Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Lobbyist’ Category

With $1.1 million reported U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip, is slightly ahead of Rep. Charles Boustany’s $984,000 but less than half of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s $2.6 million to rank as the second leading recipient of contributions from political action committees (PACs) among Louisiana’s congressional delegation, according to information provided by the Federal Elections Commission.

While opponents in congressional races are quick to point out opponents’ vulnerability to political influence from special interest groups, each of the state’s eight-member (two senators and six representatives) accept contributions from PACs.

And it’s very important to them that they accept this money in private and out of the public eye. The last thing they want is for us to be watching to see where they get their funding.

It is this practice that is becoming more and more grating to the individual voters who do not have the means to match PACs on a dollar-for-dollar basis. And that imbalance long ago tipped the scales in favor of pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street banks, oil companies, tobacco (disguised under innocent-sounding corporate names) and defense contractors, to name only a few, at the expense of the interests of John Q. Citizen.

The various business and industry lobbyists, once a rare animal in Washington, had by the late 1970s become such a force that they outnumbered the 535 members of Congress 130 to one. The number of companies with offices in the nation’s capital grew from 175 in 1971 to 2,445 a decade later.

By 1978, nearly 2,000 different trade associations employed 50,000 staff members in Washington and in 1980 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce employed 45 full-time lobbyists.

They are all there for one reason and one reason only: to feed the beast and with each election (every two years for House members and every six year for the Senate) the beast grows ever-hungrier and it is the American voter who is being devoured.

Each incumbent has accepted PAC contributions but not all challengers have. For this reason, LouisianaVoice has taken on the project of providing a sampling of PAC contributions to each candidate for the House and Senate where applicable. Contributions to each candidate will be duly reported over the coming weeks.

Our fourth installment, presented here, is on the PAC contributions to U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise.

ALTRIA GROUP PAC: $6,500

  • Altria Group, Inc. (previously named Philip Morris Companies Inc.) The name change alternative offers the possibility of masking the negatives associated with the tobacco business,” thus enabling the company to improve its image and raise its profile without sacrificing tobacco profits,
  • According to the Center for Public Integrity, Altria spent around $101 million on lobbying the U.S. government between 1998 and 2004, making it the second most active organization in the nation.
  • Altria also funded The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition which lobbied against the scientific consensus on climate change.
  • Daniel Smith, representing Altria, sits on the Private Enterprise Board of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

AMERICAN AIRLINES: $2,000

  • American was accused of hiding repeated maintenance lapses from the FAA. Repair issues included such items as faulty emergency slides, improper engine coatings, incorrectly drilled holes, and other examples of shoddy workmanship. The most serious alleged lapse was a failure to repair cracks to pressure bulkheads; the rupture of a bulkhead could lead to cabin depressurization. It is also alleged that the airline retired one airplane in order to hide it from FAA inspectors.
  • AMR Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2011, and American announced capacity cuts in July 2012 due to the grounding of several aircraft associated with its bankruptcy and lack of pilots due to retirements. American notified more than 11,000 workers of possible job loss as part of its bankruptcy reorganization, and cut flights in September and October 2012.
  • As of November 2013 American Airlines and American Eagle received $10 million in annual federal subsidies.

AMERICAN BANKING ASSOCIATION PAC: $9,500

  • The financial crisis of 2007-2010 led to a sweeping overhaul of the United States financial regulatory system. The ABA spent $4.38 million on lobbying Congress in the first two quarters of 2011 alone. The ABA lobbied the White House, the departments of Agriculture, Treasury and Labor, and regulators such as the Federal Reserve, Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • As soon as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was signed into law on July 21, 2011, the American Bankers Association announced it would continue to lobby for fewer regulations on the Volcker Rule, derivatives regulations, and other pieces of the bill.

AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: $2,000

  • To help fight climate control legislation, API supports the Energy Citizens group. A leaked summer 2009 memo from API President Jack Gerard asked its member companies to urge their employees to participate in planned protests (designed to appear independently organized) against cap-and-trade legislation. “The objective of these rallies is to put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy and to aim a loud message at [20 different] states.” Gerard said that API would cover all organizational costs and handling of logistics. In response to the memo, an API spokesman told media that participants will be there (at protests) because of their own concerns, and that API is just helping them assemble. Texas residents who were not employed by the energy industry were turned away from the event.

BANK OF AMERICA CORP. PAC: $2,000

  • Bank of America (BOA) received $20 billion in the federal bailout from the U.S. government through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2009, as well as a guarantee of $118 billion to cover potential losses by the company—in addition to the $25 billion given to them in the fall 2008 through TARP. The additional payment was part of a deal with the U.S. government to preserve BOA’s merger with the troubled investment firm Merrill Lynch. Since then, members of Congress expressed concern that some of the recipients had been accused of misusing the bailout money and that loan applicants (particularly small business owners) were denied loans and credit card holders faced stiffer terms on the debt in their card accounts.
  • BOA received an additional $5.2 billion in government bailout money, channeled through American International Group (AIG).
  • On August 3, 2009, BOA agreed to pay a $33 million fine, without admission or denial of charges, to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over the non-disclosure of an agreement to pay up to $5.8 billion of bonuses at Merrill Lynch. The bank approved the bonuses before the merger but did not disclose them to its shareholders when the shareholders were considering approving the Merrill acquisition in December 2008. New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo commented after the suit and announced settlement that “the timing of the bonuses, as well as the disclosures relating to them, constituted a ‘surprising fit of corporate irresponsibility.”
  • In 2010, the bank was accused by the U.S. government of defrauding schools, hospitals, and dozens of state and local government organizations via misconduct and illegal activities involving the investment of proceeds from municipal bond sales. As a result, the bank agreed to pay $137.7 million, including $25 million to the Internal Revenue service and $4.5 million to state attorney general, to the affected organizations to settle the allegations.
  • On October 24, 2012, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan filed a lawsuit alleging that BOA fraudulently cost American taxpayers more than $1 billion when it sold toxic mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The scheme was called ‘Hustle’, or High Speed Swim Lane.
  • In August 2014, BOA agreed to a near-$17 billion deal to settle claims against it relating to the sale of toxic mortgage-linked securities including subprime home loans, in what was believed to be the largest settlement in U.S. corporate history. The bank agreed to pay $9.65 billion in fines and $7 billion in relief to the victims of the faulty loans which included homeowners, borrowers, pension funds and municipalities.

