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Archive for the ‘Politicians’ Category

Because The Hayride political blog that tilts slightly to the right of Attila the Hun appears to be fixated on Edwin Edwards and those who contribute to his congressional campaign, we thought it only fair to offer the identities of a few contributors to the U.S. senatorial campaign of Congressman Bill Cassidy, the man Edwards is trying to succeed.

Cassidy, meanwhile, is attempting to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Unlike The Hayride, we opted not to concentrate on individual contributors (though we are reserving that as an option) but rather to peel the cover back on contributions of political action committees, or PACs.

The reason for this is simple: Small donors make good press but big donors get you reelected and PACs tend to be far more generous than individual donors.

There are three types of PACs:

  • Connected PACs are established by businesses, labor unions, trade groups or health organizations. They receive and raise money from a “restricted class,” usually sharing a common interest. Of the 4,600 connected PACs, 1,598 are registered corporate PACs, 995 are trade organizations and 272 are related to labor unions.
  • Non-connected PACs consist of groups with an ideological mission, single-issue groups and members of Congress and other political leaders. These organizations may accept funds from any individual, connected PAC, or organization.
  • Leadership PACs are set up by elected officials and political parties and may make independent expenditures, provided the expenditure is not coordinated with the other candidate. Unlike the other types, spending by leadership PACs is not limited. A leadership PAC may not use funds to support the official’s own campaign but can fund travel, administrative expenses, consultants, polling and other non-campaign expenses.

Cassidy has received $77,500 from 11 of those leadership PACs, including $5,000 from U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s Louisiana Reform PAC. Vitter, who apparently was able to find some spare change that was not be used for social contacts in Washington or New Orleans, is a candidate for governor in 2015.

Of the 11, only two, Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee have exhibited any willingness to work with Democrats on legislation, records show.

He also receive about half a million dollars from a cluster of connected PACs, mostly medical professional groups, according to campaign finance records.

In all, Cassidy has received more than $4.7 million through Aug. 2, about 40 percent of which came from PACs, records show.

Other contributions from leadership PACs include:

  • $5,000 from the 21st Century Majority Fund of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia). Besides voting in favor of the war on Iraq as a member of the U.S. House, he even gave a speech on the House floor in which he said he had personally considered the facts and felt it essential that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction be destroyed. A 1990 supporter of abortion rights, he soon swerved to the right, becoming a pro-life candidate a decade later.
  • $10,000 from the Alamo PAC of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of “Big Oil’s 10 favorite members of Congress,” according to MSN Money. Cornyn has received more money from the oil and gas industry than all but six other members of Congress. Cornyn once compared the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear arguments for sustaining Terri Schiavo’s life with the murders of two judges, a statement that received widespread condemnation and for which he later apologized.
  • $5,000 from the Bluegrass Committee of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). McConnell, among other things, voted against a bill that would help women earn equal pay for performing the same job as men, opposed a Senate bill that would have limited the practice of corporate inversion by U.S. corporations seeking to limit U.S. tax liability, attempted twice to get federal grants for Alltech, whose president made subsequent campaign contributions to McConnell, to build a plant in Kentucky for producing ethanol from algae, corncobs and switchgrass, only to criticize President Obama in 2012 for twice mentioning biofuel production from algae, and requested earmarks for defense contractor BAE Systems while the company was under investigation for alleged bribery of foreign officials.
  • $5,000 from U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby’s Defend America PAC. Shelby (R-Alabama), who in 2000, took a hard line on leaks of classified information, in 2002, revealed classified information related to the 9-11 attacks to Fox News.
  • $5,000 from the Freedom Fund PAC of U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). Crapo, who claimed to be a Mormon who abstained from using alcohol, pled guilty to DWI in 2013, was fined $250 and received a one-year suspension of his driver’s license. That same year, he voted against passage of a bill that would have expanded background checks for all gun buyers.
  • $2,500 from Lindsey Graham’s Fund for America’s Future. The South Carolina Republican described himself in 1998 as a veteran of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm when in reality, he never left South Carolina. He did, however, serve in Iraq for a few weeks in 2007 and during the Senate’s August recess in 2009. In 2010, he alleged that “half the children born in hospitals on our borders are the children of illegal immigrants.” A Pew Foundation study, however, gave that number as only 8 percent. In 2009, he supported a climate change bill, calling for a green economy. A year later, he flipped, saying, “The science about global warming has changed. I think they’ve oversold this stuff.” He added that he would vote against the climate bill that he had originally sponsored.
  • $10,000 from the Heartland Values PAC of U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota). A name to watch, Thune was considered as John McCain’s running mate in 2008 but lost out to Sarah Palin (ouch!). He was also considered a possible candidate for president in 2012 (because he “looked presidential”) but opted out. He also was considered to be on the short list for Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 but lost out again, to Paul Ryan.
  • $10,000 from Next Century Fund PAC of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina). Burr voted against the financial reform bill of 2010 which regulates credit default swaps and other derivatives, saying, “I fear we’re headed down a path that will be too over burdensome, too duplicative, it will raise the cost of credit….The balance that we’ve got to have is more focus on the products that we didn’t regulate….more so than government playing a bigger role with a stronger hand.” During the financial crisis of 2008, he told his wife he wasn’t coming home for that weekend and instructed her to withdraw as much as the ATM would allow. “And I want you to go tomorrow, and I want you to go Sunday (and do the same thing).” He said he was convinced “that if you put a plastic card in an ATM machine (sic) the last thing you were going to get was cash.” Apparently he now keeps his money in his PAC.
  • $5,000 from Responsibility and Freedom Work, the leadership PAC of U.S. Sen. Roger S. Wicker (R-Mississippi). Wicker appears to be one of the few in Congress willing—and able—to work across the aisle with Democrats. He served as a member of the Helsinki Commission monitoring human rights and helped to pass a bill imposing tough penalties on Russians accused of violating human rights and he also supported the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 aimed at improving the public’s ability to enjoy the outdoors. In July of 2013, a letter addressed to Wicker tested positive for the poison ricin.
  • $10,000 from Tenn PAC operated by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee). Considered one of the most bipartisan members of Congress, Alexander received a letter a year ago from 20 Tennessee tea-party groups calling on him to retire in 2014 because “our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous.” Among his bipartisan votes were two to confirm Harold Koh as legal adviser to the State Department and for President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor.

