.

But it doesn’t matter if he is the better candidate because the money says it doesn’t. PACs long ago purchased the candidates and have since purchased Congress and now Spies and his ilk want to purchase Louisiana (and yes, we know that may be redundant).

To put it in simple mathematical terms that are easy to comprehend, let us say a Super PAC dumps $100,000 into to a candidate’s campaign on behalf of say, the credit card special interests. You happen to like that same candidate so you stretch your financial resources to give him $50.

Long after the election and well after the congressman is ensconced in office, a bill comes up that prohibits credit card companies from charging monthly fees on gift cards, thereby diminishing the value of the cards. As it happens, you received a $100 gift card for your birthday but didn’t get around to using it for a few months. Remember your surprise when you learned it no longer had a value of $100 because of the monthly fees you were charged unbeknownst to you?

Irate, you write your congressman, urging him to support the bill that favors consumers. You may even remind him of your $50 contribution.

But congressmen are busy people. Under the present system, they’re already running for re-election the moment they begin their terms. That Super PAC, remember, gave him $100,000 on behalf of the credit card company. Who do you think gets his ear on this? In this case, the odds are 2,000-1 in favor of Visa.

And that’s the goal of Charlie Spies and The Fund for Louisiana’s Future.

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The results of the 5th District congressional race are in and the message has been sent loud and clear—surely loud enough to be heard in Baton Rouge.

With political newcomer Vance McAllister walloping State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), the heir-apparent to Rodney Alexander’s 5th District seat not by a comfortable but by an astounding and resounding 60-40 margin (an actual vote count of 54,449 to 36,837), the Louisiana Tea Party and Bobby Jindal have to be reeling and wondering what the hell happened. And Riser especially has to be feeling quite flummoxed and embarrassed at this juncture—particularly given the fact that he could muster only 3,800 more votes than he got in the Oct. 19 primary while McAllister pulled in an additional 36,000 votes, a margin of nearly 10-1 in the number of votes gained.

Actually, when you break it all down, there was more than one message sent in this election that Riser entered as the odds-on favorite to walk into office on the strength of the fast one that the Jindalites tried to pull off, not the least of which is that the Duck Dynasty’s political clout appeared to eclipse that of the governor (Gotta give credit where it’s due). Jindal clumsily overplayed his hand when he maneuvered Alexander into “retiring” halfway into this two-year term of office so that he could take a cushy state job as head of the Louisiana Office of Veterans Affairs at $130,000 per year, a job that stands to boost his state pension (he was a state legislator before being elected to Congress) from about $7,500 per year to something north of $80,000 per annum.

Then, as part of the bargain, Riser formally announced the day after Alexander’s announcement that he would seek the position and miracle of miracles, large—no huge—Riser campaign signs literally (as in the day after Riser’s announcement) appeared overnight in Ruston. Political pundits all over the state all but conceded the seat to Riser but then who would bet against him given the fact the job was all but handed to him on a platter? Or so it seemed at the time.

One message was that voters resent being taken for granted, considered a pesky afterthought as it were. Since when does the coronation precede the decision of the electorate in this country? As comic Ron White is fond of saying, you can’t fix stupid and assuming the job was his by Divine Right was stupid—even if that Divine Right was the coveted Jindal anointment.

A second lesson that should sink in on the fourth floor of the State Capitol: instead of flitting around the country like a hummingbird on crack, perhaps Jindal should stay home and do the job to which he was elected—you know, Bobby, that of governor, the job you said you wanted. Forget Iowa. Forget New Hampshire. Forget Faux News. Forget those op-eds for the Washington Post. Do your damned job. Don’t worry about Obama; my grandfather always told me, “If you do your job and quit worrying about the other fellow doing his, you’ll find your own path much easier to walk.” Being absent from the state the equivalent of two of the first 10 months of the year just doesn’t cut it when there is plenty to do right here.

And while Riser was wearing his “guns for felons” NRA mantle like the breastplate of righteousness (Isaiah 59:17), Vance McAllister had the guts look to look beyond that easy position and to say that Medicaid should be extended in Louisiana because of the 400,000 citizens of this state who have no health insurance. And, the message that was apparently lost on Jindal, Riser and the rest of the Tea partiers, is that not all of those are deadbeats; many of them are the working poor—those working but earning too little to afford health care.

And they vote.