BRIDGE POINT EDUCATION PAC: $3,000

  • In 2011, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) chaired a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that examined Bridgepoint Education, Inc., which had experienced near-exponential profit growth despite low graduation rates. Bridgepoint purchased two universities both were near bankruptcy—Ashford University in Iowa and the University of the Rockies in Colorado. When it purchased Ashford University in 2005, the university had less than 300 students but today has over 78,000 students, 99 percent of whom are online.
  • Harkin was critical of the fact that despite such growth of the company, student success was lacking. Sixty-three percent of students who enrolled at Ashford University during the 2008–2009 school year withdrew before completion of their respective programs. Harkin noted that Bridgepoint recorded more than $216 million in profits in 2010—86.5 percent of which came from federal funds. Harkin said of those figures, “In the world of for-profit higher education, spectacular business success is possible despite an equally spectacular record of student failure. Bridgepoint is a private company, but it is almost entirely dependent upon public funds … I think this is a scam, an absolute scam.”

BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB EMPLOYEE PAC: $2,000

  • The company was caught up in an accounting scandal in 2002 over a significant restatement of revenues from 1999 to 2001, the result of an improper booking of sales related by offering excess inventory to customers to create higher sales numbers. The company settled with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission for $150 million. In 2002, the company was involved in illegally maintaining a monopoly on Taxol, its cancer treatment, and it was again sued. The company settled for $125 million.

CAPITAL ONE FINANCIAL CORP.: $5,000

  • In July 2012, Capital One was sued for misleading millions of its customers, by charging them for payment protection or credit monitoring when they took out a card. The company agreed to pay $210 million and to refund two million customers.
  • In August 2014, Capital One and three collection agencies entered into an agreement to pay $75.5 million to end a consolidated class action lawsuit alleging that the companies used an automated dialer to call customers’ cellphones without consent.
  • In 2014, Capital One amended its terms of service to create a right for it to “contact you in any manner we choose”, including a” personal visit . . . at your home and at your place of employment.” It also asserted its right to “modify or suppress caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose.”

CHESAPEAKE ENERGY CORP. PAC: $10,000

  • Former Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon borrowed $1.1 billion against his stake in thousands of company wells. The loans, undisclosed to shareholders, were used to fund McClendon’s operating costs for the Founders Well Participation Program, which offered him a chance to invest in a 2.5 percent interest in every well the company drills. McClendon in turn used the 2.5 percent stakes as collateral on those same loans. Analysts, academics and attorneys who reviewed the loan documents said the structure raised the potential for conflicts of interest and raised questions on the corporate governance and business ethics of Chesapeake Energy’s senior management. The company disagreed that this is a conflict of interest or a violation of business ethics.
  • Current CEO Doug Lawler was responsible for laying off over 800 employees—roughly 16 percent of the workforce—within a few months of taking the position. Lawler released waves of employees over the course of a few months. All of the layoffs culminated in October of 2013 when Lawler released a staggering 800 employees nationwide, 640 of whom were from the corporate office in Oklahoma City.
  • In June of 2014, the state of Michigan filed felony fraud and racketeering charges against Chesapeake Energy, alleging that the company canceled hundreds of land leases on false pretenses after it sought to obtain oil and gas rights. Chesapeake Energy disputed all charges.

CHEVRON EMPLOYEES PAC: $10,000

  • In 2003 a class action lawsuit against Chevron was sued in Ecuadorian court for $28 billion for making residents ill and damaging forests and rivers by discharging 18 billion US gallons of formation water into the Amazon. Chevron claimed that agreements with the Ecuadorian Government exempted the company from any liabilities.
  • In 2011, Ecuadorian residents were awarded $8.6 billion, based on claims of loss of crops and farm animals as well as increased local cancer rates. The award was later revised to $19 billion on appeals, which was then appealed to the Ecuadorean National Court of Justice. Chevron described the lawsuit as an “extortion scheme” and refused to pay the fine.
  • Chevron’s activities at its century-old Richmond refinery have been the subject of ongoing controversy. The project generated over 11 million pounds of toxic materials and caused more than 304 accidents. The Richmond refinery paid $540,000 in 1998 for illegally bypassing waste water treatments and failing to notify the public about toxic releases. Overall, Chevron is listed as potentially liable for 95 Superfund sites, with funds set aside by the EPA for clean-up.
  • Chevron’s operations in Africa have also been criticized as environmentally unsound. In 2002, Angola became the first country in Africa to levy a fine on a major multinational corporation operating within its borders when it demanded $2 million in compensation for oil spills allegedly caused by Chevron.
  • On October 16, 2003, Chevron U.S.A. settled a charge under the Clean Air Act, which reduced harmful air emissions by about 10,000 tons a year. In San Francisco, Chevron was ordered to spend almost $275 million to install and utilize innovative technology to reduce nitrogen and sulfur dioxide emissions at its refineries. In 2000, after violating the Clean Air Act at an offline loading terminal in El Segundo, California, Chevron paid a $6 million penalty as well as $1 million for environmental improvement projects.

