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The good people of Alabama need not fear the corruptive influence of former Gov. Donald Siegelman. Women and children may emerge from hiding, confident they are now safe and no longer must be protected from his treachery.

Siegelman is securely incarcerated at Oakdale’s federal lockup, the same facility that once housed another former governor—Louisiana’s very own Edwin W. Edwards—and from all accounts Sweet Home Alabama is the better for his prolonged absence.

The man, after all, took a $500,000 contribution from a member of the state board for hospital oversight, one Richard Scrushy, CEO of HealthSouth.

But wait. The half-million bucks didn’t go to Siegelman, after all. The money was contributed by Scrushy instead to help underwrite a campaign to convince the voters of Alabama to vote in favor of a state lottery, the proceeds of which would provide funds for Alabama youth to attend state colleges for free.

The referendum was controversial in that owners of the Indian casinos next door in Mississippi were somewhat skittish about Alabamans spending their gambling money at home to fund, of all things, education—not to mention that free college sounds a bit socialistic.

Suddenly, major players entered the picture—players like Karl Rove and notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who would soon face his own legal problems. No matter. Abramoff led the fight, pouring money into the campaign to oppose the referendum which ultimately lost.

And what did Scrushy get in return? Siegelman reappointed him to the Certificates of Need Review Board where he had been serving without pay for the previous 12 years.

The prosecution of Siegelman has been heavily criticized by legal experts and columnists across the nation. https://madmimi.com/p/940b05?fe=1&pact=23974859063

Even the award-winning CBS news magazine 60 Minutes weighed in on the issue. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/did-ex-alabama-governor-get-a-raw-deal/

Siegelman, a Democrat with Jewish and Catholic roots, had won every state office in Alabama by 1998, including attorney general and lieutenant governor. In 2002, having already served one term as governor, he was heavily favored to win election over incumbent Gov. Bob Riley, the man who had defeated him four years earlier. But then the state’s top Republican operative, Bill Canary, contacted the nation’s top Republican operative, Rove, and the Justice Department’s investigation of Siegelman—led by Canary’s wife, U.S. Attorney Leura Canary—was launched.

With rumors swirling about alleged wrongdoing, Siegelman suddenly found himself in a tight race with Riley. On election night, Siegelman went to bed after having been declared the winner only to awake the next morning with Riley claiming victory.

Overnight, an unexpected redistribution of gubernatorial votes in Baldwin County, which includes the city of Daphne and part of Mobile Bay, reduced Siegelman’s total votes by 3,000, giving Republican Riley the governorship. Republican Attorney General Bill Pryor denied a recount of the paper ballots. No votes for any of the other offices being contested were changed. (Can you say hanging chads?)

And who was running Riley’s re-election campaign? That would be Bill Canary, husband of federal prosecutor Leura Canary. Well, no conflict of interest there.

Canary’s first efforts, carried out by assistant U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, were unsuccessful. Federal District Judge U.W. Clemon threw out the indictment for lack of evidence, saying the prosecution “was completely without legal merit” and “the most unfounded criminal case over which I presided in my entire judicial career.”

Canary was successful on her second try, however, obtaining a conviction on one of the 23 counts on which Siegelman was indicted. Presiding over that trial was Federal Judge Mark Fuller, who omitted a key legal requirement when giving the jury its instructions before it retired to deliberate: the need for an explicit promise of understanding in accepting the $500,000 from Scrushy.

Fuller, an appointee of President George W. Bush, would later have his own legal problems as well. In August of this year, he was arrested for beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/federal_judge_mark_fuller_a_ti.html but unlike Siegelman, was able to get the record expunged. http://crooksandliars.com/2014/09/don-siegelman-trial-judge-weasels-out

So what has all this to with the price of eggs in Louisiana?

Well, we just thought it would be interesting to compare the single transgression that got Siegelman a ticket to Oakdale with certain activities in Louisiana—and to ask somewhat rhetorically why no investigative agency is taking a closer look at some of the tactics of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Take, for example, the case of Richard Blossman, Jr., of Lacombe and his Central Progressive Bank.

Blossman, while CEO of Central Progressive, “gave” each of his 11 board members a $5,000 bonus. The reality is (to borrow a favorite Jindal phrase), however, none of the $5,000 bonus payments ever went to the board members, according to Raphael Goyeneche, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission. Instead, immediately after the bonuses were “announced” by Blossman, 11 individual checks of $5,000 each were sent to Jindal’s 2007 campaign in the names of the individual—and oblivious—board members.

“The defendant (Blossman) well knew the ‘bonus’ was to funnel illegal political contributions and was not a bonus, as he caused to be inscribed in the board minutes,” prosecutors said in June of 2012.

“That is a felony,” Goyeneche added.

This revelation came on the heels of word from the Louisiana Board of Ethics in May of 2012 that Jindal received $40,000 in campaign contributions from landfill company River Birch, Inc. of Metairie when the company formed six “straw man entities” to launder illegal donations to Jindal.

So, did Jindal’s campaign return the $95,000 in ill-gotten gains?

Well….no. “We accept every contribution in good faith and in accordance with the law,” said Timmy Teepell, who ran Jindal’s 2007 campaign. Asked if Blossman received anything in exchange for his contributions, Teepell sniffed, “Absolutely not. Everyone who donates to our campaign gets the same thing and that is good government.”