A lesson that the remaining 143 members of the Louisiana Legislature might do well to ponder: Despite recent evidence to the contrary, Louisiana apparently is not for sale. When the light is shone on privatization, campaign contributions, health care, inept and unqualified appointees such as Superintendent of Education John White and general mismanagement of the state’s finances, people don’t like what they’re seeing.

As the count mounted Saturday night, two stars—that of Neil Riser’s hopes to move on to Washington and that of Jindal’s already fading aspirations of occupying the White House—were for all intents, snuffed out, obliterated, imploded like a supernova. Jindal, instead of being sought after by the right wing talking head zealots, should now be shunned given that he can’t even deliver votes for a congressional candidate (or for a Republican candidate for governor of Virginia).

Legislators need to take a long, hard look at Jindal’s record of late. It’s really not all that impressive. He has lost court case after court case over retirement reform, vouchers, budgetary matters and public records even as he paid a single attorney more than a million dollars to defend those dogs. The FBI is looking into contract irregularities between DHS and CNSI. He fires anyone who disagrees with him, including members of a levee board who wanted to hold oil companies accountable for the egregious coastal erosion so that he could protect big oil (but he can’t fire the local political leaders in Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes who followed with litigation of their own).

Those legislators would do well to understand that we the citizens of Louisiana are starting to take an interest in what goes on in Baton Rouge. Using campaign funds for such things as installment payments, gasoline and insurance on personal vehicles, paying for “campaign work” when there was no campaign, paying for roof repairs, purchasing LSU football tickets and pricey tabs in the Senate dining hall are perks not available to the great unwashed and we kind of resent that abuse. And make no mistake about it, it is abuse. You are not royalty; you work for us. Never forget that.

Accepting a hundred or so contributions from political action committees tends to drown out the voices of the school teacher, the retail store clerk, the truck driver, and hundreds of thousands of others who cannot afford to go up against those well-heeled corporate lobbyists who ply lawmakers with meals during the legislative session each year. It raises the question of just whom do you represent, the voters or the fat cats who pour money into your campaign so that they will have your ear when push comes to shove in Baton Rouge on key issues while the interests of those who elected you are ignored?

And finally, to Vance McAllister: Congratulations. Enjoy the moment because once you take office, you will be inside the Beltway and somehow that becomes intoxicating and those who go there with good intentions often fall victim to the lure of the siren song of power and influence.

Don’t let that happen because we will be watching and if you screw up, LouisianaVoice will treat you no differently than it treats any other crooked politician (I hate redundancy) who violates the public trust.

Perhaps it is fitting in this, the 100th anniversary of Sam Rayburn’s taking the oath of office in 1913 to begin his 48-year tenure in Congress, that we give McAllister the same advice Rayburn’s father gave him as he departed Texas for Washington following his first election:

Be a man.

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It was with more than a little amusement that we read a couple of weeks ago that Gov. Bobby Jindal had called for jail time for any Internal Revenue Service officials found to have unfairly targeted conservative groups to be put in jail.

As usual, Jindal made his indignant, self-righteous proclamation at an out-of-state forum. This time, it was in a speech to Virginia Republicans in yet another stop in his 2016 presidential campaign that would be better suited for a Saturday Night Live parody skit than serious political discourse.

Oh, it’s not that we don’t agree with Jindal on this one point. The IRS certainly is far too powerful and is a force to be feared if one happens to be on the wrong end of a tax audit.

But coming from Jindal, it is simply yet another example of the “reform” governor’s façade of pseudo-transparency—hypocritical at worst, the subject of stinging ridicule at best.

“You do not take the freedoms of law-abiding citizens, whether you disagree with them or not, and keep your own freedom,” the Boy Blunder opined. “When you do that, you go to jail.”

But here’s the thing, Guv: It was only last March 11—not even three months ago—that we learned that one of Bobby’s boys, one Troy Hebert to be precise, director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), had ordered a background investigation on LouisianaVoice editor Tom Aswell (that would be me). Here is the link to that post:

http://louisianavoice.com/2013/03/11/atc-director-troy-hebert-orders-background-investigation-of-louisianavoice-publisher-tom-aswell-but-did-we-pass/

Normally, we would not hold Jindal accountable for the actions of a rogue department head. But now the question must be asked if Hebert’s investigation was truly the action of a rouge department head, of someone who went “off the reservation,” or if the investigation may have been ordered by higher-ups.

Hey, even Henry Kissinger once said paranoid people sometimes have real enemies and recent events and revelations may well justify that paranoia. Read on.