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It’s the story that won’t die, no matter how the Runaway Governor (apologies to Julia Roberts) would like it to.

While Gov. Bobby Jindal may go running off to Iowa or New Hampshire or Washington, D.C., or wherever his latest odyssey takes him in his futile attempt at resuscitation of his moribund presidential aspirations while ducking his responsibilities at home, folks like political curmudgeon C.B. Forgotston and State Treasurer John Kennedy just won’t go away.

Instead, Kennedy is staying home and demanding answers to the nagging problem of the Edmonson Amendment that Jindal so obligingly signed into law as Act 859, giving State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson that $55,000 bump in retirement income.

Act 859, which began as a bland, nondescript bill by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) that addressed procedures in cases where law enforcement officers are under investigation, quietly turned into a retirement bonanza for Edmonson.

That happened when State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) inserted language into a Conference Committee amendment to the bill that allows Edmonson and one other state trooper in Houma to revoke their decisions of several years ago to enter into the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which gave them higher take home pay but froze their retirements at their pay level at the time of their decision.

In Edmonson’s case, his payment was frozen at 100 percent of his $79,000 a year captain’s pay but Act 859 allows him a do-over and to act as though all that never happened so that he can retire at 100 percent of his $134,000 per year colonel’s pay instead.

Other state troopers, teachers and civil service employees who made similar decisions, meanwhile, are stuck with their decisions because….well, sorry, but this is special for Col. Mike Edmonson Esq. Swank. Riff raff need not apply.

The Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) board is scheduled to receive a special report by Florida attorney Robert Klausner, an acknowledged authority on public retirement plans, and local attorney Denise Akers at its Sept. 4 meeting but Kennedy isn’t waiting that long.

As State Treasurer, Kennedy holds a seat on the LSPRS board and he has repeatedly voiced his concern over the amendment which he says could put enormous strain on LSPRS if other retired state police officers file suit to obtain similar consideration as Edmonson.

He has claimed the board has a fiduciary responsibility to file suit to overturn the new law that Jindal so hastily signed.

A group of retired state troopers also has signaled its willingness to enter into litigation to get the law overturned.

Both Kennedy and the retired troopers contend the law is unconstitutional because it was not properly advertised in advance of its passage.

“Talking points” originating in State Police headquarters by Capt. Jason Starnes and sent to Edmonson, his Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy, and—for whatever reason—Louisiana Gaming Control Board Chairman Ronnie Jones, said the bill was properly advertised but because the bill in its original form in no way addressed retirement issues, that claim appears rather weak, especially given the fact that state police should be more skilled in producing hard evidence to back their cases.

The additional fact that the amendment never made its appearance until the last day of the session even though it had been discussed weeks before adds to the cloud of suspicion and wholesale chicanery enveloping Jindal, Riser, Edmonson, and Dupuy.

And Kennedy, who already has fired off two previous letters to LSPRS Executive Director Irwin Felps demanding a full investigation of the rogue amendment, now has written a third.

That letter, dated today (Aug. 13), while much shorter than the others, loses no time in getting right to the point: Kennedy is demanding under the state’s public records statutes (La. R.S. 44:31, et seq.) that Felps provide him a copy of the report generated by Klausner and/or Akers.

“Please immediately email the document(s) requested to me,” he wrote. “If you cannot or will not email them, please immediately inform me, and I will send a representative to your office to pick them up right away.”

Here is the link to his letter: Treasurer Kennedy Public Records Request to Irwin Felps August 13 2014

His letter sets the stage for a probable showdown between Kennedy and the rest of the board given the fact that Felps has previously denied Kennedy’s informal request for the report.

Felps said following Kennedy’s initial request, he was advised by legal counsel (most probably Akers) to release the report to the board members but not to the general public. He added that he expected Kennedy will have the report Thursday morning.

“I don’t know why the big cloak and dagger that they won’t share with the board,” Kennedy told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/08/john_kennedy_demands_state_pol.html#incart_river

“I’m a board member and I’m entitled to it. They can’t tell me I can’t see it,” Kennedy said. “This is a very important issue and it’s not just limited to state police. We have thousands of employees in the retirement system (who) didn’t get this treatment.

“I just want to see a report that I asked for and the board asked for. It is a public document.”

Kennedy should know better. LouisianaVoice has already received its comeuppance from the House and Senate, both of which have refused to comply with our request for copies of emails and text messages between the six Conference Committee members who approved the amendment and Jindal, Edmonson or any of their staff members.

Even though such discussions would have fallen under the narrowest of definitions of public business, we were told the public has no business peeking over legislators’ shoulders to see what they’re doing and to please just butt out.