Wow. Perhaps Earl Long was correct when he once said, One of these days, the folks in Louisiana will get good government “and they ain’t gonna like it.”

Jindal’s campaign and his Believe in Louisiana organization also accepted $158,500 in contributions from Iowa, LA., businessman Lee Mallet, his family members and several of his companies. Jindal then appointed Mallett, a college dropout, to the LSU Board of Supervisors and also had the Department of Corrections issue a directive to state parole and probation officers to funnel offenders into Mallett’s halfway house in Lacassine.

ATS LETTER

No quid pro quo there, right?

Mallett and his son were major contributors to other Republican candidates and the National Republican Party as well.

Carl Shetler of Lake Charles also received an appointment from Jindal—to the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors—after contributing $42,000 to Jindal’s campaign. Shetler, a Lake Charles car dealer, some years before had singlehandedly gotten McNeese State University placed on athletic probation by the NCAA when it was learned that he’d paid money to McNeese basketball players.

In fact, Jindal’s campaign received $1.8 million in contributions from people he has appointed to state boards and commissions, some of whom delivered their checks only days or weeks after their appointments, according to Nola.com. Virtually the entire memberships of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome Commission) and the LSU Board of Supervisors are comprised of major contributors to Jindal political campaigns.

In 2008, Jindal accepted $30,000 from Florida attorney Scott Rothstein, his law firm and his wife. Rothstein was later disbarred after his conviction for running the largest ($1.4 billion) Ponzi scheme in Florida history.

Jindal also accepted $10,000 from Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) and later gave ACS employee Jan Cassidy, sister-in-law of Congressman Bill Cassidy, a state job with the Division of Administration.

Jindal took $11,000 from the medical trust fund of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (LHBPA). The LHBPA board president, Sean Alfortish, was subsequently sentenced to 46 months in prison for conspiring to rig the elections of the association and then helping himself to money controlled by the association.

The association also was accused of paying $347,000 from its medical and pension trust funds to three law firms without a contract or evidence of work performed. A state audit said LHBPA improperly raided more than $1 million from its medical trust account while funneling money into political lobbying and travel to the Cayman Islands, Aruba, Costa Rica and Los Cabos, Mexico.

The association, created by the Louisiana Legislature in 1993, is considered a non-profit public body and as such is prohibited from contributing to political campaigns.

And then there is Tony Rudy.

Rudy once headed up an influence-peddling organization called the Alexander Strategy Group and through that firm, he pulled in tens of thousands of dollars in the 2004 and 2005 election cycles on behalf of Jindal from such donors as UPS, Eli Lilly, Bellsouth, R.J. Reynolds, Microsoft, Fannie Mae, Koch Industries, DuPont, AstraZeneca (a biopharmaceutical company), the National Auto Dealers Association, the Property Casualty Insurers Association, the American Bankers Association, and Amgen (biotechnology and pharmaceutical company).

Alexander Strategy Group was one of Washington’s premier lobbying operations before it was shut down in January of 2006 after its ties to DeLay and Abramoff, became known.

Rudy, a former aide to DeLay, worked for Abramoff before joining Alexander Strategy Group. Rudy’s wife also ran a political consulting firm that received $50,000 in exchange for services Rudy performed while working for DeLay. Delay was indicted in 2005 on money-laundering charges. Abramoff pleaded guilty in early January of 2006 to fraud and conspiracy charges.

One of Abramoff’s clients was the Chitimacha Indian Tribe of Louisiana that contributed at least $1,000 to Jindal who since has claimed to have given that money to charity.

Abramoff also received $32 million from the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana to help promote and protect their gambling interests. The legal counsel for the Coushattas was one Jimmy Faircloth who once served as Jindal’s executive counsel and who has pulled in well over $1 million in representing Jindal in lost causes in various courts in Louisiana. Faircloth advised the tribe to sink $30 million in a formerly bankrupt Israeli technology firm for whom his brother Brandon was subsequently employed as vice president for sales.

And most recently, courtesy of Manuel Torres of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Lee Zurik of WVUE-TV in New Orleans, we have learned that Jindal has spent more than $152,000 of state campaign funds on trips that bear a suspicious resemblance to federal campaign activity. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/11/louisiana_gov_bobby_jindals_tr.html

State Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen said the state’s campaign finance law grants considerable latitude as to how money may be spent but that the law prohibits the expenditure of funds on the office of president or vice president of the U.S. and Congress, presidential electors and party offices.

“When I read these provisions together, the conclusion is that you are a candidate for a state race and the money you raise can be used only for (a state) campaign or for exercise of that office,” Allen told Torres and Zurik.

There are other activities of the Jindal administration which have little to do with campaign contributions or appointments but which are nonetheless are questionable as to their motives:

