At long last we have only three more days of those annoying—as in wanting to throw a brick through that expensive flat screen—TV campaign ads in which a leering U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy and a weary appearing incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu trade insults, barbs and outright lies about each other.
But there is another race to be decided Saturday that has flown under the radar of all but the residents in Public Service Commission (PSC) District 1, which encompasses all or parts of Orleans, Jefferson, Ascension, St. Bernard, Plaquemine, St. Charles, and the Florida parishes of Livingston, Tangipahoa, Washington, St. Helena and St. Tammany.
Even in those parishes, the tawdry Landrieu-Cassidy contest to determine the least undesirable candidate has overshadowed the runoff between PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta and challenger Forest Bradley Wright, both Republicans.
But it is an election of which voters in District 1 should certainly be aware.
In the November 4 primary, Wright polled 99,515 votes (38.44 percent) to Skrmetta’s 95,742 (36.98 percent), with Republican Allen Leone playing the spoiler role with 63,622 votes (24.58 percent) to force Saturday’s showdown.
For this race, LouisianaVoice has chosen to take a closer look at Skrmetta, by resurrecting a video of his bizarre, and certainly unwarranted behavior two years ago during the testimony before the PSC of a spokesman for the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops.
A smug Skrmetta displayed unprecedented contempt for Robert Tasman who, through frequent interruptions and challenges from the chairman, attempted to read a statement on behalf of the conference which called upon the PSC to reduce exorbitant telephone rates for prison inmates.
Skrmetta claimed that he was told by an archbishop for the church that the church’s position was simply that rates not be increased. The exchange between Skrmetta and Tasman escalated to Skrmetta’s suggesting that Tasman should attend confession, presumably for attempting to mislead the commission. http://joule-energy.us5.list-manage.com/track/click?u=c2265593d29be2a1d4f35bf12&id=9bacfdbffc&e=25b6a2fa99
Skrmetta’s rude behavior got so bad at one point that it provoked a challenge by fellow PSC member Foster Campbell who admonished the chairman, suggesting that he keep quiet until Tasman completed his testimony.
That only served to spark a heated verbal exchange between Campbell and Skrmetta.
The commission eventually worked out a compromise that even Skrmetta voted for. Regulators agreed to cut the rates by 25 percent for prisoner calls to family, clergy, and government officials. http://theadvocate.com/home/4666375-125/psc-rolls-back-prison-phone
So, what moved Skrmetta to such passion that he would challenge the veracity of an official of the Catholic Church?
Well, for openers, try $29,500.
That’s how much he has received in campaign contributions since 2009 from six companies and executives of two of the companies that provide inmate telephone services. Two of those, Securus Technologies of Dallas, and City TeleCoin Co. of Bossier City, combined to contribute $12,000 to Skrmetta’s campaign in separate contributions in December of 2013, nine months after the companies were cited by the PSC for charging extra fees in violation of the amended rates of December of 2012.
Global Connections of America of Norcross, Georgia, which contributed $5,000, was also in violation but was not cited.
Other inmate telephone service companies that contributed to Skrmetta included:
- Network Communications of Longview, Texas ($5,000);
- William Pope, President of Network Communications ($2,500);
- Gerald Juneau and his wife, Rosalyn, owners of City TeleCoin ($5,000 each);
- ATN, Inc. of St. Mary, Georgia ($2,500);
- Ally Telecom Group of Metairie ($2,500).
Taking campaign contributions from regulated industries, while posing the obvious risk of conflicts of interest and even influence-buying, is not at all unusual. Utilities and trucking companies which are regulated by the PSC contributed to commission members just as insurance-related companies contributed to campaigns for Louisiana Insurance Commissioner in a practice some equate to little more than not-so-subtle bribery.
Skrmetta, however, has taken the practice to art form status; he has received substantially more campaign money from regulated industries than any other member of the PSC.
In all, he has received a whopping $482,800 in individual contributions of $500 or more from regulated industries, attorneys and PSC contractors just since 2009. That was a year after he was first elected to the PSC. Only two campaign contributions totaling $1,200 are listed on his campaign reports prior to 2009.
Scores of representatives of Entergy contributed at least $30,800 since 2009 and the New Orleans law firm Stone-Pigman and several of its attorneys chipped in another $29,750—$17,000 on the same day that Skrmetta made the motion during a PSC meeting to approve an additional $220,000 in consultant fees and expenses for the firm’s defense of litigation filed against the commission by Occidental Chemical Corp.
Skrmetta, it should be noted, opposed the ban on fundraisers within 72-hours of PSC meetings—understandable in hindsight. A 72-hour ban be damned; he took the money on the same day of the commission’s meeting and its approval of the amendment which bumped the law firm’s contract up to $468,000 in fees and $39,600 in expenses.
Wright, Skrmetta’s opponent in Saturday’s runoff election was critical of Skrmetta’s taking the contributions from Stone-Pigman on the same day as the PSC meeting—and on the same day as the contract amendment.
“The issue is integrity, which is undermined when a public service commissioner takes a cut off the top from the contracts they authorize in the form of campaign contributions,” he said. “We pay the price from these bad dealings, not only in dollars but also in the erosion of trust that happens all too frequently when elected leaders put themselves and their own power before the interest of the public.”