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Archive for the ‘Lobbyist’ Category

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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“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S.”

—Fox Network magnate Rupert Murdoch, commenting in 2010 on the enormous business opportunity in public education awaiting corporate America. http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/blog/jeb-bushs-education-nonprofit-really-about-corporate-profits?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+itpi-blog+%28ITPI+Commentary+Feed%29
“Testing companies and for-profit online schools see education as big business.” said “For-profit companies are hiding behind FEE and other business lobby organizations they fund to write laws and promote policies that enrich the companies.”

—Donald Cohen, chairperson for In the Public Interest, commenting on coordinated efforts by corporations, the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and ALEC to pass legislation favorable to corporate investors in public education. http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/node/2747

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Any lingering doubts about the connection between public education, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and for-profit education providers may have been erased once and for all with the release of thousands of emails that demonstrate that an educational foundation begun by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is “distorting democracy” by molding state education policies to benefit the foundation’s private corporate donors.

Stories about the emails were published in Wednesday’s Orlando Sentinel http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/os-bush-foundation-criticism-20130130,0,7386113.story but no Louisiana newspapers had picked up the story.

Donald Cohen, chairperson of the nonprofit In the Public Interest, http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/blog/jeb-bushs-education-nonprofit-really-about-corporate-profits?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+itpi-blog+%28ITPI+Commentary+Feed%29 released the emails, which included correspondence between Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and a second group Bush founded called Chiefs for Change, whose members are current and former state education leaders who support Bush’s education reform agenda.

He said the emails “conclusively reveal that FEE staff acted to promote their corporate funders’ priorities, and demonstrate the dangerous role that corporate money plays in shaping our education policy. Correspondence in Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Louisiana paint a graphic picture of corporate money distorting democracy.”

That agenda includes school choice, online education, school accountability systems based on standardized tests, evaluating teachers on the basis of student test scores and giving schools grades of A-F on the basis of those test scores.

Louisiana Education Superintendent John White is a member of Chiefs for Change.

Some of the emails released by Cohen included correspondence between FEE and White and White’s predecessor, Paul Pastorek.

The emails provide conclusive evidence that FEE staff promoted their corporate funders’ interests in Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Louisiana. Those interests coincide with the agenda promoted by ALEC’s pay-for-play operation. Corporate donors work closely with state legislators and state education policy makers at ALEC conferences, seminars and annual meetings, according to the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy.

The emails between FEE and state education officials show that FEE, at times working through its Chiefs for Change affiliate, wrote and edited laws, regulations and executive orders in such a way as to enhance profit opportunities for FEE’s corporate funders.

Bush’s organization is supported by many of the same for-profit school corporations that also provide funding for ALEC. Those corporations vote as equals with ALEC legislators on templates to change laws governing America’s public schools.

FEE also receives financial backing from many of the same conservative foundations striving to privatize public schools that also bankroll ALEC. FEE and ALEC lobby for many of the same changes to state laws, changes which benefit their corporate benefactors.

FEE and ALEC also have many of the same “experts” who serve as members or staff employees and the two organizations also collaborate on the annual ALEC education “report card” which grades states’ allegiance to their policies.

FEE acted as a conduit for ALEC model legislation for Maine Gov. Paul LePage which removed barriers to creating online K-12 schools and in some cases, required online classes.

LePage’s agenda was eerily familiar in its call for eliminating class size caps, student-teacher ratios, eliminating the ability of local school districts to limit access to virtual schools and allowing public dollars to flow to online schools and classes.

The emerging importance of education as a corporate cash cow was underscored in 2010 when Rupert Murdoch, who has his own education division called Amplify, said, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S.”

Amplify is one of FEE’s corporate donors, as are K12, the Pearson Foundation and McGraw-Hill.
Last February, FEE CEO Patricia Levesque urged state education officials to introduce StubHub, a communications tool, into their states’ schools. Jeb Bush is an investor in StubHub.

An April 26, 2011, email indicated that FEE, through Chiefs for Change project, had engaged John Bailey, a director of Dutko Grayling. Levesque wrote to Pastorek only two weeks before his resignation as state superintendent:

“John Bailey, whom you met over the phone, will be on the call to provide an update on reauthorization discussions on the Hill. He is going to be on contract with the Foundation to assist with the Chiefs’ DC activities in light of Angie’s departure.