  • Efforts to enhance State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by as much as $55,000 per year. Because of our story, that unconstitutional attempt by our governor and his allies in the State Senate and the Department of Public Safety was thwarted.
  • Major pay increases given unclassified employees in the Jindal administration at the same time rank and file state employees have been denied raises for five years.
  • Generous tax incentives, exemptions and other favorable treatment given corporations that are costing the state some $3 billion per year even as repeal of the Stelly plan has cost the state $300 million per year.
  • Widespread abuses by the State Board of Dentistry and the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board.
  • Bruce Greenstein’s initial refusal in testimony before a Senate committee to name the winner of a $200 million contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals and his eventual admission that the contract went to his former employer—testimony that eventually led to his indictment on nine counts of perjury.
  • Attempts by the Department of Education to enter into a data sharing agreement whereby sensitive personal information on students in the state’s public schools would be made available to a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox News.
  • Funding sources for Jindal’s political organization Believe in Louisiana—sources who have received major concessions and political appointments from the Jindal administration.
  • The real reason for the firing and indictment of former head of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Murphy Painter: Painter’s refusal to crater to demands from the governor’s office that favored New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, a major contributor to Jindal’s political campaigns (Painter was subsequently acquitted of all charges and the state was forced to pay his legal expenses of some $300,000).
  • Efforts by Jindal to force retirees out of the Group Benefits health program with irresponsibly unaffordable increases in co-pays and deductibles, a story that eventually prompted hearings by the House Appropriations Committee.
  • The subsequent revelation that a document cited by DOA and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) representative as the basis for the health benefits changes in reality said just the opposite of what was testified to.

And while all this goes on unabated in Louisiana, the former governor of Alabama, who did nothing more than accept a contribution to fund a referendum to benefit education, remains in Oakdale, victim of a prosecution with far more questions about the participants and their surreptitious activities than answers.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bennett-l-gershman/bribery-cases-_b_1590284.html

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What kind of person, serving as a municipal fire chief, would purchase ribbons and decorations of previous conflicts from a military surplus store and pen them on his own uniform?

Apparently the kind of person that Deputy Secretary of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Gov. Bobby Jindal would want to protect even to the point of prevailing upon an ally in the legislature to file an amendment to abolish the very agency conducting an investigation of that and other offenses.

At the same time State Fire Marshal Butch Browning was being reinstated in May of 2012 by his boss, Mike Edmonson who serves as both State Police Superintendent and Deputy Secretary of DPS, State Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Napoleonville) was introducing an amendment to House Bill 1, the state’s operating budget, to pull the $1.7 million funding for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in the middle of OIG’s investigation of allegations of payroll fraud and a sloppy inspection of a carnival ride in Greensburg only seven hours before teenage siblings were injured by the ride.

The timing of the amendment was enough to make you toss your lunch of stone cold ethics and hot back room politics.

Browning “retired” on April 18 in the middle of that investigation but returned just 12 days later, on April 30, with an $8,000-per-year increase in pay after being “cleared” by Edmonson of any wrongdoing—six months before an investigative report by OIG was even issued.

But if Jindal and his co-conspirators intended to thwart the investigation by abolishing the agency led by Stephen Street, those efforts wilted in a backlash of public support for the office immediately ensued which caused the legislature—and Jindal—to back down from the effort despite a favorable 11-5 vote on Harrison’s amendment by the House Appropriations Committee.

Remember, this is the same governor who two years later would attempt to sneak through another amendment granting Edmonson a lucrative $55,000-a-year increase in retirement benefits only to have that plan crash and burn when LouisianaVoice learned of the implications of the amendment by State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia).

OIG serves as white-collar watchdog and as an internal affairs division within state government but Harrison, in offering his amendment, argued that OIG’s functions overlapped those of State Police and the Attorney General’s Office.

As we have already seen, State Police, under the direction of Edmonson, gave Browning high marks in exonerating him from any wrongdoing and as we have also seen in other matters, the Attorney General’s Office is more than a little reluctant to involve itself in the investigation of any state agency—except of course in a situation such as that of former Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein where the feds are already actively investigating a questionable contract with Greenstein’s former employer.

In that case, Attorney General intervention made good press.

In fact, since the 1974 State Constitution was adopted over the objections of then-Attorney General Billy Guste, the Attorney General’s duties are primarily restricted to defending state agencies, not investigating them and can generally enter a local matter at the express invitation of the local district attorney. In fact, the Attorney General has even begged off certain investigative matters, citing a potential conflict of interest should his office be called to defend or represent the agency.

Hammond attorney and state government watchdog C.B. Forgotston, former chief counsel for the House Appropriations Committee disagreed with Harrison’s contention that the OIG is “pretty much redundant.”

Forgotston said the office might be redundant “if any other agency in the state was stopping waste and fraud within the executive branch. Nobody at the state level is pursuing corruption in Louisiana,” he said.

Street said he linked his office’s funding to the amount of money it uncovers through wrongdoing by state officials and contractors. OIG’s annual report in 2012 showed the office had uncovered $3.2 million in fraud and waste the previous fiscal year, nearly double the office’s $1.7 million budget appropriation.

The reaction to Harrison’s bill and to Jindal’s transparent ploy was immediate.

“Is it a bargain to spend $1 to root out nearly $2 in fraud in Louisiana?” the Lake Charles American Press asked in a May 15, 2012, editorial. http://www.americanpress.com/AP-Editorial-5-16-12

“Apparently, some members of the state Legislature don’t think so,” the editorial said, adding that Harrison had admitted that he did not agree with the OIG’s investigation of Browning. He said there should have been no investigation in the first place but Street said his office had received a complaint (from the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission) about how Browning was doing his job and so he launched an investigation. “I was told if you do this (job) right, you’ll eventually have people trying to shut you down,” Street was quoted by the paper as saying.

The editorial disagreed with Harrison’s claim that State Police and the Attorney General’s Office could take up the slack. “The attorney general in Louisiana is too much of a political species to launch investigations into wrongdoing by other politicians or political agencies,” it said in something of an understatement. “An office that ferrets out nearly $2 in fraud for every $1 it costs is too valuable to Louisiana to eliminate.”