LSPRS board Chairman Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, told the Times-Picayune in a statement (prepared as talking points by Starnes, perhaps?) that he felt it would be “inappropriate and premature” for the board to take a position on Act 859 until it heard the attorneys’ report.

Uh, Trooper Besson, would that be more or less “inappropriate” than passing a secretive bill in the final hours of the session to benefit one person (well, two, since one other trooper fell within the strictly limited parameters of the bill’s language) while no one was looking?

Just as a reminder, it’s going to be difficult to get the board off dead center on this issue considering the board’s 11-person membership is comprised of four active troopers, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and one of Jindal’s legislative puppets, State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee (you can almost see Jindal’s lips move when he talks).

Just in case you lost count, that’s six members that Jindal and Edmonson control—and that’s a majority.

Folks, it’s looking more and more like that group of retired state troopers is going to have to make good on that threat to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the act.

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Call it coincidence, but the Baton Rouge Advocate today had an interesting lead editorial thanking State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and Gov. Bobby Jindal for assigning 100 state troopers to patrol the city of New Orleans through Labor Day in response to a Bourbon Street shooting spree on June 29 that left one dead and nine others injured. http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/9965586-123/our-views-thanks-to-state

Certainly the timing of the editorial had nothing to do with the controversy swirling around the secretive passage of an obscure Senate bill during the last day of the recent legislative session that proved financially beneficial to Edmonson.

And certainly it had nothing to do with the fact that Advocate publisher John Georges wants to keep Edmonson happy because Georges holds a majority ownership in seven firms which provide video gambling machines and other services to gambling establishments—and because Edmonson oversees gaming through the State Gaming Control Board chaired by Ronnie Jones who served as Edmonson’s confidential assistant prior to his appointment to the Gaming Control Board. He is still listed as Edmonson’s confidential assistant on the State Police web page even though Jones says he resigned from that position last August. http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/02/john_georges_gets_back_into_ga.html

Jones denies any knowledge of Georges’ video poker interests and says Edmonson is not his boss. “I wouldn’t know John Georges if he walked in the room right now and the fact that he has gaming interests doesn’t impress me,” he said, adding that Edmonson “has no control or influence over my board or its decisions.”

Jones’s denials notwithstanding, it appears we can dismiss any chance that the Advocate might delve into the murky political machinations behind the amendment especially tailored for Edmonson (though it did catch one other state trooper up in its generous net).

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley refused to open an investigation into the infamous Edmonson Amendment because he said the amendment was part of a bill that originated in the Senate. But one would expect no action from Kleckley. Otherwise, Jindal might remove his hand from his butt and Kleckley would then be rendered unable to speak—not that he’s ever said anything profound anyway.

The amendment, of course, tacked on an additional $55,000 per year to Edmonson’s retirement benefits and though Edmonson has since said he will not accept the extra income, he apparently overlooked the fact that the bill is now law, thanks to Executive Counsel Tom Enright’s stamp of approval and Jindal’s signing it as Act 859, which makes it impossible for him to arbitrarily refuse the financial windfall.

And it’s true enough that, Senate Bill 294 by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) did originate in the upper chamber and we now know that the amendment was added by Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) but Kleckley conveniently overlooked the fact that three members of the Conference Committee which tacked on the amendment were members of the House.

But what about Senate President John Alario, Jr. (R-Westwego)? Certainly the esteemed Senate President would never let such a furtive move stain the stellar reputation of the Louisiana upper chamber. Surely he will launch a thorough investigation of the amendment since the bill and the ensuing amendment were the works of members of the Senate.

Don’t count on it. It’s rare that an elected official will bite the hand that feeds him—or a family member.

In this case, we’re speaking of one Dionne Alario, also of Westwego, who just happens to hold the title of Administrative Program Manager 3 for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety at $56,300 per year. She was hired last November and somehow manages to pull off the unlikely logistics of supervising DPS employees in Baton Rouge while working from her home in Westwego.

Oh, did we mention that she also just happens to be Sen. John Alario’s daughter-in-law?

We attempted to contact her at the Baton Rouge headquarters through the DPS Human Resources Department but we were given a cell phone number with a 504 (New Orleans) area code.

So if you expect Alario to conduct an investigation into the Edmonson Amendment, you can fuggedaboutit. It ain’t happening. His nest has been sufficiently feathered as to guarantee there will be no questions on his part.

It’s beginning to look more and more like the ol’ Louisiana political science professor C.B. Forgotston is correct: This entire Edmonson Amendment affair is quickly being swept under a very big rug.

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hyp·o·crite

noun \ˈhi-pə-ˌkrit\: a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs.

hypocrite

[hip-uh-krit] /ˈhɪp ə krɪt/

noun

1. a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

2. a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

hyp·o·crite

[ híppə krìt ]

noun

Somebody feigning high principles: somebody who pretends to have admirable principles, beliefs, or feelings but behaves otherwise

No matter whose definition you use, Gov. Bobby Jindal is 100 percent hypocrite.

The candidate who promised us an open and accountable administration promptly gutted the State Ethics Board within weeks after becoming governor in 2008.

The candidate who promised a “gold standard” of transparency has repeatedly relied on the vague term “deliberative process” to shield his office from that very transparency.

The candidate who touted the value of civil service workers turned on those same state employees at the first opportunity and began throwing the rank and file workers to the curb while at the same time protecting the highly-paid appointees.

The candidate who criticized the use of one time revenue for recurring expenditures has become a master of the art.

The governor who constantly told anyone who would listen during his first term that “I have the job I want,” has spent his entire second term running for a presidency that is so far beyond his grasp as to be laughable while barely giving a second thought to the needs of those who elected him.