On May 11, we sent a public records request to Superintendent of Education John White and we copied Department of Education (DOE) General Counsel Joan Hunt as is our practice when seeking records.

The request was straightforward enough: we asked for correspondence between White and his old New York boss Joel Klein dating back to July 1, 2011. Specifically, we were attempting to learn what communication the two had conducted relative to InBloom, the company Klein is now affiliated with and which was founded by News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch to serve as a “parking place” (in White’s words—a computer data bank, in more formal terms) for sensitive personal information on Louisiana students and teachers.

Hunt, subsequent to our request, fired off an email that same day to White, DOE attorney Willa LeBlanc and Hebert that said, “Troy, we need to reply and say that.”

But Hunt, most likely inadvertently, copied us into the reply as well.

Curious as to why Hebert would be included in the loop since he is about as far removed from DOE as possible (he’s under the Louisiana Department of Revenue) and equally curious as to what was supposed to have been said, we sent another public records request for all correspondence between DOE officials and Hebert.

The response to that request was even more puzzling:

“No Documents. Attorney-client privilege.”

Okay, first there are no documents but if there were, they would be privileged. That’s like the attorney who responded to a claim that his dog had bitten a passerby: “My dog does not bite. My dog was confined in the yard that day. I don’t own a dog.”

Really puzzled now, we sent another email on May 26 reiterating our request for correspondence between DOE and Hebert: “Inasmuch as you took the liberty to send your email to Troy Hebert, director of ATC and who is not an attorney nor is he a client of you or DOE, there is no client-attorney privilege.”

We also told Hunt that her provision of information about me to a non-involved third party constituted a “serious breach” that I was willing to report to the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Attorney Disciplinary Board.

Two days later we received another letter from the DOE legal office which said:

“As was indicated in the Department’s response dated and emailed to you on May 15, 2013, the Department has no public records responsive to your request. Any communications between the Legal Staff of LDOE and Troy Hebert would be privileged (attorney work product/privilege) and not subject to being released pursuant to a public records request. In addition, the Department is not in possession of any emails between Troy Hebert and John White.” There it is again: My dog doesn’t bite; I don’t own a dog.

We remained perplexed as to why Troy Hebert was brought into the conversation about our initial request. As the director of an agency completely removed from DOE, we knew there was no way possible that Hebert could be a client of either DOE or any of its legal staff and that fact only intensified our determination to learn what was going on.

Then we had occasion to interview Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe) Tuesday night about the Senate and Governmental Affairs deferral of a bill to protect state employee whistleblowers which had passed unanimously in the full House.

In that interview, Kostelka, a remarkably candid public servant, intimated that the committee had killed the bill to protect employees from supervisory reprisals for revealing official wrongdoing because one Troy Hebert had personally contacted each of the committee members to convey the message that the administration, i.e. Jindal, was not in favor of the bill. Kostelka, seeing the proverbial handwriting on the wall, did not object to the motion by Sen. Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport) to defer the bill.

It is not entirely clear why Hebert would be interjecting himself into legislative matters given the somewhat watery thin theory (in the case of Louisiana, at least) of separation of powers under which our state government proclaims to function.

He is, after all, a member of the administration, or executive branch and should not be lobbying the legislative branch. In fact, he is not even a registered lobbyist. And his dog doesn’t bite.

But at least we can now connect the dots as it all comes together. Hebert is one of those hangers-on—kind of like the new kid in town who hangs around the fringes of the playground hoping to make friends with the locals. He will do anything to curry favor with his boss—not exactly a wise career move at this point—including serving as a go-between messenger boy between the governor’s office and legislators.

…And between the governor’s office and DOE.

And Jindal now has the cajones to vilify the IRS for spying.

We bet Jindal doesn’t even own a dog.

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Copyright Tom Aswell 2013

It’s interesting to watch legislators beat their breasts over pay raises that some state agencies awarded to classified (civil service) employees in light of their past ambivalence when the Jindal administration pumped up the payroll with highly-paid unclassified political appointees.

Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon and Commissioner of Agriculture Mike Strain, for example, gave 4 percent raises to their rank and file classified employees—$540,000 in raises in the case of the Insurance Department that Donelon said came from self-generated funds from his office.

Strain and Donelon said they gave the raises because he had the money in his budget and that he was required to either give the raises or sign a civil service letter certifying that there were no funds available.

