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While the candidates for governor try to turn our eyes away from the circus in Iowa long enough to make their case of why they should be chosen to clean up the Bobby Jindal mess, there is another statewide race that is quietly flying under the radar which deserves our attention.

If ever there was a case to be made for prohibiting campaign contributions from industries and individuals the candidates would be regulating once in office, it would have be with the races for Louisiana Insurance Commissioner, Public Service Commission, and Louisiana Attorney General. An examination of contributions to candidates for those offices stands as the poster child for campaign reform.

Matt Parker is trying to change that. The Monroe native owns and operates an auto body shop and it his experience with insurance companies through his business that has led him to defy all political odds and run against incumbent Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon. http://mattparkerforlouisiana.com/

The single biggest black mark against Parker’s name is that he was an All-State football player at Neville High School in Monroe. Being an alumnus of district rival Ruston High (Magna Cum Barely, class of 1961), long a bridesmaid to the stellar football program of Neville, first under Bill Ruple and later Charles Brown, I find that to be a tough personal negative for Parker to overcome.

His entry into the cesspool of Louisiana politics stems from major problems independent body shops were having and continue to have with auto insurance companies. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/05/07/unlike-a-good-neighbor-state-farm-may-be-undermining-choice-of-auto-repair-shops-same-for-the-good-hands-folks/

Insurance claims departments were said to have had this nasty habit of steering claimants to shops of their own choosing, shops the complainants said that that while cheaper, were turning out inferior work and using sub-par after-market parts. This, said the shops being shut out, was endangering the lives of the motoring public.

The merits or qualifications of Parker are not up for discussion here. What is open for examination, however, is the list of campaign contributors for each of the two candidates. (A third candidate, Baton Rouge attorney Charlotte McDaniel McGehee, a Democrat, has just announced as a candidate but there are not campaign contributions records available for her as yet.)

Both Donelon and Parker are Republicans but you’d never know that from the campaign finance reports of the two candidates.

Donelon’s report is dominated by big money flowing into his campaign from insurance companies and individuals in the industry. No fewer than 75 such companies and individuals from out of state contributed nearly $130,000 to Donelon. That’s $50,000 more than all of Parker’s campaign contributions combined.

In all, Donelon has attracted about half-a-million dollars since January of 2014 while Parker has pulled in $76,800 total.

Sixteen Donelon contributors kicked in $5,000 each, exactly half of those from other states. Thirteen were from the insurance and banking industries.

One of those, Michael Karfunkel of New York City, is a co-founder, along with his brother, of AmTrust, described by the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation (SIRF) as “a high-flying insurance company.” SIRF found that while Michael Karfunkel and brother George were active grant-makers to synagogues and institutions linked to Brooklyn’s Haredi Judaism community, they reaped huge benefits from using their foundations to maintain family control of AmTrust.

Several years of IRS Form 990s, the annual report for tax-exempt foundations, showed that the Karfunkel brothers funneled AmTrust stock into their foundations in violation of IRS rules governing “excess business holdings.”

Basically, a foundation’s “disqualified persons,” an IRS term for foundation managers, family members, directors and key donors, are limited to stock ownership of 20 percent . The Karfunkel insiders owned more than 59 percent of AmTrust’s shares.

Michael Karfunkel and AmTrust each contributed $5,000 to Donelon.

Other insurance companies, attorneys, bankers, and individual in the insurance industry who contributed the $5,000 maximum to Donelon included GMAC Insurance Management, LUBA, USAA, Anchor Insurance Managers, the Republic Group, Joseph Kavanagh of New York City, and Greenberg Traurig of Miami.

Here is the complete list of JIM DONELON CONTRIBUTIONS of $1,000 and more.

Parker, who says on his Web page that he will not accept any contributions from the insurance industry, has received only three individual contributions of $5,000. One of those from Daniel Parker, presumably a relative. Another is from the Louisiana Collision Industry, which has had its cause taken up by Attorney Buddy Caldwell and which had its fight with insurance companies featured on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.

Of his 83 contributors, 41 gave $1,000 or more. By contrast, 282 of Donelon’s contributors gave $1,000 or more. Here is the list of MATT PARKER CONTRIBUTIONS

We have long maintained that no elected regulator should be allowed to receive so much as one dollar from individuals or industries they regulate. While the official may be incorruptible and the epitome of virtue and integrity, the perception is, and always will be, that their decisions will always come down on the side of the contributor. That is one facet of campaign reform that should be—must be—addressed before we can ever say with a straight face that we live in a democracy where everyone gets the same consideration.