The non-partisan Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) agreed. “The state needs a self-motivated watchdog agency to stop waste, mismanagement, abuse and fraud in executive-branch government,” it said in a May 7, 2012, news release. http://www.parlouisiana.com/explore.cfm/parpublications/commentariesandletters/100092

“Stephen Street… is a former criminal staff lawyer with the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, a former public defender and a former Section Chief with the state Attorney General’s Insurance Fraud Support Unit who handled white-collar prosecutions. He has extensive experience teaching courses on white-collar crime investigation,” the PAR release said.

“A sudden halt in funding of the Inspector General would terminate ongoing investigations and send a message nationwide that Louisiana government is open for corrupt or wasteful business. Lawmakers who oppose continued funding of the office while also criticizing particular ongoing investigations are running the risk of deeply politicizing the state’s law enforcement systems. If these efforts at shutting down the Inspector General’s office are successful, their effect will be to strongly encourage further political interference in the law enforcement profession throughout the state,” the release said.

James Gill, then a columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, wasn’t nearly as charitable. As only he can, Gill noted that Edmonson had exonerated and reinstated Browning even before Street’s investigation was complete. Then came Gill’s zinger: “Perhaps Edmonson forgot that he had claimed Browning’s resignation had nothing to do with the allegations against him.” http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2012/05/battle_over_funding_for_louisi.html

Gill quoted Harrison as claiming that he had thought for two years that Louisiana did not need an inspector general. “Anyone but a politician would be carted off to the funny farm for saying that,” he wrote, adding that despite Harrison’s claim that his amendment had nothing to do with Browning, he launched into “a passionate denunciation of the inspector general’s office over its treatment of browning.” Gill quoted Harrison as saying no good investigator “would bring it (the investigation) to this point without verifying information.”

“Even a politician deserves a trip to the funny farm for spouting such nonsense,” said Gill at his derisive best.

But even more to the point, Gill observed that “Since Browning has already been returned to duty, it may not matter much what conclusions the inspector general reaches.”

May not indeed. This administration is, after all, the gold standard of ethics.

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Timing, as they say in comedy, is everything.

And to be honest, we have no idea if Bobby Jindal, Governor of the State Denial, was trying to be funny this past week or if he is simply clueless.

We suspect the latter.

Jindal’s latest comedy tour began shortly after a comment about southern race relations by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu who is locked in a heated contest against U.S. Congressman Bill Cassidy in what has become one of the ugliest, most negative and vindictive campaigns on the part of both candidates in the last half-century.

The campaign’s mudslinging and misleading claims have sunk to such depths in fact, that voters appear to have turned on both Landrieu and Cassidy with equal disgust.

Landrieu, when asked why President Obama was so unpopular in Louisiana, responded, “I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans.”

That one sentence was likely the most accurate claim made in this entire election cycle—by any candidate in any race.

Yet, Jindal chose that remark as his cue to lambast Landrieu, calling her statement “remarkably divisive,” and adding, “She appears to be living in a different century. Implied in her comments is the clear suggestion that President Obama and his policies are unpopular in Louisiana because of his ethnicity. That is a major insult by Senator Landrieu to the people of Louisiana and I flatly reject it.”

Well, Governor, perhaps if you shut your eyes tightly and click your heels together, the old prejudices and bigotry will disappear. But, unfortunately, just because you close your eyes to something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And those of us who get out into the real world as opposed to tightly controlled support groups understand this.

A good example of the mindset that still lingers fifty years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was handed to me on Monday, Oct. 13 when I went to check my post office box at the Denham Springs post office. A woman, probably in her late fifties or early sixties entered right behind me. Unlike me, she wanted to do business at the counter only to find it closed. I reminded her it was Columbus Day and her response was: “Well, that must be for Mr. Obama. They wouldn’t close it for anyone else.”

I never bothered reminding her that the post office has been closed on Columbus Day since long before Obama was ever born in Hawaii or Kenya or wherever it is they claim—from personal knowledge, obviously—that he was born.

So, what century is it in which you reside, Governor?

Not satisfied with making an absolute fool of himself in Louisiana by insisting from behind his rose-colored glasses that the South is devoid of racial tensions and that everything is just peachy, Jindal immediately made himself a national laughingstock by repeating his comedy act on twitter and on Faux News. “The only colors that matter are red, white and blue,” he deadpanned on Your World with Neil Cavuto, even expanding on Landrieu’s own words, misquoting her as “calling all of us in the south racists. We don’t think in terms of black and white, in terms of racial colors.”

She never accused “all of us” of being racist; she said the South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. There’s a huge difference, Governor, and you, of all people, should know that.

Nevertheless, if there is a living, breathing person, white, black, brown, pink or green who can truthfully say he or she harbors no prejudices, I want to meet you. There is not a person alive who does not have his or her prejudices or biases. I have mine, you have yours. We have to admit that if we are totally and completely honest with ourselves. Virtually every one of us has told or listened to jokes about blacks, women, gays, Cajuns, Polacks, Asians, fat people, ugly people, short people, Catholics, Jews and Baptists. Did I leave out anyone? Oh, yes, the neo conservatives’ latest favorites to fear and loathe: Mexicans and Islamics.

Oh, man. So many people to hate and so little time. C’mon, Guv, you can’t arbitrarily call an end to discrimination yet. We’re just getting started. We haven’t even started on South America or Australia or Canada.