Dutko has been accused of working with industry front groups in the past,” Levesque wrote. “For example, Dutko worked with AIDS Responsibility Project (ARP), an industry-supported effort described by an HIV/AIDS policy activist as a ‘drug industry-funded front group.’”

Cohen’s organization also uncovered FEE documents indicating the foundation reimbursed Pastorek and White, the two men who have led the state’s education department under Gov. Bobby Jindal, for their travel to Orlando and Washington, D.C., for events sponsored by FEE and the Chiefs for Change.

Dutko Grayling a K Street lobbying firm in Washington which has been struggling to maintain its position as one of the top firms in the nation’s capital.

“These emails show a troubling link between Jeb Bush’s effort to lobby for ‘reforms’ through his statewide Foundation for Florida’s Future, his national Foundation for Excellence in Education, and the powerful corporations who want access to billions of our tax dollars by re-shaping public education policies just to create markets for themselves—none of which are in the best interest of our children,” Public Interest quoted a Florida parent as saying.

“Testing companies and for-profit online schools see education as big business, said Cohen. “For-profit companies are hiding behind FEE and other business lobby organizations they fund to write laws and (to) promote policies that enrich the companies.”

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Last March, Piyush Jindal’s alter-ego Timmy Teepell (or would it be the other way around?) was a guest on the Jim Engster’s Show on Baton Rouge’s public radio station WRKF and in the course of that interview he denied any knowledge of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) agenda.

Another guest on Engster’s show, Public Service Commission Chairman Foster Campbell, this week took Jindal, the legislature and the entire Louisiana congressional delegation to task for not displaying sufficient backbone to back Jindal down on his proposals to eliminate the personal and corporate income taxes in favor of a 3 cent state sales tax increase.

Campbell instead called for the passage of a 3 percent processing tax on oil and gas which he said would generate $3 billion a year “and let the people who can afford a tax pay it.”

When one reads ALEC’s 5th anniversary edition of Rich States, Poor States http://www.alec.org/publications/rich-states-poor-states/, one has to wonder at the veracity of Teepell’s claim. The annual report devotes 15 of its 125 pages to demonstrating how bad personal income taxes for states’ economies—and that’s before it even gets to the five-page chapter entitled Policy #1: The Personal Income Tax.

Even after that chapter, state personal income taxes are mentioned at least once on 64 of the next 75 pages.

Likewise, corporate income taxes are also discussed on 10 separate pages before Policy #2: The Corporate Income Tax, another five-page chapter. Corporate income taxes are then mentioned on 56 of the remaining 80 pages.

As if that were not enough, Rich States, Poor States also zeroes in on its favorite tax, the sales tax. “We find that sales taxes have a neutral effect on state economies and therefore are a far preferable means for a state to raise needed revenue,” it said in the first paragraph of Policy #3, entitled (you guessed it) The Sales Tax.

In all, sales taxes are invoked on no fewer than 74 of the 125-page report which boasts that ALEC’s tax and fiscal policy is “to prioritize government spending, to lower the overall tax burden, to enhance transparency of government operations, and to develop sound, free-market tax and fiscal policy.”

And Teepell is unaware of this agenda. Really?

“When policymakers choose the levels and types of taxes for their state, they must confront not only the possible effects on the state economy, but the volatility of tax receipts as well,” the report says. “When tax receipts are volatile, that usually means an abnormally large shortfall of revenues when times are tough and spending needs are the greatest.”

Incredibly, the report claims that revenue generated from sales taxes “is the least affected by the boom and bust cycle—in fact, sales tax revenue changes only half as much as revenue from personal and corporate income taxes do.

“Not only does the sales tax do less to inhibit growth, it is a steady revenue source even during a recession,” says the report.

Then, ripping a page right of the Milton Friedman playbook, the report says, “Progressive corporate and personal income taxes do far more damage to the economy than do other taxes such as sales taxes, property taxes and severance taxes. In addition, they (income taxes) are substantially less reliable than those other taxes. How’s that for sound tax policy?”

Well, certainly inflicting a regressive sales tax on Louisiana’s poor is considerably more reliable than corporate income taxes when one considers all the tax breaks, exemptions and rebates this administration hands out to the tune of about $5 billion a year to corporate contributors.

But to address the sophomoric question, “How’s that for sound tax policy?” we turn to another publication entitled Selling Snake Oil to the States: The American Legislative Exchange Council’s Flawed Prescriptions for Prosperity.

A joint publication of Good Jobs First and The Iowa Policy Project, The November Snake Oil report takes ALEC to task for its Rich States, Poor States publication which, as might be expected, is heavily weighted in favor of its corporate membership.