CITIGROUP: $3,500

  • In 2003, Citigroup published an investment brochure advising clients that “There is no ‘average consumer…Economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few.”
  • Heavy exposure to troubled mortgages compounded by poor risk management led Citigroup into trouble as the subprime mortgage crisis worsened in 2008. Citigroup announced on April 11, 2007, that it would eliminate 17,000 jobs, or about 5 percent of its workforce. Even after brokerage firm Bear Stearns ran into serious trouble in summer 2007, Citigroup decided the possibility of trouble with its CDO’s was so tiny that they excluded them from their risk analysis. With the crisis worsening, Citigroup announced on January 7, 2008 that it was considering cutting another 5 to 10 percent of its 327,000 member-workforce.
  • By November 2008, Citigroup was insolvent, despite its receipt of $25 billion in taxpayer funded federal TARP funds. On November 17, 2008, Citigroup announced plans for about 52,000 new job cuts—on top of 23,000 cuts already made during 2008.

COMCAST: $10,000

  • Comcast’s customer satisfaction often ranks among the lowest in the cable industry.
  • With $18.8 million spent in 2013, Comcast has the seventh largest lobbying budget of any individual company or organization in the United States. Comcast employs multiple former U.S. congressmen as lobbyists.
  • Comcast also supports lobbying and PACs on a regional level, backing organizations such as the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association and the Broadband Communications Association of Washington PAC. Comcast and other cable companies have lobbied state governments to pass legislation restricting or banning individual cities from offering public broadband service. Municipal broadband restrictions of varying scope have been passed in a total of 20 US States, including Louisiana.

DUKE ENERGY: $4,000

  • In 1999 the EPA initiated an enforcement action against Duke Energy for making modifications to old and deteriorating coal-burning power plants without getting permits under the Clean Air Act.
  • In 2002, researchers identified Duke Energy as the 46th-largest corporate producer of air pollution in the United States, with roughly 36 million pounds of toxic chemicals released into the air annually. Major pollutants included sulfuric and hydrochloric acid, chromium compounds, and hydrogen fluoride. The Political Economy Research Institute ranks Duke Energy 13th among corporations emitting airborne pollutants in the United States.

EMPLOYEES OF NORTHROP GRUMMAN PAC: $9,000

  • From 1990-2002, Northrop Grumman contributed $8.5 million to federal campaigns. The company gave more than $1 million to federal candidates in 2005-2006 election cycle, compared to $10.6 million given by all defense contractors in the same cycle. This was behind only General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin in the defense industry. Former Northrop Grumman Electronics Systems chief James Roche served as Secretary of the Air Force for two years under George W. Bush. Roche was eventually nominated to head the Army, but was forced to withdraw his nomination among accusations of mismanaging a contract with Boeing and of failing to properly handle the Air Force sexual assault scandals of 2003. At least seven former officials, consultants, or shareholders of Northrop Grumman held posts in the Bush administration.
  • Northrop Grumman has dealt with multiple scandals during its history. In 1995, Robert Ferro, an employee for TRW, a company acquired by Northrop Grumman, discovered that satellite components manufactured for the U.S. Air Force were faulty and likely to fail in operation. TRW allegedly suppressed Ferro’s report and hid the information from the Air Force, even after a satellite in space equipped with the faulty components experienced serious anomalies. Ferro later sued Northrop Grumman in federal court under the federal whistle-blower law. In April 2009 Northrop Grumman agreed to pay $325 million to settle the suit. Ferro was awarded $48.8 million of the settlement.
  • The company was sued in 1999 for allegedly knowingly giving the Navy defective aircraft. This suit sought $210 million in damages. Then in 2003, the company was sued for allegedly overcharging the U.S. government for space projects in the 1990s. Northrop Grumman paid $111.2 million to settle out of court.
  • In 2010, Virginia’s computer operations experienced a week-long computer outage. Northrop Grumman operated these systems under a $2.4 billion contract. As a result, as many as 45,000 citizens could not renew their driver’s licenses prior to their expiration. Computer systems for 26 of the state’s 89 agencies were affected and some data may have been permanently lost.

EXXON MOBIL CORP. PAC: $2,500

  • ExxonMobil has drawn criticism from scientists, science organizations and the environmental lobby for funding organizations critical of the Kyoto Protocol and seeking to undermine public opinion about the scientific conclusion that global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Mother Jones Magazine said the company channeled more than $8 million to 40 different organizations that have employed disinformation campaigns including “skeptical propaganda masquerading as journalism” to influence opinion of the public and of political leaders about global warming and that the company was a member of one of the first such groups, the Global Climate Coalition, founded in 1989. ExxonMobil’s support for these organizations has drawn criticism from the Royal Society, the academy of sciences of the United Kingdom. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report in 2007 accusing ExxonMobil of spending $16 million, between 1998 and 2005, towards 43 advocacy organizations which dispute the impact of global warming. The report argued that ExxonMobil used disinformation tactics similar to those used by the tobacco industry in its denials of the link between lung cancer and smoking, saying that the company used “many of the same organizations and personnel to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue.” These charges are consistent with a purported 1998 internal ExxonMobil strategy memo, posted by the environmental group Environmental Defense, which said:

“Victory will be achieved when

  • Average citizens [and the media] ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the conventional wisdom;
  • Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy;
  • Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear out of touch with reality.”
  • In 2003, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that J. Bryan Williams, a former senior executive of Mobil Oil Corp., had been sentenced to three years and ten months in prison on charges of evading income taxes on more than $7 million in unreported income, including a $2 million kickback he received in connection with Mobil’s oil business in Kazakhstan. Documents filed with the court said Williams’ unreported income included millions of dollars in kickbacks from governments, persons, and other entities with whom Williams conducted business while employed by Mobil. In addition to his sentence, Williams must pay a fine of $25,000 and more than $3.5 million in restitution to the IRS, in addition to penalties and interest.