And as we said at the beginning of this diatribe, timing is everything. Among the comic strips that I read daily online is one called Candorville. Today’s (Sunday) strip was particularly well-timed given Jindal’s proclamation of racial bliss and harmony:

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE):

JINDAL'S VIEW ON RACE

 

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State Treasurer John Kennedy isn’t the only one who disputes the veracity—or the political motives—of administration claims of a $178.5 million budget surplus for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

There are a couple of Kristy Nichols’ predecessors, former commissioners of administration and a former state budget officer who have been there, done that and got the T-shirts, who are genuinely perplexed and skeptical of the whimsical claims.

Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana), aka Booby Jindini, through Commissioner of Administration Nichols, is claiming the implausible “discovery” of some $360 million, dating back to 2002 that pulls the state from the jaws of a $141 million deficit in favor of the surplus explained thus far only as Immaculate Discovery.

LouisianaVoice, meanwhile, has learned that the true “discovered” money is more like $500 and that it actually goes back as far as 1998, near the end of Gov. Mike “the Jindal Creator” Foster’s second term. But, says Kennedy, the money has already been spent, which would make the real deficit more like $200 million, instead of the mere $141 hole claimed by Kennedy.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details and the details have not been readily forthcoming from the administration. And members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) sat mutely Friday morning as committee Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin (D/R-Jonesboro) proclaimed that the committee would not be discussing the matter until it received a report from the Legislative Auditor’s office, probably sometime in December.

What?!!!!!!!” legislators should have sputtered, shouted and otherwise protested.

Sorry, guys, you should have stood as one and protested that the time to discuss this little matter is now and the place is right here. Right here, right now. We want, no, demand an explanation, an accounting of where this money suddenly came from and how it is that the administration did not know of its existence for the past seven years.

And while we’re at it, why is it that Fannin sudden decided to exercise his power to disallow a request by Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville) that a non-member of the JLCB, Rep. Kenny Havard (R-Jackson), be allowed to sit in on the committee as his proxy. Legislative observers cannot recall a time when such a request was denied. Was Fannin afraid Havard might ask some embarrassing questions about the budgetary procedure?

Or was it that Havard was not among the members who had been called in a few at a time in advance of Friday’s meeting to be reminded by the administration that capital outlay projects in their respective districts could suddenly face a lack of funding for their implementation?

Regardless, it is quite obvious from our perspective that the fix is in.

Instead, committee members sat mutely as one as Fannin, desperate to hang onto his chairmanship and reportedly considering a run at the State Senate seat currently held by Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), allowed that rather than demanding details and explanations from the administration, there was no urgency to the issue that could not wait until December.

Retired state budget officer Stephen Winham said that in his 21 years in that office, nothing of this magnitude ever occurred.

“The hidden piles of money is a myth,” he said. “There may have been hidden pockets of money before modern accounting and information technology, but it is impossible to hide money in the state treasury today.

“This has to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen happen with regard to the state’s financial condition and its reputation,” he said. “How can $500 million simply have been hiding in the state treasury? Do Ms. Nichols and others have any idea how her contention totally undermines the integrity of our financial system? It makes a mockery of our accounting system and our annual Comprehensive Financial Reports for the past 16 years, if not longer, and of our state itself. People already routinely suspected the numbers they were given. Now there is no reason to believe anything.

“I cannot overstate how horrible this is.”

Raymond Laborde and Stephanie Laborde agree.

Raymond Laborde (Stephanie Laborde’s uncle) served as commissioner of administration from 1992 to 1996 under former Gov. Edwin Edwards. Before that, he served five terms in the Louisiana House, serving as Speaker Pro Tem from 1982-1984 and also served as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

He was re-elected without opposition to a sixth term in 1991 but immediately resigned to become Commissioner of Administration during Edwards’ fourth and final term as governor. In 2003, Raymond Laborde was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.

“I haven’t seen any details yet and neither, apparently has John Kennedy,” he said.

“We had surpluses each year during my tenure, but they were legitimate surpluses. If the money was there, it should have been seen. If Kennedy’s approach is correct, there is a heck of a difference between what the administration says and what he says.”

Reminded that Kennedy has said any money found from prior years has already been spent, Raymond Laborde said, “It should have been spent.”

Stephanie Laborde served as commissioner of administration during Edwards’ third term (1984-1988) when she was Stephanie Alexander.

Her observations were supportive of Winham’s and were equally critical of the administration.

“If the surplus is real, where were those dollars when the budget was being developed 15 months or so ago?” she asked, perhaps not so rhetorically.

“That is not to say when there was not extra money,” she said. “There were times when there were more taxes collected than anticipated or when the price of oil was higher than expected but for this much in surplus funds to be lying around for years? That just didn’t happen.”

She also said the sources of such revenue would have been considered one-time money and not recurring revenue. “There is a difference of philosophy, a difference of opinion with the character of funds found in the past.

“But it still comes down to where was this money during the budget writing process, where was it, in fact, for all these years?

“If it was there, it speaks to the administration’s competence, its ability—or inability—to give us an accurate budget.

“If the money was not there as is being claimed, it speaks to something else entirely,” she said.

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Call it what you will—strong-armed politics, intimidation, extortion, blackmail or bribery—the result is the same: the fix appears to be in on the administration’s claim of a $178.5 million budget surplus developed by a “new and improved” accounting procedure.