All those qualify him to be labeled a hypocrite but the most hypocritical came last week when he called Rep. Vance McAllister an “embarrassment” in another of his regular appearances in Iowa. http://atr.rollcall.com/vance-mcallister-bobby-jindal-embarrassment/?dcz=

How the hell can this governor sit in judgment of McAllister, who was caught on video kissing an aide in his Monroe office while at the same time remaining mute on Sen. David Vitter’s consorting with hookers?

Let’s get this out in the open right now. We don’t for one minute condone McAllister’s behavior. But a kiss is just a kiss (does Casablanca come to mind with that phrase?) and so far as anyone knows, that’s all McAllister did.

Also, just to shed a little more light on the McAllister affair, let’s not forget who outed him. Sam Hanna, Jr. is publisher of a West Monroe newspaper, the Ouachita Citizen and it was the Citizen’s web page that first broke the story, complete with the grainy black and white video.

How is that relevant? Well, for openers, Hanna had endorsed State Sen. Neil Riser, McAllister’s opponent in last year’s 5th District congressional race. Riser was Jindal’s candidate in that race, even allowing a couple of his staff members to work in Riser’s ill-fated campaign.

Then there is John King, a West Monroe businessman you probably never heard of who as a teenager set several dumpsters on fire. He has been unable to obtain a pardon for that youthful if foolish indiscretion and consequently cannot obtain a permit for a firearm in order to take his stepson hunting.

Hanna, on the other hand, was granted a pardon by Jindal six years after his fourth DWI conviction. Hanna applied for the pardon in 2010 and it was granted a year later. King is still waiting after 17 years.

Asked why the governor granted his pardon, Hanna said, “I guess because I deserved it.” http://theadvocate.com/news/neworleans/5136552-148/wiping-the-record-clean

So, as soon as Hanna releases that damning video, Jindal and his attack dog Roger Villere, state GOP chairman, pounce. Villere, apparently reading from the same script employed last week by Hypocrite-in-Chief Jindal, said McAllister had “embarrassed” the GOP and Louisiana. http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/203211-la-gop-chairman-calls-for-mcallisters-resignation

Could it be that that embarrassment stems from McAllister’s refusal to toe the party line and to call for an expansion of Medicaid in Louisiana in order to provide health care to hundreds of thousands of low income families currently not covered? Surely not. Jindal and Villere would never be so crass.

It’s all about morals and family values. But still, there’s that matter of Vitter…Rhymes with bitter, sort of like Jindal rhymes with swindle.

Well, we know a little more about Vitter, don’t we? We know even if Jindal and Villere choose to continue to ignore the elephant in the room.

His name shows up in the D.C. Madam’s list of clients. Another prostitute, this one from New Orleans, also has claimed she also had trysts with the good family values senator.

Yet he remains untouchable to the party hierarchy and as things now stand, is the odds-on favorite to become Louisiana’s next governor?

Could things possibly get any more repulsive than to have that smirking, two-faced fraud as our next governor? Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse than Jindal…

At least Edwin Edwards never pretended to be something he wasn’t. The last thing one could call Edwards is a hypocrite.

“Look, he originally made the right decision when he decided not to run for reelection,” Jindal said of McAllister in an interview with Congressional Quarterly’s Roll Call during a visit to his home away from home on Saturday.

“I said he should have stepped down at the time,” Jindal continued to whine. “I think he’s making a mistake, I think he should, I think he should’ve stuck to his original decision and not go back inside and try to run again.

“I think it’s been an embarrassment to him, the district, and the state,” he added.

Well, we believe we could cite a few embarrassments Jindal has brought upon himself and the State of Louisiana.

His telling the 2012 annual meeting of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry that teachers in Louisiana have their jobs by virtue of their being able to breathe is not only an embarrassment, but an affront to every school teacher in Louisiana, including the ones with the unenviable job of having taught him as a child.

His firing of anyone holding a different opinion than his is an embarrassment.

His signing of the Edmonson Amendment, an unconstitutional bill giving State Police Superintendent a $55,000 a year increase in retirement only a year removed from his effort to gut the retirements of state civil service employees is an embarrassment.

His constant legal setbacks in the Louisiana courts are an embarrassment.

His shameless abandonment of his duties as governor in favor of chasing the ludicrous dream of become President is an embarrassment.

The comedy of errors in hiring Bruce Greenstein as Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals only to see Greenstein become embroiled in the CNSI controversy is an embarrassment.

And the ongoing dispute with BESE and Superintendent of Education John White, which more resembles a name-calling schoolyard fight than a serious discussion of issues, is a true embarrassment.

Trouble is, all those are apparently only embarrassing to the state. Because Jindal has no moral compass, no real code of ethics and no sense of values, he continues on his merry way oblivious to reality and without a shred of self-awareness—or embarrassment.

Hypocrite.

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(Editor’s note: this is our 1,000th post since we started LouisianaVoice a little more than three years ago. We have also surpassed the one million-word milestone. That’s roughly the equivalent of 10 full-length novels.)

 

Were two separate announcements made late Friday by State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) designed to neutralize State Treasurer John Kennedy’s calls for an investigation into the amendment to Senate Bill 294 that increased Edmonson’s retirement by $55,000 a year?

If so, Kennedy said, the tactic won’t work.