“We conclude that the evidence cited to support Rich States, Poor States’ policy menu ranges from deeply flawed to non-existent,” Snake Oil says. “Subjected to scrutiny, these policies are revealed to explain nothing about why some states have created more jobs or enjoyed higher income growth than others over the past five years.

“In actuality, Rich States, Poor States provides a recipe for economic inequality, wage suppression and stagnant incomes and for depriving state and local governments of the revenue needed to maintain the public infrastructure and education systems that are true foundations of long term economic growth and shared prosperity,” it said.

The Snake Oil report said that results actually reflect just the opposite of the ALEC claims. “The more a state’s policies mirrored the ALEC low-tax/regressive taxation/limited government agenda, the lower the median family income; this is true for every year from 2007 through 2011.”

Jindal was elected in 2007 and took office in 2008 and his policies, Teepell’s denial notwithstanding, have certainly mirrored the ALEC low-tax/regressive taxation/limited government agenda and the state’s infrastructure and education systems just as certainly have suffered under staggering budgetary cuts.

Louisiana’s average median household income of $42,423 for 2010 was the nation’s 10th lowest and 29 percent of Louisiana’s children live in poverty, second only to Mississippi’s 32 percent.

The state’s working poor already pay little or no income tax, so elimination of the state income tax would have no effect on them. A sales tax increase, however, would hit the poor the hardest because they would be paying the same taxes on diapers, clothing, cars, gasoline, appliances and automobiles as the wealthy. Accordingly, they would be paying a much larger percentage of their income in sales taxes than higher income families.

Campbell, a former state senator and an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2007, was elected chairman of the Public Service Commission last year.

Accustomed to being a political lightning rod for his candor, Campbell was in rare form on Engster’s show on Tuesday, saying that Jindal typically works for the benefit of big companies and corporations. “He’ll do anything he can to help those at the top end of the income bracket.”

Appearing to consciously avoid referring to Jindal as governor, he said, “Mr. Jindal knows the solution. When I ran for governor, I wanted to get rid of the income tax which I still think we ought to do. Progressive states like Florida and Tennessee don’t have state income taxes and neither does Texas. They seem to be doing better than us. But you have to replace it with something and Mr. Jindal knows what to replace it with but you couldn’t get him close to it.

“Mr. Jindal wouldn’t touch the oil companies and that’s where to get the money. We just need some politicians with some plain old-fashioned guts to ask ‘em to pay their fair share. I’ve never seen anyone stand up to the oil companies. We don’t have a congressman who’ll do it. Mary Landrieu won’t do it. David Vitter is joined at the hip with them and he absolutely won’t do it.

“Mr. Jindal would run out of the Capitol screaming if you asked him to touch Exxon with a tax,” Campbell said.

Campbell, a Democrat, then heaped praise on Louisiana’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

“The most honest governor by far, who tried to do the right thing, was Dave Treen. When he ran against Louis Lambert (in 1979), business and industry supported him but when he went after the oil companies, they all turned on him and put Edwards back in,” he said.

“He was absolutely right when he had the Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy (CWEL) and he wanted some kind of fee from the oil companies for tearing up our coast.

“I like oil companies for furnishing jobs,” he said. “That’s great. But we have let the oil companies absolutely take over our state, damage our coastline and never asked them to pay for it.

The BP spill, bad as it was, was miniscule compared to the damage oil companies have done to our coastline and all our congressional delegation wants to do is go ask Obama to pay for the coastal restoration and Mr. Vitter (U.S. Sen. David Vitter is the leading cheerleader for that. The government didn’t drill the wells and Mr. Vitter knows that but he doesn’t want to ask the people he’s close to to pay for the damage. And neither does Ms. Landrieu. You see the ads on TV praising Ms. Landrieu. Do you know who’s paying for those ads? The oil companies.”

“We need to ask the oil companies who are making billions to pay something rather than asking the people of Louisiana which has (one of the) poorest populations in the nation. Rather than asking people at the bottom to pay the big end of the tax, why doesn’t Mr. Jindal ask companies like Exxon, Chevron, and Shell to pay their fair share? Fifty percent of the coastal erosion in this state is caused by offshore activity.

“In 1926, when we put it into the constitution, we could tax only domestic oil. That was fine back then when 95 percent of our oil was domestic. Today, it’s 96 percent foreign and 4 percent domestic.