 GENERAL DYNAMICS: $2,000

  • In 2008, General Dynamics agreed to pay $4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the US Government claiming a GD unit fraudulently billed the government for defectively manufactured parts used in US military aircraft and submarines. The US alleged that from September 2001 to August 2003 GD defectively manufactured or failed to test parts used in US military aircraft.

GLAXOSMITHKLINE PAC:  $1,000

  • In July 2012 GSK pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to a pay $3 billion to settle the criminal charges as well as civil lawsuits in the largest settlement paid by a drug company at the time. The criminal charges were for promoting Paxil and Wellbutrin for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about Avandia. GSK paid $1 billion to settle the criminal charges. The remaining $2 billion was part of the civil settlement over unapproved promotion and paying kickbacks, making false statements concerning the safety of Avandia; and reporting false prices to Medicaid.

KOCH INDUSTRIES: $10,000

  • From 1999 to 2003, Koch Industries was assessed more than $400 million in fines, penalties and judgments. In 2000, for 300 reported oil spills which had taken place across six states, Koch paid the largest civil fine ever imposed on a company for the illegal discharge of crude oil and petroleum products. The company agreed to pay a $30 million civil penalty, improve its leak-prevention programs and spend $5 million on environmental projects.
  • In 1996, an 8-inch-diameter steel pipeline operated by Koch Pipeline Company ruptured near Lively, Texas and began leaking butane gas. The vapor cloud ignited when two residents drove their pickup truck through the flammable vapors to get to a neighbor’s house to report the leak. The two were killed in the explosion. In 1999, a Texas jury found that negligence had led to the rupture of the Koch pipeline and awarded the victims’ families $296 million—the largest compensatory damages judgment in a wrongful death case against a corporation in U.S. history.
  • In 2000, a federal grand jury returned a 97-count indictment against Koch Industries for excess emissions of 85 metric tons of benzene, a known carcinogen. In 2001, Koch Industries was fined $20 million, of which $10 million was a criminal fine and $10 million to clean up the environment.
  • In 2008, Koch Industries discovered that the French affiliate Koch-Glitsch had violated bribery laws allegedly securing contracts in Algeria, Egypt, India, Morocco, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia after an investigation by Ethics Compliance officer, Egorova-Farines. After Koch Industries’ investigative team looked into her findings, the four employees involved were terminated. Egorova-Farines reported her findings immediately, and even after Koch’s investigators substantiated the findings, her “superiors removed her from the inquiry in August 2008 and fired her in June 2009, calling her incompetent.”
  • Koch Industries has spent more than $50 million to lobby in Washington between 2006 and October 2011.
  • The company has opposed the regulation of financial derivatives and limits on greenhouse gases. It sponsors free market foundations and causes and is one of the leading benefactors of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
  • According to the Center for Responsive Politics, many of Koch Industries’ contributions have gone toward achieving legislation on energy issues, defense appropriations and financial regulation reform. Koch Industries has been criticized for the role the company plays in affecting climate change policy in the U.S.

LOCKHEED MARTIN EMPLOYEES’ PAC: $2,000

  • Lockheed Martin received $36 billion in government contracts in 2008, more than any company in history. It does work for more than two dozen government agencies from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s involved in surveillance and information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Security Agency (NSA), The Pentagon, the Census Bureau and the Postal Service.
  • Lockheed is listed as the largest U.S. government contractor and ranks third for number of incidents, and 21st for size of settlements. Since 1995 the company has agreed to pay $606 million to settle 59 instances of misconduct.
  • Through its political action committee (PAC), the company provides low levels of financial support to candidates who advocate national defense and relevant business issues. It was the top contributor to House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-California), giving more than $50,000 in the most recent election cycle. It also topped the list of donors to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee before his death in 2012.
  • Lockheed Martin Employees Political Action Committee is one of the 50 largest in the country. With contributions from 3,000 employees, it donates $500,000 a year to about 260 House and Senate candidates.
  • In March 2013, Maryland State Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola, while he was said to be dating a Lockheed Martin lobbyist, cosponsored a resolution which would give Lockheed Martin tax rebate worth millions of dollars related to hotel taxes paid at its CLE facility in Bethesda, MD. This was after Montgomery County Council refused to pass a similar resolution.

MARATHON OIL EMPLOYEES PAC: $12,000

  • Marathon gave $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration promptly awarded Marathon subsidiaries $5.2 million in state funds.

MERCK & CO.:  $5,000

  • A US Justice Department fraud investigation began in 2000 when allegations were brought in two separate lawsuits filed by whistleblowers who alleged that Merck failed to pay proper rebates to Medicaid and other health care programs and paid illegal remuneration to health care providers. In 2008, Merck agreed to pay more than $650 million to settle charges that it routinely overbilled Medicaid for its most popular medicines. The settlement was one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in history. The federal government received more than $360 million, plus 49 states and Washington, DC, received over $290 million. One whistleblower received a $68 million reward.
  • From 2002 through 2005 the Australian affiliate of Merck sponsored the eight issues of a medical journal, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, published by Elsevier. Although it gave the appearance of being an independent peer-reviewed journal, without any indication that Merck had paid for it, the journal actually reprinted articles that originally appeared in other publications and that were favorable to Merck. The misleading publication came to light in 2009 during a personal injury lawsuit filed over Vioxx. Nine of 29 articles in the journal’s second issue referred positively to Vioxx. In 2009, the CEO of Elsevier’s Health Sciences Division, Michael Hansen, admitted that the practice was “unacceptable.”
  • In December 2013, Merck agreed to pay a total of $27.7 million dollars to 1,200 plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit alleging that the company’s osteoporosis drug had caused them to develop osteonecrosis of the jaw.