The best example of this is that of the billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks who amassed their fortunes in the West Texas fracking boom. The brothers ponied up $15 million to Cruz’s Super PAC. Now let’s say Cruz somehow, God forbid, becomes President. Later, West Texas residents become concerned about health issues associated with fracking. Their drinking water suddenly becomes contaminated and undrinkable and their livestock suddenly become sick or start dying. Should they even bother appealing to a President Cruz’s humanitarian side for help?

We all know you can check that box “No.”

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Does anyone truly believe it was coincidence that State Farm’s increasing homeowners’ deductibles from $500 and $1,000 to 5 percent of the home’s value for named storms in 2014? (If you have a home valued at $150,000, for example, your deductible for damage from a named storm just went from $500 or $1,000 to $7,500. Donelon’s “Oh, well” response? “I wish it were not happening, but it is the world of hurricane deductibles that we live in.” http://www.nola.com/business/baton-rouge/index.ssf/2014/07/state_farms_5_hurricane_deduct.html

Does anyone believe it was coincidence that Allstate kept two separate sets of rates for home repair, depending on whether or not the claims coverage was paid by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or by Allstate? Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Allstate deemed the cost of repairing Allstate-covered damage thusly: 76 cents per square foot for drywall, $23.48 per square yard for carpet, and 80 cents per square foot for painting. But when it came to administering claims under NFIP, claims that were paid by U.S. taxpayers, those same costs were estimated by Allstate as $3.31 per square foot for drywall, $28.43 per square yard for carpet and $1.15 per square foot for painting. (It should be pointed out here that Allstate received a fee for administering NFIP claims, but only if the claim was closed. Thus, it was to Allstate’s benefit to settle quickly—at the higher rates—since the money didn’t come out of Allstate’s pocket.

And does anyone think it coincidence that Allstate and State Farm, applying the tactic taught them by McKinsey and Company (the only private sector firm Bobby Jindal ever worked for) practiced the “delay, deny, defend” method of fighting claims of those who lost everything they owned in the hurricanes? Or that claims for homes where the only thing left was the slab on which the houses sat were denied because the homeowner was unable to prove the home had been destroyed by wind (covered) rather than rising water (not covered)? Or that Katrina blew shingles off roofs in Jackson, Mississippi, 180 miles north of New Orleans, but insurance companies denied similar claims in New Orleans because of a lack of proof that shingles weren’t damaged by rising water instead of wind? Allstate adjusters, worked under strict guidelines to protect the bottom line or risk losing their jobs. http://stlouis.legalexaminer.com/automobile-accidents/allstate-you-are-not-in-good-hands/

Does it seem strange to anyone that insurers were so easily able to pull these scams on premium-paying homeowners in Louisiana?

Or does it seem to be only politics as usual in a state where insurance companies and those affiliated with insurance, banking and defense attorney firms could virtually finance the political campaigns of an insurance commissioner who could be expected to grease the skids when the time came for the companies to employ these tactics against devastated homeowners desperate to settle—even for pennies on the dollar?

Parker or McGehee probably won’t win. The odds are stacked too heavily against them. If it even begins to look as if either one will make a dent in Donelon’s base, you can look for the attack dogs to take over the campaign ads.

But this state deserves better. Donelon might well be as honest as Abe, as righteous as Atticus Finch, as moral as Gandhi and as compassionate as Mother Teresa. I’m in no position to say otherwise.

But as long as the Commissioner of Insurance, Public Service Commission and the Attorney General campaign donations are dominated by regulated industries and individuals affiliated with those interests, the perception will always be there that the offices are bought, owned and run by special interests.

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Three news stories on the last day of July and first day of August raised more questions than they answered about Bobby Jindal’s personal and campaign finances and, at the same time, re-opened a controversy over the funneling of $4.5 million in state funds to a family member of one of Jindal’s campaign contributors at the expense of Louisiana’s developmentally disabled.

It was a pair of stories by CNN and Associated Press on July 25 and Aug. 2, however, that again reminded us of the insanity of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which opened the door for the corporatocracy and its affiliated special interests to usurp the democratic process from America’s citizenry.

The first story, on Friday, July 31, revealed that Jindal’s net worth was somewhere in the range of $3.3 million and $11.3 million. That’s a pretty big range, to be sure, but the federal financial disclosure forms are written that way—deliberately, most likely, to allow elected officials to comply with financial reporting laws while still managing to conceal their true worth.