“We have to tax oil and gas coming into the state of Louisiana,” he said. “I agree with Mr. Jindal that we need to eliminate the severance tax because it has been dwindling anyway since the ‘80s. Instead of the severance tax, charge a simple 3 percent processing tax which would raise $3 billion a year.

Campbell said former Gov. Buddy Roemer wants to tax oil that’s still in the ground. “That won’t generate the money. I asked Roemer, Edwards and (Mike) Foster (about the 3 percent processing fee) but they wouldn’t help.

“I guarantee you it would pass by 80 percent. Mr. Kennedy (State Treasurer John Kennedy) knows that, Mr. Roemer, Mr. Jindal and especially Mr. (Dan) Juneau, the head of LABI (Louisiana Association of Business and Industry), know it. Mr. Juneau cannot stand a processing tax because the people who pay his bills don’t want it.”

Campbell said, “It’s the LABIs of the world who represent the big companies doing business up and down the Mississippi. LABI is not worried about the Mindens, the Homers, the Farmervilles, the Ringgolds, the Mansfields or the Rustons of Louisiana. They’re worried about the Chevrons, the Dows, the Exxons. Those are the people who put up the big money.

“Legislators who consistently vote with LABI are not representing their districts because LABI could care less about them.

“That’s who Mr. Jindal is dancing to. That’s why he wants to raise the sales tax on the people. Don’t put it on the oil companies that make billions,” he said in mocking the administration line. “They can’t afford it. They might leave the state.

“How are they going leave the state when they have 50,000 miles of pipeline that deliver oil and gas all across America? And they have the Mississippi River! They can’t leave the state. We need politicians with backbone who’ll say, ‘Now listen, you’ve had a great day in Louisiana, but it’s over. We have crumbling roads, poor education, pollution, a torn-up coast and now you’re gonna pay your fair share. Now get out there and start crying that you’re gonna leave the state and we’ll see what the people believe.’”

At that point, Engster finally got to ask, “Are you a member of LABI?”

“Absolutely not. They don’t represent small business. They say they do but they represent the big boys. Never forget that. Mr. Juneau takes his orders from the boys that put up the most money. They don’t worry about the hardware store in Mansfield. They say they do, but they’re fooling those people. They represent the biggest of the big, nothing more, nothing less.

“That’s who Mr. Jindal represents. Look what he’s doing: raising the sales tax on the poorest people living in America—and make sure, by the way, to get rid of corporate taxes.

“You haven’t heard Mr. Jindal say one word about Exxon paying its fair share and you won’t because he’s in their back pocket.

“Mr. Vitter won’t say anything about fixing our coast because he’s in their back pocket.

“Ms. Landrieu won’t say that because she’s in their back pocket.”

LouisianaVoice did a quick check of campaign contributions and found that Campbell may have been onto something when he talked about a lack of courage by the legislature and the congressional delegation and Jindal’s being beholden to the oil and gas industry.

Oil and gas interests contributed more than $1.5 million to 143 state candidates, including legislators and statewide elected officials since 2003, including Jindal, Kennedy, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Lt. Gov. and current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Commissioner of Agriculture Mike Strain and former Secretary of Natural Resources and current Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle.

Moreover, oil and gas contributed more than $1.75 million to six of Louisiana’s seven congressmen since 2002 and $1.99 million to the state’s two U.S. senators since 1996.

The breakdown for the congressional delegation, with the dates each was first elected in parentheses is as follows:

Senate:

• Mary Landrieu (1996)—$940,174;

• David Vitter (2004)—$1.05 million’

House:

• Steve Scalise (2008)—$257,785;

• Charles Boustany (2004)—$641,605;

• John Fleming (2008)—$405,450;

• Rodney Alexander (2002)—$254,559;

• Bill Cassidy (2008)—$194,300;

• Cedric Richmond (2010)—$0

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“Thomas Ratliff’s presence on the State Board of Education is not legal because of his being a registered lobbyist.”

—Opinion by the Texas Attorney General’s Office on the legality of a Texas registered lobbyist’s serving on the State Board of Education. Louisiana lobbyist Steve Waguespack was appointed by Gov. Piyush Jindal on Friday to membership on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education even though his law firm advertises on the web of its expertise in working with charter schools and school reform advocates. Louisiana has no such ethics laws prohibiting such appointments despite Jindal’s claim to having the most ethical administration in Louisiana history.