Without going through all the details of the amendment, there is one additional development that has gone unreported to this point (until it was pointed out to us first by reader Stephen Winham and then Kennedy):

Funding to pay Edmonson’s extra retirement income, which could cost the state more than $1 million over Edmonson’s lifetime, would come from the state’s Employee Experience Account (R.S. 11:1332) http://law.justia.com/codes/louisiana/2013/code-revisedstatutes/title-11/rs-11-1332 which set aside funds to provide cost of living raises for retired state troopers and survivors of slain troopers.

In other words, he would be taking from retirees, widows and orphans in order to increase his retirement from the $79,000 per year, or 100 percent of his salary, at the time he entered the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), to 100 percent of his current $134,000 a year salary.

In those two announcements, issued separately, Edmonson reversed his field and said he will not accept the increased pension benefits because “It’s been too much of a distraction.”

Riser, one of six members of the Legislative Conference Committee that brought the amended bill back to the House floor on the last day of the session, meanwhile, did an even bigger flip flop in admitting that he did indeed instruct a Senate staffer to add the key amendment to the bill authored by Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans).

On July 17, Riser emailed blogger C.B. Forgotston who had sent Riser an email asking what he knew about the origin of the amendment. Incredibly, Riser said in that email, “I first saw the amendment when I read the conference committee report drafted by staff. As the language was explained to me, I believed it fixed a retirement problem for the law enforcement community.”

Basically, it was a denial without his actually denying he knew about the amendment.

But on Friday, Riser fessed up that he did indeed instruct staff (in this case, Laura Gail Sullivan, legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee which Riser chairs) to add the amendment. He still, however, stuck to his story that he saw the amendment on the “last hectic day of the session” and did not know the amendment would benefit just two people—Edmonson and a Houma trooper.

No wonder he was recently named Legislator of the Year by the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association—for the third consecutive year.

RISER AND EDMONSON

Supt. of State Police Mike Edmonson, left, and State Sen. Neil Riser (BFF)

Taken together, the Friday statements by Edmonson and Riser appear suspiciously coordinated to neutralize Kennedy’s letter of one day earlier to the executive director of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) in which he posed 13 questions he said needed answers.

Riser’s belated admission of his part in the amendment addressed only one of those questions and Kennedy said Friday that the investigation “must go forward” because “we still have a bad law on the books that we have to deal with.”

That’s because Gov. Bobby Jindal put his frequent flyer miles in abeyance long enough to sign the bill into law as ACT 859, prompting some to speculate that Riser’s actions may have been dictated by the governor’s office.

Kennedy said the LSPRS board has already retained outside legal counsel to determine what legal action is available to the board which is required by law to protect the fiduciary interests of the system.

“The board will meet in August to discuss our options,” he said. “We will invite Col. Edmonson to attend to present his side of the issue. We will also invite Sen. Riser and Thomas Enright, the governor’s executive counsel.”

He said that Enright, as the governor’s legal counsel, reads every bill and makes recommendations to Jindal as to whether the bills meet legal standards and if they should be signed or vetoed.

Without waiting for that August meeting, LouisianaVoice has a few questions of our own:

  • Why did Riser first deny his culpability and appear willing to throw his legal counsel under the bus?
  • What happened to compel him to cleanse his conscience?
  • Does he feel his constituents should trust him when he comes up for re-election after this despicable lapse of moral principles?
  • Who made the decision to fund this questionable (and most likely unconstitutional) appropriation from money intended to pay for retirees’ and survivors’ cost of living adjustments…and why?
  • Did Jindal direct that this amendment be inserted on the last day of the session?
  • If not, why did Enright not catch one of several possible constitutional violations contained in the amendment?

We’re glad that Riser, even belatedly, admitted his part in this farce of legislative procedure and we feel that Edmonson did the right thing in deciding to refuse the additional retirement money.

Suspicious by nature, however, we can’t help wondering about their motivations.

 

 

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State Treasurer John Kennedy has forwarded a two-page letter to the executive director of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) that itemizes 13 questions Kennedy said need to be addressed concerning the $55,000 per year pension increase awarded State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson in the closing minutes of the recent legislative session.

An amendment to Senate Bill 294, quickly signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 859, allowed Edmonson and one other state trooper to revoke their decision made at lower ranks to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP). In Edmonson’s case, he entered DROP as a captain, which effectively froze his retirement calculated on his salary at that time.

He was subsequently promoted to Superintendent of State Police which carried with it a substantial pay increase that made the DROP decision a bad one—like many other state employees who made similar moves and were later promoted.

The amendment was inserted into an unrelated bill dealing with disciplinary actions to be taken with law enforcement officers under investigation by a six-member conference committee, none of whom will claim credit—or blame—for the action.

Even worse than the furtive action, most probably taken at the direction of Gov. Bobby Jindal, five of the six conference committee members appear to be unwilling to man up and discuss their actions.

Kennedy, who by virtue of his office is a member of LSPRS, wrote to Executive Director Irwin Felps:

“In furtherance of our board meeting, other discussions regarding this matter and our fiduciary obligations to all of the people the system serves, I wanted to set forth in writing, as a board member and the State Treasurer, the issues that I think must be fully investigated and answered by you, our counsel and other staff, for the board so that it can make the necessary decisions and take appropriate actions, if any, to meet its fiduciary duties. This list is not meant to be exclusive, and there may be others to be included from other members, you, counsel and others, which should be answered too and which I welcome.”