 MICROSOFT CORP. PAC: $8,500

  • One of Microsoft’s business tactics, described by an executive as “embrace, extend and extinguish,” initially embraces a competing standard or product, then extends it to produce their own version which is then incompatible with the standard, which in time extinguishes competition that does not or cannot use Microsoft’s new version. Various companies and governments have sued Microsoft over this set of tactics, resulting in billions of dollars in rulings against the company.
  • Microsoft has been criticized for its involvement in censorship in the People’s Republic of China. Microsoft has also come under criticism for outsourcing jobs to China and India. There were reports of poor working conditions at a factory in southern China that makes some of Microsoft’s products.
  • To avoid providing stock options and medical and retirement benefits to employees, Microsoft hires thousands of temporary workers (temps) for the designing, editing and testing of its software. When a federal judge (upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court) outlawed the hiring of temps for longer than six months, Microsoft got around the ruling by laying off its temps for 100 days and then rehiring them.

MORGAN STANLEY: $2,000

  • In 2003, Morgan Stanley agreed to pay $125 million in order to settle its portion of a $1.4 billion settlement brought by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the National Association of Securities Dealers, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, (SEC) and a number of state securities regulators, relating to intentionally misleading research motivated by a desire to win investment banking business with the companies covered.
  • Morgan Stanley settled a sex discrimination suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for $54 million in July 2004. In 2007, the firm agreed to pay $46 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by eight female brokers.
  • In July 2004, the firm paid NASD a $2.2 million fine for more than 1,800 late disclosures of reportable information about its brokers.
  • In September 2004, the firm paid a $19 million fine imposed by NYSE for failure to deliver prospectuses to customers in registered offerings, inaccurate reporting of certain program trading information, short sale violations, failures to fingerprint new employees and failure to timely file exchange forms.
  • The New York Stock Exchange imposed a $19 million fine on January 12, 2005 for alleged regulatory and supervisory lapses, the largest fine ever imposed by NYSE at the time.
  • In 2005, a Florida jury found that Morgan Stanley failed to give adequate information to Ronald Perelman about Sunbeam thereby defrauding him and causing damages to him of $604 million. In addition, punitive damages were added for total damages of $1.450 billion after the firm’s attorneys infuriated the court by failing and refusing to produce documents, and falsely telling the court that certain documents did not exist. The ruling was overturned in 2007.
  • Morgan Stanley settled a class action lawsuit in 2006 by both current and former Morgan Stanley employees for unfair labor practices instituted upon those in the financial advisor training program. Employees of the program had claimed the firm expected trainees to clock overtime hours without additional pay and handle various administrative expenses as a result of their expected duties. Morgan Stanley settled for $42.5 million.
  • In May the firm agreed to pay a $15 million fine after the Securities and Exchange Commission accused the firm of deleting emails and failing to cooperate with SEC investigators.
  • FINRA announced a $12.5 million settlement with Morgan Stanley in 2007 over charges that the firm’s former affiliate, Morgan Stanley DW, Inc. (MSDW), failed on numerous occasions to provide emails to claimants in arbitration proceedings as well as to regulators. The company had claimed that the destruction of the firm’s email servers in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center resulted in the loss of all email before that date. In fact, the firm had millions of earlier emails that had been retrieved from backup copies stored in another location that was not destroyed in the attacks. Customers who had lost their arbitration cases against Morgan Stanley DW Inc. because of their inability to obtain these emails to demonstrate Morgan Stanley’s misconduct received a token amount of money as a result of the settlement.
  • In July 2007, Morgan Stanley agreed to pay $4.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit for incorrectly charging clients for storage of precious metals.
  • In August 2007, Morgan Stanley was fined $1.5 million and paid $4.6 million in restitution to customers related to excessive mark-ups in 2,800 transactions. An employee was charged $40,000 and suspended for 15 days.
  • Under a 2008 settlement with New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, the firm agreed to repurchase approximately $4.5 billion worth of auction rate securities. The firm was accused of misrepresenting auction rate securities in their sales and marketing.
  • In April 2010, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced the firm agreed to pay $14 million related to an attempt to hide prohibited trading activity in oil futures.
  • The Department of Justice sought a $4.8 million fine from Morgan Stanley for its part in an electricity price-fixing scandal. Con Edison estimated that the crime cost New York state consumers about $300 million. Morgan Stanley earned revenues of $21.6 million from the fraud.
  • Morgan Stanley agreed to pay a $5 million fine to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and an addition $1.75 million to CME and the Chicago Board of Trade after employees improperly executed fictitious sales in Eurodollar and Treasury note futures contracts.
  • On August 7, 2012, it was announced that Morgan Stanley would have to pay $4.8 million in fines in order to settle a price fixing scandal, which has been estimated to have cost New Yorkers $300 million.

MONSANTO CO. CITIZENSHIP PAC: $1,000

  • In 2003, Monsanto reached a $300 million settlement for manufacturing and dumping of the toxic chemical polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Alabama.
  • In 2004, Monsanto, along with Dow and other chemical companies, were sued by a group of Vietnamese for the effects of its Agent Orange defoliant, used by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War. The case was dismissed.
  • In 2005, the US DOJ filed a Deferred Prosecution Agreement in which Monsanto admitted to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and making false entries into its books and records. Monsanto also agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine. The case involved bribes paid to an Indonesian official.
  • The Monsanto Company Citizenship Fund has donated more than $10 million to various candidates since 2003. In 2011, Monsanto spent about $6.3 million lobbying Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture about regulations that would affect the production and distribution of genetically engineered produce.
  • US diplomats in Europe have worked directly for Monsanto.
  • Monsanto gave $186,250 to federal candidates in the 2008 election.
  • Monsanto spent $8.1 million opposing the passage of Proposition 37 in California, making it the largest donor against the initiative. Proposition 37, which was rejected in November 2012, would have mandated the disclosure of genetically modified crops used in the production of California food products.
  • More recently, as of October 2013, Monsanto and DuPont Co. are backing an anti- labeling campaign with roughly $18 million so far dedicated to the campaign.

NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION POLITICAL VICTORY FUND: $4,500

NEWS CORP. PAC: $1,000

  • In 1999, The Economist reported that NewsCorp paid comparatively lower taxes and NewsCorp Investments made $20.1 billion in profits over the previous 11 years but had not paid net corporation tax. It also reported that after an examination of the available accounts, NewsCorp could normally have been expected to pay a corporate tax of approximately $350 million. The article explained that in practice, the corporation’s complex structure, international scope and use of offshore tax havens allowed News Corporation to pay minimal taxes.
  • In July 2011, NewsCorp closed down the News of the World newspaper in the United Kingdom due to allegations of phone hackings. The allegations include trying to access former Prime Minister Gordon Brown‘s voice mail, and obtain information from his bank accounts, family’s medical records, and private legal files. Allegations of hacking have also been brought up in relation to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the Royal Family.

 PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH & MANUFACTURERS OF AMERICA (PhRMA): $2,000

  • Former Congressman Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana) resigned from Congress and began work as the head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, a powerful trade group for pharmaceutical companies. Two months before resigning as chair of the committee which oversees the drug industry, switching from regulator to lobbyist, Tauzin played a key role in shepherding through Congress the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, a bill which was criticized by opponents for being too generous to the pharmaceutical industry.
  • This link was explored at great length in an April 1, 2007 interview by Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes. The report, Under the Influence, pitted Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) against Tauzin and accused him of using unethical tactics to push a bill that “the pharmaceutical lobbyists wrote.” Along with Tauzin, many of the other individuals who worked on the bill are now lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry.

 

PFIZER, INC. PAC: $6,500

  • In September 2009, Pfizer pleaded guilty to the illegal marketing of the arthritis drug Bextra for uses unapproved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and agreed to a $2.3 billion settlement, the largest health care fraud settlement at that time. Pfizer also paid the U.S. government $1.3 billion in criminal fines related to the “off-label” marketing of Bextra, the largest monetary penalty ever rendered for any crime. Called a repeat offender by prosecutors, this was Pfizer’s fourth such settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice in the previous ten years.

SAFARI CLUB INTERNATIONAL PAC: $1,000

  • SCI has been criticized by the Humane Society for supporting the hunting of endangered African antelope at fenced game ranches in Texas and Florida and for giving awards for the hunting of big cats and elephant, lion, rhino and buffalo in Africa.
  • In 2005, controversy erupted over tax write-offs taken by big game hunters for donations of trophies to museums. IRS rules allowed only the fair market value of such donations to be deducted. In most cases, the donations were worth only a fraction of the claimed value, and often accumulated in museum storage facilities.
  • For the tax year ending June 2006, SCI reported $2.9 million in revenue from SCI publications, $3.2 million in membership dues, $205,967 in interest on savings and temporary investments, $75,771 from sales of assets other than inventory, $6.9 million from special events such as the annual convention, $156,014 from sales of inventory, and $6,089 miscellaneous income.
  • In 2007, the New York legislature earmarked $50,000 of public funds for SCI.

GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP PAC: $4,000

  • A federal appeals court upheld the conviction of former Goldman Sachs Group Inc director Rajat Gupta, one of the biggest successes in federal prosecutors’ long-running probe to stop insider trading on Wall Street.
  • Federal prosecutors and Securities and Exchange Commission officials also investigated whether a senior Goldman investment banker, Matthew Korenberg, fed inside information to a Galleon Group portfolio manager named Paul Yook, according to separate reports in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

HOME DEPOT PAC: $10,000

  • In July 2005, former employee Michael Davis filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Home Depot, alleging that his discharge was in retaliation for refusing to make unwarranted backcharges against vendors. Davis alleges that the Home Depot forced its employees to meet a set quota of backcharges to cover damaged or defective merchandise, forcing employees to make chargebacks to vendors for merchandise that was undamaged and not defective.
  • In the settlement of the litigation, Home Depot changed some of its corporate governance provisions. Home Depot also agreed to pay the plaintiff’s counsel $6 million in cash and $8.5 million in common stock.

UNITEDHEALTH GROUP PAC: $5,000

 

  • In 2010, UnitedHealth Group spent more than $1.8 million on lobbying activities to achieve favorable legislation, and hired seven different lobbying firms to work on its behalf. In addition, its corporate political action committee spent an additional $1 million on lobbying activities in 2010.
  • In 2006, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began investigating the conduct of UnitedHealth Group’s management and directors, for backdating of stock options. Investigations were also begun by the Internal Revenue Service and prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. The investigations came to light after a series of Wall Street Journal stories in May 2006, claiming backdating of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stock options by UHC management. The backdating apparently occurred with the knowledge and approval of the directors, according to the Journal. On October 15, 2006, CEO William McGuire was forced to resign, and relinquish hundreds of millions of dollars in stock options. In December 2007, the SEC announced a settlement under which McGuire would repay $468 million, as a partial settlement.
  • In June 2006, the American Chiropractic Association filed a national class action lawsuit against the American Chiropractic Network (ACN), which is owned by UnitedHealth Group and administers chiropractic benefits, and against UnitedHealth Group itself, for alleged practices in violation of the federal Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