Except the numbers don’t seem to add up to a surplus, but rather the possibility of an even greater deficit that first indicated by State Treasurer John Kennedy.

LouisianaVoice has learned that the $320 million in mystery money suddenly discovered by the administration and trumpeted by Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols may actually be $500 million or more. But even that may be suspect in the way it affects whether or not there is an actual surplus or in reality, a deficit.

As an indication that the administration was taking care of business, LouisianaVoice also learned that members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) had been called in by the governor’s office in groups of two and three over the past several days for “come to Jesus” meetings in order to dissipate opposition to the administration before it can develop.

In those meetings, committee members supposedly were not-so-subtly reminded of pending capital outlay projects in their respective districts that could sudden be placed in peril should the wrong questions get asked in committee.

But hey, folks, if you think the Jindal administration is the gold standard of ethics and wouldn’t really do that, you are so very wrong. Nothing that has taken place over the past six-plus years that would invalidate a comparison to Huey and Earl Long.

The circling of the wagons even went so far as JLCB Chairman Jim Fannin’s (R-Jonesboro) refusal of an otherwise routine request by one committee member to allow a fellow House member represent him as a proxy at today’s (Friday, Oct. 17) meeting in order to ensure there would be no surprises at the meeting.

Committee chairmen must approve a request from any committee member to have a non-member of that committee sit in as his or her proxy.

Even the meeting itself appeared to be a sham. When the committee convened at 9 a.m. Friday, Fannin announced he would not take up the issue over the budget surplus/deficit until the legislative auditor could provide a report on the financial picture.

It is extremely rare for a committee chairman to deny a request for a proxy, but when Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville) asked that Rep. Kenny Havard (R-Jackson) be allowed to sit as his proxy, Fannin refused. Efforts by LouisianaVoice to reach Havard for a comment were unsuccessful.

But if you watched any of the proceedings of the House Appropriations Committee on Sept. 25 which met to hear testimony about the proposed changes to the state’s group benefits plan, it’s easy to understand Fannin’s actions.

Fannin also chairs the Appropriations Committee and during that Sept. 25 meeting, Havard asked some pretty tough questions of Nichols and OGB CEO Susan West.

Havard probably represents more state employees as constituents in East and West Feliciana parishes than any other representative outside Baton Rouge because of the presence of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and the Louisiana War Veterans Home and East Louisiana State Hospital in Jackson. So naturally, he would be concerned about the hardship the OGB changes are going to impose on state employees and retirees.

Accordingly, it was only natural that Fannin would not want any surprises during the committee hearing which turned out to be no hearing at all so Armes’ otherwise routine proxy request was rejected out of hand.

Fannin, who several months ago, switched from Democrat to Republican and is firmly ensconced in the Jindal camp (though it’s difficult to understand why anyone would throw his lot in with this governor whose popularity in Louisiana rivals only that of President Obama—other than his apparent desperation to hang onto his chairmanship), so it’s understandable, in a quirky sort of way, that he would do the administration’s bidding.

In fact, LouisianaVoice has also learned that Fannin has a report from the administration that contains a year-by-year breakdown as to where the mystery dollars came from to make up the surprise surplus.

That report is not public and Fannin is supposedly the only legislator who is privy to its existence and its contents.

The numbers, we are told, go all the way back to 1998, during the latter part of the Mike Foster administration, instead of to 2002 as originally reported, and the money consists of self-generated funds the Foster, Blanco and Jindal administrations never recognized for appropriations.

So, when Jindal faced a real deficit at the end of the fiscal year just ended on June 30, he scraped the bottom of the barrel, figurative and literally, to come up with the funds and voila! The amount was more in the neighborhood of $500 million instead of the $360 first reported.

The problem is, however, the $500 million may have already been spent and if so, it would create an actual deficit of some $360 million instead of the $141 million initially claimed by Kennedy. And it certainly would not create a surplus.

And taking the scenario to its logical conclusion in this Alice in Wonderland world of Louisiana politics, State Treasurer John Kennedy, the one person who should be the one kept abreast of all budgetary developments, the one person responsible for accounting for every dollar spent, is being kept in the dark along with other legislators who would like to have some answers.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, instead of sitting at her desk and sniping at Kennedy for questioning her numbers, could just as easily pick up the phone and call Kennedy to invite him over, or even offer to walk across Third Street, take the elevator up to the third floor of the State Capitol, and sit down with the Treasurer and explain how the administration arrived at its numbers.

A truly transparent, ethical and accountable administration owes the citizens of this state that much at a minimum.

But don’t hold your breath.

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Editor’s note: State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) sparred verbally with Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and Office of Group Benefits (OGB) CEO Susan West at the Sept. 25 hearing by the House Appropriations Committee on proposed coverage plans for OGB members. Edwards, the minority leader of the House and Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, is an announced candidate for governor in 2015.  He wrote the following piece in an effort to display his frustration over his inability to obtain definitive answers or public documents and records from the administration—and to explain how the administration, as a matter of routine, conceals information from legislators.

By State Rep. John Bel Edwards

At a committee meeting convened last month to address the fiscal “emergency,” at the Office of Group Benefits, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols testified that the premium reductions in 2013 and 2014 that drained OGB’s $500 million fund balance were fiscally sound.