Kennedy then listed the following 13 questions which he said needed answers:

  • How many people does the act benefit?
  • Who are the people it benefits, so that they can be invited to address these issues and their involvement with our board?
  • What are all of the costs of the act to the system and its members?
  • Is it true the actuarial note setting forth the cost of the act was added three days after the bill passed and, if so, why?
  • What would be the costs to give the same retirement benefit increase resulting from the act to all troopers and their dependents that are similarly situated?
  • What is the opinion of the act of the Governor’s Executive Counsel who reviewed the bill before the Governor’s signature approving it?
  • Who sponsored the benefits-boosting conference committee amendment, so that they can be invited to address why it was offered with our board?
  • Does the amendment in question satisfy the legal requirement of proper notice for a retirement benefits bill?
  • Does the amendment in question meet the legal requirement of “germaneness” (relevance) to the amended bill?
  • Does the amendment in question violate the state constitutional prohibition against the Legislature passing a law that impairs the obligations of contracts?
  • Does the amendment in question satisfy the state constitutional requirement of equal protection of the law?
  • Does the process by which the amendment in question was adopted violate the Legislature’s internal rules or procedures?
  • What are the board’s legal options?

Copies of Kennedy’s letter were sent to State Treasury Executive Counsel Jim Napper and board members of LSPRS, Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System (LASERS), Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL), and the Louisiana School Employees’ Retirement System (LSERS).

Records denied LouisianaVoice by House, Senate

The six conference committee members who met to iron out differences in the House and Senate versions of SB 294, to which the controversial amendment was added, include Sens. Jean-Paul Morrell (who authored the original bill), Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), and Reps. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans), Walt Leger, III (D-New Orleans) and Bryan Adams (R-Gretna).

We attempted to obtain records of emails between conference committee members, Edmonson, the governor’s office and the Division of Administration but the wagons were quickly circled and we got the standard runaround from both the House and Senate.

It seems by some convoluted logic that communications of legislators about legislative business that affects taxpayers is not public record.

This is the response we received from both the House and Senate:

“You request: ‘all emails, text messages and/or any other communications between Col. Mike Edmonson and members of his staff, State Sen. Neil Riser and/or any of his staff members, any other legislator and/or members of their staff, specifically Reps. Jeff Arnold, Walt Leger and Bryan Adams (and Morrell, Riser and Walsworth) and between either of these (six) members and Gov. Bobby Jindal and/or any of his staff members, including but not limited to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and/or any members of her staff, concerning, pertaining to or relevant to any discussion of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), retirement benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson and discussion of any retirement legislation that might affect Col. Mike Edmonson and/or any other member of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System.’

“Any communication by or with or on behalf of a Legislator ‘concerning, pertaining to or relevant to any discussion of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), retirement benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson and discussion of any retirement legislation that might affect Col. Mike Edmonson and/or any other member of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System’ falls under the ‘speech’ protected by LA con. art. III, § 8, clause 2: ‘No member shall be questioned elsewhere for any speech in either house.’ Our appellate courts have held that ‘the speech privilege extends to freedom of speech in the legislative forum; when members are acting within the “legitimate legislative sphere,’ the privilege is an absolute bar to interference. The courts have further held that conduct which falls within this ‘sphere’ of privilege is ‘anything generally done in a session of the House by one of its members in relation to the business before it.’ Copsey v. Baer, No. CA 91 0912, 593 So.2d 685, 688 (1st Cir. Dec. 27, 1991), Writ Denied 594 So.2d 876, (La., Feb. 14, 1992).

“Your request to review records concerning retirement legislation falls directly within the ‘sphere’ protected against disclosure by the Louisiana constitution. All of the records you request to review are privileged from your examination.”

So there you go, folks. You have no right to pry into the business of the State of Louisiana if it’s discussed by a legislator. How’s that for the gold standard of ethics and for accountable and transparent government?

Only Walsworth responds to LouisianaVoice email

LouisianaVoice also sent each of the six an identical email on Wednesday that said:

“Because there has been nothing but deafening silence from the six members of the conference committee that approved the egregious retirement increase for Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson, I thought I would contact each of you individually to give you the opportunity to explain your thought process in enacting this legislation to benefit only two people to the exclusion of all the others who opted for DROP but would now like to revoke that decision.

“To that end, I have several questions that I respectfully ask you as honorable men with nothing to hide to answer. Your continued silence will leave me no alternative but to believe you are not honorable men and that this action was taken in the session’s dying hours in a deliberate attempt to do an end around the public’s right to know what transpires in Baton Rouge.”

Here are the questions I posed to each man:

  • Did you introduce, or do you know who introduced, the amendment to SB 294? (If each of you denies any knowledge of this, the implication is simple: you take issue with State Treasurer John Kennedy’s contention that the amendment did not “fall from the heavens.”)
  • Did you have any contact with Mike Edmonson or any member of his staff prior to the amendment’s being added to SB 294?
  • At what point during the session just ended did the matter of Col. Edmonson’s retirements first arise?
  • Why was the full House and Senate not made aware of the wording of the amendment to SB 294?
  • Was it your intent that no one should know the real intent of amendment to SB 294?
  • Edmonson, on Jim Engster’s radio show, indicated it came up several weeks before the end of the session. If that is true, why was there a delay until the last day of the session to tack the amendment onto SB 294?
  • Did you have any contact relative to the amendment from Gov. Jindal’s office or the office of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols?
  • If you did have contact with Mike Edmonson and/or any of his staff members, the governor’s office or Kristy Nichol’s office, would you willingly release the contents of those communications?
  • Finally, do you think it fair to do this for only two people while excluding hundreds, perhaps thousands of retirees who made similar decisions to enter DROP only to regret their decisions?