That didn’t stop Reps. Simone Champagne (R-Erath) and John Schroder (R-Covington) from criticizing the pay bumps because there have been no across the board merit increases in state government for more than four years now. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/03/la_statewide_elected_officials.html

But where have they been the past couple of years as Jindal appointed one washed-up legislator after another to six-figure deadhead jobs in state agencies like Insurance, Revenue, Veterans Affairs, Home Security and others while rank and file employees—the ones who do the work— continue into their fifth year with no raise at an average salary of a little under $40,000? http://louisianavoice.com/2012/02/

For that matter, where have any of the legislators been as the Department of Education has continued unabated in its relentless drive to pad its payroll with six-figure sycophants?

Are Gov. Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White so arrogant or so out of touch that they feel they can continue to load the state payroll with top-heavy, largely out-of-state political appointees—many of whom, it turns out don’t even bother to register to vote in Louisiana or comply with state law that requires that they change their vehicle registrations within certain specified deadlines—without the public or media noticing?

A quick peek indicates that some of the unclassified salaries seem to proliferate in the Department of Education:

• John White, Superintendent: $275,000;

• Michael Rounds, Deputy Superintendent: $170,000;

• Howard Drake and Gayle Sloan, Liaison Officers: $160,000 each;

• Kerry Laster, Executive Officer: $155,000;

• David Lefkowith, precise title still a mystery: $146,000;

• Kunjan Narechania, Chief of Staff to John White: $145,000;

• Gary Jones, Executive Officer: $145,000;

• Deirdre Finn, part time PR Director (working from home in Tallahassee, FL.): $144,000;

• James P. Wilson, Director (of what?): $142,000;

• Melissa Stilley, Liaison Officer: $135,000;

• Elizabeth Scioneaux, Deputy Superintendent: $132,800;

• Debra Schum, Executive Officer: $132,000;

• Hannah Dietsch, Assistant Superintendent (someone please explain the difference between an assistant superintendent and a deputy superintendent.): $130,000;

• Nicholas Bolt, Deputy Chief of Staff (as opposed to assistant chief of staff): $105,000.

Perhaps you may have noticed in that lengthy laundry list of high-paying position, there was not a single name followed by the title “Instructor” or any other title that would indicate classroom experience.

But even with all the featherbedding at DOE, there’s one appointment in particular in the Division of Administration (DOA) that stands out as the poster child for Jindal cronyism.

Last Dec. 3, Jan Cassidy was hired by DOA as Assistant Commissioner in Procurement and Technology at an annual salary of $150,000. http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jan-cassidy/6/4aa/703

It was not immediately clear what she is supposed to procure since a statewide expenditure freeze was in place at the time of her hiring. Moreover, technology, in theory at least, is handled by the Office of Computing Services.

The fact that Cassidy is the sister-in-law of Congressman Bill Cassidy is enough to raise eyebrows in some quarters. Bill Cassidy last year hired Jindal aide and former campaign manager Tim Teepell and his company, OnMessage, for his re-election campaign. Teepell was hired by the Washington-area political consulting firm to head up its Southern Office which Teepell appears to run out of the governor’s office on the fourth floor of the State Capitol. Cassidy later terminated his relationship with Teepell and OnMessage. No explanation was given.

Jan Cassidy worked for Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) for 20 months, from June 2009 to January 2011 and for 23 months, from January 2011 to November 2012 for Xerox after Xerox purchased ACS.

As Xerox Vice President—State of Louisiana Client Executive, her tenure was during a time that the company held two large contracts with the state.

The first was a $20 million contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) that ran from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2011. That contract called for Xerox to provide “assessment, reassessment and care planning to individuals seeking and receiving long term personal care services.” The contract, which paid Xerox $834,000 per month, also required the company to disseminate “appropriate notices to recipients relative to these aforementioned services.

The contract was funded 50 percent by the state and 50 percent from federal funds—despite Jindal’s professed disdain for federal funds.

The second contract of $74.5 million, 100 percent of which was funded by a federal community development block grant and which ran from March 27, 2009 to March 26, 2012,, required ACS/Xerox to administer a small rental property program to help hurricane damaged parishes recover rental units.

Cassidy’s responsibilities while at Xerox called for her to “facilitate development and progress of ‘Louisiana Model’ into other states,” according to information contained in her internet biography.

During her 20 months with ACS, from June 2009 to January 2011, she was Regional Vice President of Business Development. Her web page says that while at ACS, she “generated new business in state governments within the central region of the United States.”