The following day, August 1, two stories appeared in the Baton Rouge Advocate. The first, on Page 3A, announced that boat builder Gary Chouest, one of Jindal’s major donors—and a grateful beneficiary of legislative projects pushed by Jindal—contributed $1 million to Believe Again, a super PAC supporting Jindal. In that same issue of the Advocate, on page 3B was a story that a company headed by a Chouest family member who had received $4.5 million from the state in 2014 was being sued over money owed Andretti Sports Marketing by the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana and NOLA Motorsports Park. The owner of NOLA Motorsports Park is Laney Chouest and the amount in question is…$1 million.

More on that later.

It was the pair of stories by CNN and AP, however, which shone the glaring light of undue influence of PAC money, particularly in national elections. Julie Bykowicz and Jack Gillum, writing for AP, noted that it took U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz three months to raise $10 million for his 2015 presidential campaign but a single check from hedge fund manager Robert Mercer eclipsed that number with a single, $11 million contribution to Keep the Promise, Cruz’s super PAC.

Not to be outdone, billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, who amassed their fortunes in the West Texas fracking boom, chipped in $15 million to Cruz’s super PAC, according to a July 25 CNN story by Elliot Smilowitz. Should we wonder which side of the fracking debate Cruz comes down on? If he wins the Republican nomination and is subsequently elected President, should West Texas residents, concerned about the quality of their drinking water or about their sick and/or dying livestock, even bother appealing to Cruz’s humanitarian side?

You can check that box “No.”

But back to Jindal and his unexplained wealth. A 44-year-old multi-millionaire can’t be found on any old street corner, especially a 44-year-old who has spent all but a single year of his adult working life in the public sector. Upon completion of his studies at Oxford University, he joined the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. for about 11 months. He left McKinsey to become a congressional intern for U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery before being appointed by Gov. Mike Foster as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at the tender age of 24. Four years later, he appointed the youngest-ever president of the University of Louisiana System and in 2001, he was named by President George W. Bush as Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation. After losing his first campaign for governor to Kathleen Blanco in 2003, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives the following year and was re-elected in 2006 before being elected governor in 2007.

In 2005, a year into his first term as a congressman, Jindal’s net worth was reported to be between $1.18 million and $3.17 million. A short year later, that estimate was between $1.3 million and $3.5 million, according to federal financial reports, ranking Jindal as the 118th richest of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. By 2015, ten years following that initial report, his net worth has tripled to $3.8 million on the low range or $11.3 million on the high range—all on a public servant’s salary of $165,200 per year as a congressman, for all of three years, and $130,000 per year as governor for less than eight years.

He listed on his financial reports, besides his salary, income from investments. But how does an elected official find the time to tend to the business of the nation or the state and see to the concerns of his constituents, engage in re-election fundraising, and play the market? Jindal, the avowed advocate of transparency, has never explained how his wealth was attained other than to quip, “I tried to be born wealthy, but that plan didn’t work.” As the son of immigrant parents, both state employees, he is probably correct in saying he was not born rich.

But what he did do was coerce the Senate Finance Committee in 2014 into ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and reallocating the money for the Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish. It is that $4.5 million that has come into question in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.

In order to bring the IndyCar race to Avondale, NOLA Motorsports created a nonprofit affiliate, or non-government organization (NGO), to apply for and receive a $4.5 million from the state to fund improvements at the track.

Andretti Sports Marketing subsequently signed a three-year contract to organize the Grand Prix beginning in 2015. Andretti, in its lawsuit, claims NOLA Motorsports Park used $3.4 million of that state grant to pay for improvements which did not leave enough to pay Andretti and other vendors. NOLA, on the other hand, claims it used only $2.6 million on improvements.

It should be a simple matter for NOLA Motorsports Park to verify the expenditure of every nickel of that $4.5 million state grant. After all, under rules enacted after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, any NGO that receives money from the state general fund is required to provide quarterly reports on how the money is used. Officials of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism verified that all required records were submitted by NOLA Motorsports. “We would not have released the money unless they were incompliance,” said one CRT official.

And even as the claims and counterclaims were surfacing in Court, Gary Chouest was plowing $1 million into Believe Again, reminding us to, well, believe again that the Citizens United Supreme Court decision snatched control of America’s elections, and necessarily, of the government itself, from its citizens and hand delivered that control to the corporatocracy and its well-financed lobbyists.