With the exception of Walsworth who responded on Thursday, the response has been a continued embarrassing silence.

Here is Walsworth’s response:

“I did not introduce the amendment.  I can only answer for myself, not others.

“I had no contact with Mike Edmonson or any member of his staff concerning this amendment.

“I believe I heard about the problems with the amendment like everyone else, through the media a couple of weeks ago.

“The last day of the session is usually very hectic.  My recollection of the events of that day was that the report came to my desk by a staffer.  I saw the amendment and asked if it effected (sic) more than one more person.

“The staffer said yes. I knew that in the past we had given this provision to several retirement systems. So I signed the report. Sen. Jody Amedee’s child was in the hospital and as Vice Chair of Senate Gov. Affairs Committee, I was in charge of the Senate going into Executive Session to handle appointments. To be honest, I do not recall what the author said when he presented SB 294 on the floor.

“I had no contact from anyone in Gov. Jindal’s office or Kristy Nichols’ office.

“It has been many years since I was on the retirement committee.  I have always been an advocate that retirees should have more choices. They should have more control of their retirement. I am sorry that this effected (sic) just these 2 individuals. I thought it would effect (sic) more.”

But the sorriest, most pathetic, most despicable thing about this entire sordid mess is that members of that conference committee are perfectly willing to throw a female staff attorney under the bus to protect their own pitiful hides.

Laura Gail Sullivan is the legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee her name is at the top of the page of the conference committee report.

Given the fact that Sen. Neil Riser was on that conference committee and, as Chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, it doesn’t take a genius to come up with a pretty good guess as to who instructed Sullivan to insert the amendment.

But the fact is that with the exception of Walsworth—if he is to be believed—not one of the committee members came to Sullivan’s defense. They choose instead to let a subordinate who was following orders take the heat.

Their action, or more accurately, inaction, is the very definition of hiding behind a skirt.

These are men who will run for cover and let a staff member take the heat for their actions. And the fact that not one of them has the backbone to come forward, makes them, in our opinion, the lowest form of humanity to dare call themselves public servants.

It is our fervent hope that in 2015 they will draw formidable opponents who will be more than happy to let voters know the gutless wonders these cowards turned out to be and who will rat them out for the rodents they are.

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Editor’s note:

The following is a guest column offered by Baton Rouge teacher Fred Aldrich who, along with thousands of others, listened Monday as Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson appeared on the Jim Engster Show to defend the amendment tacked onto an unrelated bill on the final day of the legislative session which will give Edmonson an additional $55,000 (not $30,000 as first reported—we’ll explain at the end of Aldrich’s guest column) upon his retirement—a nice bonus unique to Edmonson and one other state trooper.

 

I am a long-time listener to NPR station WRKF, and I listen to the Jim Engster show whenever possible. I don’t always agree with Jim or his guests, but I usually don’t find my disagreements worthy of a response. Today was an exception.

The comments of Jim’s guests are not the opinions of Jim or WRKF, but unfortunately those comments may be spin and/or misinformation which listeners will take as truth.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson was on the show this morning. I have great respect for the state police, and I have considered Edmonson one of the good guys in the Jindal administration. This morning’s interview, however, was problematical for me in several ways.

Engster congratulated Edmonson for having the fortitude to come on the program at a time when the superintendent is facing a lot of heat statewide. His performance suggested that he has paid attention during the years he has also served as a prop for the governor. He sounded earnest, sounded passionate, and sounded determined to serve his troopers and the people of the state. So far, so good, but that’s not why he’s on the hot seat. No one questions his dedication.

As a teacher with 38 years of experience in Louisiana and one who participated in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) about the same time as he did, my understanding and experience with the program are much different from what Edmonson expressed on the program. He wanted to dispel “inaccuracies” with “facts,” but in my estimation he mostly promulgated misinformation, to wit:

  • The retirement systems which offer DROP are not “different” retirement systems than they were at the time he or anyone else went into DROP. DROP was simply a program within these retirement systems which was offered to employees for a few years, theoretically to provide valued employees an opportunity to continue working while putting three years of retirement checks in an interest-earning escrow account that could not be accessed until the employee finally retires, as which time federal laws regarding taxes and withdrawals apply. Though officially retired, the employee continued to draw his regular pay while payments were made into his DROP account. These three years do not count as service credit toward figuring eventual retirement benefits.
  • Despite Col. Edmonson’s casual use of the word, no one was “forced” into DROP. It was a choice for anyone with 30 years of service, or 25 years of service for those 55 years old or older. Those who chose to not enter DROP simply continued to work, with the three years counted as regular service credit, and allowed the employee to draw the retirement benefits he/she accrued upon final retirement. Had Col. Edmonson, and myself, and others, chosen to not participate, his, and our, retirement benefit would have been what it took him a specious legislative effort to attain.
  • The form that each DROP participant had to sign made the options and possible outcomes very clear. It states, in no uncertain terms, that the employee understands that his basic retirement benefit is frozen at that time, that the decision is irrevocable, that service credit past the exit from DROP is calculated in a different manner, and that DROP may not be the best option, depending on future circumstances. It urges employees to consider their decision carefully and seek financial counsel before they choose to enter the program.
  • The articles I’ve read and the radio program in particular fail to mention the three years of retirement pay in Col. Edmonson’s DROP account plus the accrued interest and whether he plans to return that money to the system if he gets his new benefit. In my case, and I was in DROP at the same time as Edmonson, my account balance has nearly doubled in ten years. (And my eventual retirement benefit will be approximately 65% of what it would have been had I not chosen to go into DROP.)
  • Col. Edmonson misstated the application of the $30,000 yearly bump that has been mentioned. No one I know of has claimed that this is a bonus on top of his new yearly retirement benefit. It is the difference between the benefit that he is entitled to as the result of his voluntary participation in DROP and his new benefit, courtesy of a friendly conference committee.
  • Blaming the confusion at the end of the legislative session for the “misunderstanding” is ridiculous. It’s beyond obvious that he and his allies (which could range from the governor down to legislative staffers) gamed the system and took advantage of this dysfunctional process for his benefit, then blamed the process for a misunderstanding.
  • As for the integrity in which Col. Edmonson bathed himself and the commiseration he offered a caller who found herself in a similar retirement situation, he could have demonstrated his concern by including all DROP participants in his legislation. I, and several of my colleagues, (and apparently many others) have tried to lobby for the same remedy that Col. Edmonson and his allies sneaked through (Let’s call it what it is.) We have met the runaround
  • from every source we’ve approached, and we’ve accepted that most of us will have been long dead before anything actually could be done.