At that hearing, I repeatedly asked if OGB’s actuary – Buck Consultants – had recommended those premium reductions and if they recommended reducing the fund balance. Nichols and an OGB CEO Susan West repeatedly refused to answer. I, along with other legislators at the hearing, asked for copies of Buck Consultants’ recommendations.

Weeks later and I’m still waiting for those reports.

What I do have is an email from Buck Consultants to the OGB CEO that clearly states: “We did not recommend a decrease of 7% effective August 1, 2012, or an additional decrease of 1.77% effective August 1, 2013. Further, we were not asked to provide any recommended rate adjustments for any fiscal years beyond what we provided for Fiscal Year 2012/2013.”

Of course the actuary did not recommend cutting premiums by almost 9 % while health care costs are rising by 6% a year. The consultants knew that would be irresponsible and cause claims payments to greatly exceed premium revenue and drain OGB’s fund balance.

Clearly, the OGB premium reductions that ran the fund balance into the ditch were not actuarially driven. Those premium reductions were driven by the Jindal administration’s desire to spend OGB’s fund balance elsewhere in the budget. When OGB reduced premiums, 75% of the savings went to the state and the Jindal administration was able to spend that money wherever they wanted.

Now that the fund balance is drained and still hemorrhaging at the rate of $16 million a month, the Jindal administration called this self-inflicted wound an “emergency” and proposed raising costs to OGB members – those working and those retired – by $189 million. These higher out-of-pocket expenses will not be shared by the state.

Our state workers, school teachers, support workers, and university staff and faculty and retirees cannot afford this. They do not deserve this. About 25,000 of our retired OGB members are not eligible for Medicare, and many active OGB members bring home as little as $700 per month.

I asked the Attorney General’s Office for an opinion about the legality of Jindal’s effort to unilaterally impose new plans with the exorbitant out of pocket cost increases on workers and retirees. The attorney general’s opinion shows Jindal failed to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act.

This entire debacle has thankfully been slowed down to ensure public notice, public input and legislative oversight as legally required. It is critically important that the administration act in good faith and genuinely consider the testimony and the plight of affected OGB members as well as its own culpability in needlessly causing the “emergency.”

The Jindal administration must honestly answer subsequent inquiries from the public and from legislators and seek ways to lessen the impact to OGB members. The administration must ditch the ill-conceived plan changes and start from scratch with a willingness to increase premiums reasonably and share in the costs of restoring the soundness of OGB.

The recently discovered $178.5M surplus provides the means to both shore up the fund balance and reduce the cost increases on OGB members. The illegal cost increase forced on OGB members in August must be refunded without forcing members to formally request or sue for the refund.

The legislature must finally assert itself as an independent and equal branch of government to provide exactly the kind of check and balance on the Jindal administration provided by the Louisiana Constitution and demanded by the people of Louisiana. We now have this opportunity as there will be legislative oversight hearings on both the emergency and ordinary rules. We must rise to the occasion.

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When Jeff Skilling took over as President and Chief Operating Officer of Enron in June of 1990, he did so only after insisting that the company convert from conventional accounting principles to a method preferred by his former employer, McKinsey & Co.

In 2001, hedge fund manager Richard Grubman said to Skilling, “You are the only financial institution that can’t produce a balance sheet or cash flow statement with their earnings.” By October of that same year, Enron had begun its death spiral in a historic collapse that would pull the giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen down with it.

The key to Enron’s failure was the mark-to-market accounting method, where anticipated revenues and profits are entered into the company’s books before they are ever received. The system allowed Enron to conceal losses and to inflate profits for nearly 11 years before its house of cards came crashing down.

On Thursday (Oct. 8), nearly seven years into his administration, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana) rolled out a new accounting formula with an alarmingly familiar ring to it.

Jindal, like Skilling, is a McKinsey alumnus.

Commissioner of Administration/Surrogate Gov. Kristy Kreme Nichols announced that the state, instead of having a deficit of $141 million as claimed by State Treasurer John Kennedy, will suddenly have a surplus of $178.5 million, a gaping difference of $319.5 million.

Nichols did not reveal how the $178.5 million was arrived at but Kennedy said the administration is switching to a cash balance form of accounting instead of the modified accrual basis employed by state governments. “If we use the methodology we have always used,” he said, “we don’t have a surplus. We have a $141 million deficit.

“The commissioner says the calculation has been inaccurate for years and it needs to be changed,” he said. “They have to explain why we have been doing it wrong all these years and why the Revenue Estimating Conference is doing it wrong.”

Nichols, an appointed state employee, was less than deferential to Kennedy, a statewide elected official when she sniped back at Kennedy, saying, “I’m surprised the treasurer is not reporting this.” She added that Kennedy is obligated to report available revenue. “He should probably do a review of the accounts to ensure there are no more outstanding revenues he is not reporting.”

Kennedy and Jindal have been at odds for years over fiscal policy, so it was no surprise to see Kristy Kreme, with her super-sized ego, get a little mouthy with the state treasurer. After all, she bolted from a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Office of Group Benefits on Sept. 25 to take her daughter to a One Direction boy band concert at the New Orleans Smoothie King Arena where she watched from the comfort of Jindal’s executive suite.

Just as Enron misrepresented its finances for years, it now appears that the Jindal administration may be attempting the same tactic, prompting one political observer to say, “If cooking the books isn’t malfeasance, what is? The bond rating agencies and others rely on the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report), where the year-end position is officially reported in decision making and they are not going to like this.”