But let us not forget that while all those millions were being tossed around what with Gary Chouest dropping a cool million on Jindal’s super PAC and with opposing parties quarreling in federal court over payments to promote Laney Chouest’s $75 million, (did we mention it is privately-owned?) racetrack, the big loser in all this were Louisiana’s developmentally disabled.

With the lone exception of State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), the Senate Finance Committee, in taking its marching orders from Jindal, removed $4.5 million from the developmentally disabled in 2014—just a year after he vetoed a 2013 appropriation of extra funding to help shorten the waiting list for services for those same developmentally disabled.

State campaign finance records show that between 2007 and 2010—long before the 2014 $1 million contribution to Believe Again—members of the Chouest family and their various business interests contributed $106,000 to Jindal—all in the interest of good government, of course.

 

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Louisiana, from Huey and Earl Long to Jimmie Davis, John McKeithen, and Edwin Edwards, has a well-earned reputation of electing colorful—and controversial—governors. It is, therefore, something of a paradox that the one who would aspire to play on the national stage would be described as a policy wonk with no personality and nothing in common with the others.

While Bobby Jindal is unquestionably intelligent, he, unlike the others, is woefully inadequate in his ability to relate to his constituents on a one-on-one basis or to field hard questions from a skeptical press. To put it bluntly, he simply lacks the skills to relate to the man in the street, forced instead to fall back on his time-worn but well-rehearsed rhetorical philosophy designed to appeal to his ultra-right-wing political base. Jindal perhaps is best described as Ben Stein (the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) without the charisma.

Even when he does stray from his tightly-controlled script in an effort to draw a laugh, his efforts usually languish. In 2014, he made an appearance at the Gridiron Dinner in Washington and followed that the next night with an address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and set up the same joke about Attorney General Eric Holder at both events by saying, “I see Eric Holder is with us…” The problem was Holder was not at CPAC (nor would he ever have been expected to be) and the gag fell embarrassingly flat (cue the chirping crickets).

A good politician, like a good standup comic, always knows his audience. Lyndon Johnson once said he had no use for any politician who, thirty seconds after entering a room, could not tell who was for him and who was against him. Lyndon Johnson would have no use for Jindal. Nor would Edwin Edwards who could always be counted on for a quip appropriate to the crowd or the event. No one but Edwards would, after getting a hug from a nun in Monroe, dare say something like, “Careful, Sister, I don’t want to get into any habits.” Nor could Jindal ever get away with saying (as did Edwards) the only way he could lose an election (against David Duke in 1991) would to be “caught in bed with a dead girl or live boy.”

Instead, when Jindal talks, he comes across as stilted and decidedly wooden, inflexible. He cannot speak off the cuff; everything is rehearsed, which is why every speech sounds like all the others. He is unnatural and exhibits absolutely no understanding—or compassion—for the single working mom, for the working poor unable to afford health care insurance, or for the tax burden of the middle class, a result of his generous tax breaks to business and industry. His limp handshake only serves to underscore his disdain for pressing the flesh (to borrow a term from LBJ).

His railing against Washington and President Barrack Obama is vaguely reminiscent of Robert F. Kennon in his run for a second term as governor in 1963. I spent a day with Kennon in 1983 and he relayed an interesting story to me. He had crisscrossed the state during the ’63 campaign, repeating his familiar slogan: “Send Kennon to Baton Rouge and (President) Kennedy back to Massachusetts.” The slogan caught fire and Kennon surged to the lead in the polls ahead of key rival New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Morrison (that would be “Dellasoups,” to Uncle Earl). Public Service Commissioner John McKeithen, meanwhile, slogged along with his own aw-shucks slogan: “Won’t you he’p me?” Then, on November 22, the eve of the governor’s election, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and overnight, public opinion was turned on its head. Kennon was out, McKeithen finished second to Morrison and then won in a runoff. “Kennedy’s assassination beat me,” he told me 20 years later.

I also spent an entire day as a young newspaper reporter in 1971 riding with McKeithen near the end of his second term as he toured the LSU agriculture station in Homer in Claiborne Parish prior to an address to the local chamber of commerce that night. The tour was not one of those events where the politician breezes in, shakes a couple of hands and departs, leaving it to his press office to call it a “tour.” Instead, McKeithen, fascinated with innovations at the Ag station, spent the entire day learning about how the station personnel managed to get productive timberland to serve the dual purpose of grazing land for the farm’s cattle. “I’ve never seen cattle graze in timberland,” said McKeithen, himself a cattle rancher.