Unfortunately, we’re not in the governor’s loop and teachers with 35-50 years of experience who make less than half the salary of Col. Edmonson don’t have the same voice. His assertion that everyone should get the same consideration that he does begs the fact that all troopers, state workers, and teachers don’t have the same political connections and the same willingness to go through this foul-smelling process to enrich themselves.

This is my understanding based on my experiences with DROP and my following of Edmonson’s gift from the conference committee. If anything is factually incorrect, I will readily stand corrected. As a reaction to what happened, I remain convinced that the whole action smells. There are many hard-working, conscientious, productive people in state government, law enforcement and education, who don’t get special treatment through a disgusting legislative process.

            In addition to Mr. Aldrich’s comments, we have some comments and additional information of our own to add:

During his appearance on the Jim Engster Show, Edmonson who last week said he never asked for the legislation and did not know about it, acknowledged that an unidentified” staff member” brought the matter to his attention and he authorized the effort to go forward. He also told Engster that the issue of the special legislation actually arose several weeks before the end of the session.

That being the case, why was it necessary to wait until the last day of the session, when the pace becomes hectic and confusing, to insert the amendment into a benign bill completely unrelated to retirement (the bill, Senate Bill 294, dealt with disciplinary procedures for law enforcement officers under investigation)? That tactic alone smacks of covert intent designed to keep the measure from the prying eyes of the media and public.

Edmonson, during his interview, acknowledged that when he voluntarily (and the word voluntarily should be emphasized here) entered DROP, he was a captain earning $79,000 per year in salary. By entering DROP, his retirement was frozen and would be calculated on that salary. The trade-off was that he earned a higher salary.

But he probably did not foresee his advancement to Superintendent of State Police at a salary of $134,000.

Based on a formula multiplying his salary by the number of years of service by 3.33 percent), he would have retired at 100 percent of that $79,000 salary instead of 100 percent of his higher salary of $134,000 after 30 years.

Until the passage of the secretive-shrouded amendment to SB 294, that is. The amendment will mean an additional $55,000 per year to Edmonson during his retirement years—$134,000 (100 percent of his current salary).

Should Edmonson live for 30 years after retirement, that’s an extra $1.14 million in retirement benefits.

The amendment prompted one retired state trooper, Jerry Patrick, to express his embarrassment “that one of our troopers was so selfish that he would tarnish the badge that I and so many others worked and sacrificed to honor.”

Patrick said that it was “no stretch to believe that the governor’s office was directly involved in requesting this for a member of the governor’s cabinet.”

To that end, LouisianaVoice has made three separate public records requests. The first was to the Louisiana State Police communications director (which was handed off to the agency’s legal team) requesting the opportunity to review “all emails, text messages and/or other communications” between Edmonson, his staff, State Sen. Neil Riser, his staff, and the governor’s office pertaining to any discussion of DROP and/or retirement benefits for Edmonson and any discussion of retirement legislation that might affect Edmonson.

We made similar requests of both the House and Senate for any similar communications between members of the conference committee that approved the special amendment, Edmonson, the governor’s office and Laura Gail Sullivan, legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee. Riser is chairman of that committee and was on the conference committee that inserted the amendment for Edmonson.

Through the grapevine, we have learned that Sullivan has already invoked the sacred attorney-client privilege to prevent releasing any of her emails. But that objection is questionable at best inasmuch as Edmonson is not her client. Neither is the governor. Nor is, for that matter, Riser.

Of course, she will probably include Riser by extension by virtue of his chairmanship of the committee for which she works but Riser, should he have nothing to hide, could always waive the attorney-client privilege.

If he does not, and if Sullivan does resist releasing the contents of her emails, we can only assume the obvious: there is something contained in those messages that the principals would rather we not know.

And to quote my favorite poet and playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare of Denham-on-Amite from my favorite play, Hamlet Bob: “Ay, there’s the rub.”

But we are confident they would never try to hide anything from the public. This administration, after all, is the gold standard of ethics, openness and transparency. Gov. Jindal himself has said so on countless occasions in his many out-of-state appearances.

Oh, but wait. We also learned on Tuesday that House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) has refused a request by State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) for a full investigation of the secretive amendment. Kleckley said that because it was a Senate bill to which the amendment was attached, it becomes a matter for the Senate to investigate. Apparently, Kleckley neglected to note that three members of the conference committee that approved the amendment were House members.

Kleckley’s dancing around the issue, folks, is what is known as the Bureaucratic Shuffle.

 

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