A search of the state contract data base by LouisianaVoice turned up four contracts with ACS totaling $45.55 million and campaign finance reports revealed ACS political contributions of $17,500 to Louisiana candidates, including three contributions totaling $10,000 to Jindal.

One of those contracts, which expired on Dec. 31, 2012, called for ACS to provide actuary and consulting services to the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and Buck Consultants during the administration’s efforts to privatize OGB at a contract cost of $2 million. That is in addition to what the state paid Buck for its work which in the final analysis, did not support the administration’s efforts which were nevertheless successful.

Current state contracts with ACS/Xerox include:

$600,000 with between DOA and ACS Human Resources Solutions and Buck Consultants to assist in advising DOA with regard to public retirement systems and insurance benefits for public employees (June 1, 2011 to June 1, 2013);

$13.95 million with the Department of Social Services to provide electronic benefits transfer system (July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2009);

$28.9 million with DHH to provide information and referral services to people seeking long term care services (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2014; 50 percent federal, 50% state funding).

But while Jan Cassidy’s work for a company with more than $120 million in state contracts and her relationship as Bill Cassidy’s sister-in-law might be enough to raise eyebrows among observers of Louisiana politics, the track record of ACS in other governmental contracts beyond the state’s borders should certainly prompt hard questions:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a vocal critic of Obamacare as a “failed program,” had his Health and Human Services Commission contract with ACS for that state’s Medicaid dental program. That contract quadrupled to $1.4 billion as Texas Medicaid spent more on braces in 2010 ($184 million) than did the other 49 states combined. But an audit found that 90 percent of reimbursement requests involved procedures not covered by Medicaid, which does not fund cosmetic dentistry. The Wall Street Journal said statewide fraud reached hundreds of millions of dollars. ACS spent more than $6.9 million in lobbying Texas politicians from 2002 to 2012 and contributed $150,000 to Perry. Because ACS contracts to process Medicaid claims for several states, including Louisiana, one investigator indicated the problem may run much deeper than that found in Texas. http://info.tpj.org/Lobby_Watch/pdf/MedicaidDentalFraud.pdf
http://www.wfaa.com/news/investigates/Texas-Medicaid-Problems-May-Apply-To-Country–133719543.html

In Alabama, Carol Steckel, then the director of the state Medicaid agency, awarded a $3.7 million contract to ACS in 2007 even though the ACS bid was $500,000 more than the next bid. ACS, however, had a decided edge: it hired Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s former chief of staff Toby Roth. And Carol Steckel? She now works as chief of Louisiana’s DHH Center for Health Care Innovation and Technology. http://www.ihealthbeat.org/articles/2007/8/22/Alabama-Contract-for-Medicaid-Database-Sparks-Controversy.aspx
http://harpers.org/blog/2007/09/the-inside-track-to-contracts-in-alabama/

In Washington, D.C., the Department of Motor Vehicles reimbursed $17.8 million to persons wrongly given parking tickets. The contractor that operated the District’s ticket processing? ACS. http://www.questia.com/library/1G1-86379580/overbilled-drivers-to-get-cash-back-dmv-plans-to

In June of 2007, ACS agreed to pay the federal government $2.6 million to settle allegations that it had submitted inflated charges for services provided through the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Labor, and Health and Human Services. ACS admitted that it had submitted inflated claims to a local agency that delivered services to workers using funds provided by the three federal agencies. http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2007/07/11/acs-settles-federal-fraud-case.aspx

In 2010, ACS settled charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had backdated stock option grants to its officers and employees. http://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2010/lr21643.htm
Jan Cassidy also worked for 19 years, from 1986 to 2005, with Unisys Corp. where she led a team of sales professionals marketing hardware and systems applications, “as well as consulting services to Louisiana State Government,” according to her website.

Unisys had five separate state contracts from 2002 to 2009 totaling $53.9 million, the largest of which ($21 million) was with the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and which was originally signed to run from April 1, 2008 through Nov. 30, 2009, but which the state cancelled in April of 2009.

The contract was for work to upgrade the state computer system that dealt with driver’s licenses, vehicle titles and other related issues within Louisiana’s Office of Motor Vehicles. http://www.wafb.com/global/story.asp?s=10152623

State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson cancelled the contract, telling legislators that he was dissatisfied with the work and that he believed his staff could complete the project.

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