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When Gov. Piyush Jindal named his former chief of staff and executive counsel Steve Waguespack to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) on Thursday, he may have created something of an ethical dilemma—if this were Texas.

It’s not, of course. It’s Louisiana and in Louisiana, anything goes with the most ethical, most transparent, most accountable administration in Louisiana history.

Waguespack resigned as Jindal’s chief of staff last October to join the New Orleans law firm Jones Walker. He also registered with the Louisiana Board of Ethics as a lobbyist, listing as his clients Jones Walker, LLP, Periscope Holdings, Inc. of Austin, Texas, and Loop Garou Entertainment of New Orleans.

For the first two, he is registered as a lobbyist of both the legislative and executive branches of state government while for Loop Garou, he is registered only to lobby the executive branch, or governor’s office.

His employer, Jones Walker, meanwhile, is also registered with the Ethics Board as a lobbyist firm and lists is sole representative as one Stephen Michael Waguespack.

A visit to the Jones Walker web page raises the specter of an ethics gray area for Waguespack.

“Jones Walker represents universities and other educational institutions, both public and private, with enrollment ranging from several dozen students to more than 50,000 students,” the web page boasts.

The text below the bold-face heading “School and Education Advocacy Group” on the web page provided the real eye-opener, however.

It noted that Jones Walker’s work in the area of education “has extended to charter schools and other secondary education institutions” (emphasis ours).

The firm’s relevant experience, it said, “includes representing local school boards and charter school operations and management organizations before the Louisiana Department of Education and the Louisiana Board of Secondary and Elementary Education.”

Jones Walker formed a School and Education Law and Advocacy (SELA) Group which it claims “has the resources, reputation, knowledge and experience to serve as a valuable resource to charter schools, charter school management organizations and to non-government organizations at the forefront of the education reform movement.”

In Texas, Subsection 7.103(c) of the Texas Education Code “precludes certain registered lobbyists from serving on the State Board of Education.”

Specifically, that statute says, “A person who has been retained to communicate directly with the legislative or executive branch to influence legislation or administrative action in or on behalf of a profession, business, or association on a matter that pertains to or is associated or connected with any of the statutorily enumerated powers or duties of the Board is not eligible to serve on the Board.” Thus, a registered lobbyist who has been paid to lobby the legislative or executive branch on a matter relating to Board business is ineligible to serve on the Board.”

So, in essence, what we have is a former high-ranking member of Piyush Jindal’s inner circle who is now employed as a lobbyist for a law firm that specializes in working with school boards, charter schools and non-government organizations “at the forefront of the education reform movement” who has just been appointed to serve on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is “at the forefront of the education reform movement” and has among other things, the responsibility of acting on charter school applications.

There is no law in Louisiana such as exists in Texas, so while there may be a moral obstacle there is no legal prohibition to Jindal’s making such an appointment—even if it does smack of questionable ethics and downright arrogance. It’s in-your-face politics at its worst by a man who hides behind a cloak of self-righteousness, sanctimony and piety.

One nagging question: is Piyush’s tendency to recycle the same tired old names in and out of his revolving door indicative that his circle of loyal supporters is contracting in size to such an extent that he now finds it impossible to reach out to new names he can trust to fill vacancies?

The resignation this week of executive counsel Gary Graphia may also reveal cracks in the foundation of the House of Jindal. Graphia resigned after only about three months on the job but his sudden departure is most significant in the spin the governor’s office tried to put on it.

It was almost as if Piyush spokesman Kyle Plotkin was trying too hard to make nice in his announcement to Press Release Central.

Plotkin, ever true to his boss, insisted—perhaps too sincerely—that Graphia’s leaving was “amicable,” adding for good measure that he was “leaving on good terms.”

Finally, making one last stab of convincing those who never asked, Plotkin said Graphia’s brief stay was attributable to “a transition period” for the governor’s office.

Well, silly us, we thought the “transition period” for the governor’s office was that three months between Jindal’s first being elected way back October of 2007 and his inauguration in January of 2008.

And remember, it was Jindal who called a special session of the Legislature immediately upon taking office in 2008 for the purpose of adopting those so-called sweeping ethics law changes and it was Jindal—and Waguespack, Teepell, et al—who directed the drafting, introduction and passage of Piyush’s radical education reform package last year.

If those education “reforms” turn out to be as big a joke as the ethics reform, well then perhaps, as someone once said, we really do get the government we deserve.

Many years ago Walt Kelly’s beloved Pogo told us, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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