Another Jindal critic asked rhetorically, “What happens when a state ends a fiscal year with a deficit of $141 million but the administration of the day pretends that there is actually a surplus of $178 million? I don’t think there is any precedent for such a thing ever happening anywhere. This is starting to sound like Enron!”

Odd as it may seem to make that comparison, the similarities between Jindal and Enron run much deeper than the latest developments surrounding the new accounting methods. Here are some points about Enron lifted from The Smartest Guys in the Room: the Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron (Penguin Books, 2003), a probing book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind about the failed energy company: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/113576.The_Smartest_Guys_in_the_Room

  • The Deutsche Bank once described Enron as “the industry standard for excellence.” Jindal boasted of instituting the “gold standard for ethics” in Louisiana.
  • When the chief accounting officer of Enron Wholesale expressed concern about wholesale electricity sales, she was reassigned. When another employee questioned Skilling on his claim that Enron was going to make $500 million, she was laid off that same day. When state employees or legislators complain or do not vote with the administration, they are teagued.
  • Pollster Frank Luntz said instability and chaos were defining features at Enron and the six company reorganizations in just 18 months were a “running joke” and that Enron’s lack of discipline was “destructive and demoralizing.” Jindal’s penchant for reorganization and reform has created a similar atmosphere within state government.
  • Enron sold assets and booked the one-time proceeds as recurring earnings. Nearly 40 percent of Enron’s 1998 and 1999 earnings came from sales of assets rather than from ongoing operations. Jindal over the past several years has sold state property, buildings, and entire agencies and turned state hospitals over to private entities.
  • Both Skilling and Jindal are alumni of the blue-chip consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., which wrote the Enron business plan and as far back as 1986, advised AT&T there was no future in the market for cell phones. McKinsey also was an advocate of mark-to-market accounting practices.
  • Both Skilling and Jindal thought—and think—like a consultant. Skilling felt that a business should be able to declare profits at the moment of the signing of an agreement that would earn those profits. But just because traders were reporting earnings under mark-to-market accounting, it did not necessarily follow that the money was in hand. See this link: http://theadvocate.com/news/10494146-123/jindal-budget-surplus-questioned
  • A Wall Street banker said of Skilling: “He’s either compulsively lying or he’s refusing to recognize the truth.” Another banker worried that Enron executives were not carrying out their fiduciary duties and questioned “sweetheart deals” negotiated by them.
  • Skilling believed that social policies designed to temper the markets were “wrongheaded” and counterproductive. “Wrongheaded” has been a favorite term invoked by Jindal whenever he has suffered setbacks at the hands of the courts on issues ranging from education reform to a revamp of state retirement plans.
  • When asked a question he didn’t like, Skilling, in a tactic learned from his days at McKinsey, responded by dumping “a ton of data on you.” Jindal’s one outstanding skill is to spew statistics and factoids in rapid-fire fashion that can overwhelm and confuse challengers.
  • Skilling, like Jindal, was considered brilliant and extremely articulate. He, like Jindal, always seemed to have the right answer and whenever he was asked about problems it was always someone else’s fault.
  • Skilling displayed no remorse for his own actions, nor did he have any sense that he hired the wrong people or emphasized the wrong values. (See above.)
  • Enron founder Ken Lay saw himself as a business visionary, much as Jindal portrays himself as a policy guru. Lay traveled the world to offer his wisdom on everything from energy deregulation to corporate ethics to the future of business. (Ditto)
  • At the end, Enron employees’ accounts were frozen even as top executives were walking away with fortunes.
  • Efforts by Enron and Arthur Andersen to avoid reporting $500 million in losses “only pushed the problem further off and added another tangle to the fragile web of accounting deceptions.” Do we really need to elaborate here?
  • Enron executives accepted the argument that wealth and power demanded no sense of broader responsibility which in turn led them to embrace the notion that ethical behavior requires nothing more than avoiding the explicitly illegal, that refusing to see the bad things happening in front of you makes you innocent and that telling the truth is the same thing as making sure no one can prove you lied.
  • Enron’s mission was nothing more than a cover story for massive fraud, much as Jindal’s administration is being exposed almost daily as a sham. The story of Enron, like that of Jindal, was a story of human weakness, of hubris and greed and rampant self-delusion, of ambition run amok, of a business model that didn’t work and of smart people who believed their next gamble would cover their last disaster—and most of all, of people who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—admit they were wrong.
  • Enron once aspired to be “the world’s greatest company” but rather became a symbol for all that was wrong with corporate America, exposing Lay’s flaws as a businessman that could no longer be hidden behind Enron’s impressive but misleading façade and Skilling’s glib rhetoric.
  • Despite Enron’s efforts to camouflage the truth, there was more than enough in the public record to raise the hackles of any self-respecting analyst (read: reporter). Analysts (read: reporters) are supposed to dive into a company’s financial records, examine footnotes and even elbow their way past accounting obfuscations. Their job, in short, is to analyze (re: report).

In the end, of course, Enron crumpled under the weight of its own corruption and mismanagement, destroying thousands of lives and even taking down one of the big five accounting firms in the process.

The Jindal administration with each passing day, with every revelation of some new scandal (the Edmonson Amendment, CNSI, the Murphy Painter fiasco, et al) and with each new flawed policy (the Office of Group Benefits debacle), is looking more and more like a train wreck that will adversely affect Louisiana citizens for years to come.

Just call it Enron East.

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