WALMART STORIES PAC: $4,000

  • Wal-Mart is the beneficiary of $96.5 million in economic development subsidies in Louisiana and $1.2 billion in tax breaks nationwide. http://www.walmartsubsidywatch.org/state_detail.html?state=LA Yet, in 2011, Walmart, four of whose owners are among the 11 richest Americans, decided to roll back health care coverage and to increase premiums for its employees. (Does this sound familiar, Bobby Jindal?) Wal-Mart still boasted that 90 percent of its employees had health coverage, neglecting to mention that more than half of those got their coverage through their spouses’ group coverage. The company provides no health coverage at all for new part time employees despite the company’s 24.7 percent gross profit martin that same year.
  • An April 2012 New York Times investigative report revealed that a former Walmart executive alleged that, in September 2005, Walmart de Mexico paid bribes throughout Mexico in order to obtain construction permits, information, and other favors. Concerns were raised that Walmart executives in the United States concealed the allegations. Reportedly, bribes were given to speed up construction permits, which gave Walmart a substantial advantage over its business competitors. A follow-up investigation by The New York Times published December 17, 2012, revealed evidence that regulatory permission for siting, construction, and operation of 19 stores were obtained through bribery.
  • A paper published in Farm Foundation in 1997 found that some small towns can lose almost half of their retail trade within ten years of a Walmart store opening.
  • A 2004 paper by two professors at Penn State University found that counties with Walmart stores suffered increased poverty compared with counties without Walmarts due to displacement of workers from higher-paid jobs in retail stores which customers no longer choose to patronize. A study in Nebraska looked at two different Walmarts, the first of which had just arrived and was in the process of driving everyone else out of business by cutting their prices to the bone. In the other Walmart, “they had successfully destroyed the local economy, there was a sort of economic crater with Wal-Mart in the middle; and, in that community, the prices were 17 percent higher.”
  • The Economic Policy Institute estimates that between 2001 and 2006, Walmart’s trade deficit with China alone eliminated nearly 200,000 U.S. jobs. Another study found that a new store increases net retail employment in the county by 100 jobs in the short term, half of which disappear over five years as other retail establishments close.
  • Walmart has been criticized by labor unions, community groups, grassroots organizations, religious organizations, environmental groups, and even Walmart’s own customers and employees. They have protested against the company’s policies and business practices, including charges of racial and gender discrimination. Other areas of criticism include the corporation’s foreign product sourcing, treatment of product suppliers, employee compensation and working conditions, environmental practices, the use of public subsidies, the company’s security policies and slavery. Wal-Mart denies doing anything wrong and maintains that low prices are the result of efficiency.

Read Full Post »

Occasionally we manage to strike a raw nerve with our blog posts about political shenanigans in Louisiana. Our post on Tuesday (Sept. 2) about U.S. Rep. John C. Fleming’s campaign contributions apparently was a case in point.

But it wasn’t the fact that Fleming, a Republican from Minden and a physician, has taken more than $200,000 from special interest political action committees (PACs) this election cycle.

Nor was there any dispute about our claim that Fleming brooks no dissenting opinion and blocks access to his Facebook page to anyone who disagrees with him.

But apparently, he doesn’t want it known that he once owned and/or operated a payday loan company.

On Friday (Sept. 5) we received a terse email from Fleming’s communications director, one Doug Sachleben, protesting that part of our post as being incorrect.

Sachleben did not say whether he works out of Louisiana or Washington, but that really is irrelevant. Here is the verbatim content of his email:

In your piece on my boss, the portion below is wrong. Rep Fleming has never owned or operated a payday loan company. I’d appreciate if you removed that.

 Doug Sachtleben

Communications Dir.

Rep John Fleming

He then lifted a quote from our Tuesday blog post, apparently for our benefit:

“Fleming, a doctor who apparently did not make enough money as a medical practitioner, once ran a payday loan company, an enterprise that offers short-term loans to low income families at the friendly annualized interest rate of up to 390 percent.”

Well, we hate being wrong. That’s why we researched our story in advance.

Accordingly, we went to our original source, the corporate records contained on the Louisiana Secretary of State’s web page.

In response to Sachleben, we copied and pasted a number of corporations listed in John C. Fleming’s name. These included Fleming Expansions, Fleming Acquisitions, Minden Family Care Center (a Professional Medical Corporation), Fleming for Congress, LLC, 1 Subway, LLC, Fleming Payday Loans, LLC.

Each of the corporations included the name of John C. Fleming as either an officer or an agent and in some instances, both. In a few cases, Fleming’s wife Cynthia also was listed as an officer.

More importantly, each of the six corporations had the same domicile address: 119 Homer Road in Minden.

Fleming and his wife also were owners, officers and agents in a dating service, Fleming Dating Development, Inc.

We replied to Sachleben, attaching a copy of the Fleming Payday Loans, LLC corporate records.

He wrote back this explanation:

At that time there were a lot of employees requesting advances on their paychecks. To pay people in advance of their work would have been problematic for many reasons and an accounting nightmare. The Fleming Group formed an LLC on paper with the thought of offering temporary interest-free loans to only its employees to accommodate their requests. The more it was considered, the more problematic it appeared; so they scrapped the idea entirely. There was never any desire or consideration to get into the payday loan industry as a business.

Wow.

In his incredulous clarification, he neglected to explain how a “problematic idea” managed to be incorporated on September 2, 2004, and the affidavit to dissolve was not filed until Aug. 4, 2009—a year after he elected to Congress. Why would Fleming leave a “problematic idea” on the books for five years when he would have been required to file annual reports, tax returns and other paperwork?

And while he’s at it, perhaps Sachleben can also offer either a denial of those campaign contributions (taken directly from Fleming’s campaign finance reports) or explain why his boss would accept funds from outfits with such tawdry records of fraud, influence peddling and other unsavory activity.

Here are the Secretary of State’s web page printouts on Fleming’s corporate entities:

 

FLEMING EXPANSIONS, L.L.C. Limited Liability Company MINDEN Active

 

Previous Names
Business: FLEMING EXPANSIONS, L.L.C.
Charter Number: 34627521K
Registration Date: 4/20/1998

 

Domicile Address
119 HOMER RD
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Mailing Address
119 HOMER ROAD
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Status
Status: Active
Annual Report Status: In Good Standing
File Date: 4/20/1998
Last Report Filed: 3/27/2014
Type: Limited Liability Company

 

Registered Agent(s)

 

Agent: MIKE TOLAND
Address 1: 119 HOMER RD
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055
Appointment Date: 3/30/2011

 

Officer(s) Additional Officers: No 

 

Officer: JOHN C. FLEMING
Title: Member
Address 1: 119 HOMER ROAD
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055
FLEMING PAYDAY LOANS, L.L.C. Limited Liability Company MINDEN Inactive

 

Previous Names
Business: FLEMING PAYDAY LOANS, L.L.C.
Charter Number: 35772196K
Registration Date: 9/2/2004

 

Domicile Address
119 HOMER ROAD
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Mailing Address
C/O JOHN C. FLEMING
119 HOMER ROAD
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Status
Status: Inactive
Inactive Reason: Voluntary Action
File Date: 9/2/2004
Last Report Filed: 8/18/2008
Type: Limited Liability Company

 

Registered Agent(s)

 

Agent: JOHN C. FLEMING
Address 1: 119 HOMER ROAD
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055
Appointment Date: 9/2/2004

 

Officer(s) Additional Officers: No 

 

Officer: JOHN C. FLEMING
Title: Manager
Address 1: 119 HOMER ROAD
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055

 

FLEMING FOR CONGRESS, L.L.C. Limited Liability Company MINDEN Active

 

Previous Names
Business: FLEMING FOR CONGRESS, L.L.C.
Charter Number: 36736015K
Registration Date: 4/30/2008

 

Domicile Address
119 HOMER ROAD
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Mailing Address
119 HOMER ROAD
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Status
Status: Active
Annual Report Status: In Good Standing
File Date: 4/30/2008
Last Report Filed: 4/8/2014
Type: Limited Liability Company

 

Registered Agent(s)

 

Agent: MIKE TOLAND
Address 1: 119 HOMER ROAD
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055
Appointment Date: 11/30/2011

 

Officer(s) Additional Officers: No 

 

Officer: JOHN C. FLEMING, III
Title: Manager
Address 1: 119 HOMER ROAD
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055

 

MINDEN FAMILY CARE CENTER (A PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL CORPORATION) Business Corporation MINDEN Active

 

Previous Names
PARK CITY HEALTH SERVICES (A PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL CORPORATION) (Changed: 3/14/2012)
Business: MINDEN FAMILY CARE CENTER (A PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL CORPORATION)
Charter Number: 34480626D
Registration Date: 12/19/1994

 

Domicile Address
119 HOMER RD.
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Mailing Address
119 HOMER RD.
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Status
Status: Active
Annual Report Status: In Good Standing
File Date: 12/19/1994
Last Report Filed: 12/3/2013
Type: Business Corporation

 

Registered Agent(s)

 

Agent: MIKE TOLAND
Address 1: 119 HOMER RD
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055
Appointment Date: 12/2/2010

 

Officer(s) Additional Officers: No 

 

Officer: JOHN C. FLEMING, M.D.
Title: President, Director
Address 1: 1240 COUNTRY CLUB CIRCLE
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Officer: CYNTHIA B. FLEMING
Title: Director, Secretary
Address 1: 1240 COUNTRY CLUB CIRCLE
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055

 

FLEMING ACQUISITIONS, L.L.C. Limited Liability Company MINDEN Inactive

 

Previous Names
MAIL BOXES 1, L.L.C. (Changed: 10/8/1999)
Business: FLEMING ACQUISITIONS, L.L.C.
Charter Number: 34525360K
Registration Date: 4/25/1996

 

Domicile Address
119 HOMER RD.
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Mailing Address
119 HOMER RD.
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Status
Status: Inactive
Inactive Reason: Voluntary Action
File Date: 4/25/1996
Last Report Filed: 5/2/2012
Type: Limited Liability Company

 

Registered Agent(s)

 

Agent: MIKE TOLAND
Address 1: 119 HOMER ROAD
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055
Appointment Date: 4/8/2011

 

Officer(s) Additional Officers: No 

 

Officer: JOHN C. FLEMING, JR.
Title: Member
Address 1: 119 HOMER RD.
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Officer: CYNTHIA B. FLEMING
Title: Member, Manager
Address 1: 119 HOMER RD.
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Officer: MIKE TOLAND
Title: Manager
Address 1: 119 HOMER ROAD
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055

 

1 SUBWAY, L.L.C. Limited Liability Company MINDEN Active

 

Previous Names
Business: 1 SUBWAY, L.L.C.
Charter Number: 34529383K
Registration Date: 5/31/1996

 

Domicile Address
119 HOMER RD.
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Mailing Address
119 HOMER RD.
MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Status
Status: Active
Annual Report Status: In Good Standing
File Date: 5/31/1996
Last Report Filed: 5/12/2014
Type: Limited Liability Company

 

Registered Agent(s)

 

Agent: MIKE TOLAND
Address 1: 119 HOMER RD
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055
Appointment Date: 5/16/2011

 

Officer(s) Additional Officers: No 

 

Officer: JOHN C. FLEMING, JR.
Title: Member
Address 1: 119 HOMER RD.
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Officer: CYNTHIA B. FLEMING
Title: Member
Address 1: 119 HOMER RD.
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055

 

Officer: MIKE TOLAND
Title: Manager
Address 1: 119 HOMER ROAD
City, State, Zip: MINDEN, LA 71055

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

“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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,638 other followers