And during McKeithen’s entire visit at Homer that day, there was not a state trooper security detail anywhere in sight. Not one. Zilch. Jindal, on the other hand, never goes anywhere without a coterie of state police security, even during his presidential run which has taken him out of Louisiana for more than 45 percent of his final years as governor—all at the expense of Louisiana taxpayers.

Even in retirement, John McKeithen kept the common touch. In the late 1980s, I resided next door to his son, Secretary of State Fox McKeithen. The younger McKeithen had a pecan tree in his front yard and on many mornings when I walked outside to retrieve my Baton Rouge Advocate, there would be Big John walking around the yard picking up pecans. Somehow, it’s just impossible to conjure up an image of Bobby Jindal walking around picking up pecans off the ground. He’d almost certainly have a state trooper from his security detail performing that task.

Jimmie Davis not only was an immensely popular singer, but a spellbinding storyteller as well. He told a great one about Edwards. When Davis left office in 1964, he built a new home behind the governor’s mansion. Both the Davis home and the governor’s mansion were across the lake from the State Capitol and Davis said once he was in his back yard “knocking down dirt dauber nests, wasp nests, pulling weeds and killing snakes,” out of the corner of his eye he caught then-Governor Edwards strolling purposely toward the lake. As he watched, he suddenly realized that Edwards was intent on walking to the Capitol…across the lake. “He’s going to try to walk on the lake,” Davis thought. Sure enough, Edwards did indeed begin walking across the lake and made it about halfway before suddenly sinking. “There wasn’t anything I could do,” Davis said, “but walk out there, pull him up out of the water and carry him the rest of the way.”

We can thank Davis, by the way, for the Sunshine Bridge over the Mississippi River at Donaldsonville, for the current governor’s mansion, and for the implementation of civil service as protection of state employees from political patronage.

As a political junkie, I have followed Louisiana’s governors all the way back to Uncle Earl. I vividly remember Earl’s mental breakdown, his commitment to a couple of mental hospitals and his subsequent escapes. I recall his defeat of incumbent U.S. Rep. Harold McSween in 1960 only to die of heart failure ten days later. As a teenager, I read every book about Huey and Earl Long that I could lay my hands on. Rather than cut funding for services, Huey increased the miles of paved highways in Louisiana from 300 to 3,000. Rather than deprive the poor of health care, he built Big Charity Hospital in New Orleans that operated as a teaching hospital for Tulane and LSU medical schools while providing care for the poor. Instead of slashing appropriations for higher education, Huey made LSU a top tier university. Jindal, hell-bent on cutting taxes for industry and the rich, allowed the state’s infrastructure to crumble. He denied Medicaid expansion, thus depriving 300,000 of the state’s poor adequate medical care. Budget cuts under Jindal’s leadership proved disastrous to higher education, forcing tuition increases that were unaffordable to low income students.

But after all is said and done, it was Earl Long who was the real visionary. Jindal beats his chest, refusing to accept Medicaid expansion. He fought Common Core, defiantly boasting that he would not allow Washington or the liberal media to sway him. But even as Mississippi’s Ross Barnett, Alabama’s George Wallace, and Arkansas’ Orville Faubus were pledging “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” Earl saw the writing on the wall early on and prepared for the future accordingly.

When Orleans Parish legislators approached him in the 1950s about locating a public university in New Orleans, Earl readily agreed—on one condition: the school would be open to whites and blacks alike. Higher education was integrated in Louisiana years before James Meredith entered Ole Miss and before George Wallace stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama. Rather than cutting education, Earl originated the hot lunch program in Louisiana’s public elementary and high schools, providing students affordable lunches—his proudest accomplishment.

Earl refused to take political advantage of the fever-pitch emotions that were boiling over in Baton Rouge over the desegregation fight with the federal government. His most famous confrontation was with Plaquemines Parish political boss Leander Perez, who refused to acknowledge the changing times and attempted to pass sweeping legislation in Baton Rouge to resist the growing tide of desegregation. “What’re you gonna do now, Leander?” Earl shouted at his nemesis at one point. “The feds have the A-bomb!”

Dave Treen, the quintessential Republican, who served as governor from 1980-1984, proposed a $450 million tax on oil and gas to hold the industry accountable for damage to the state’s coastal marshes. The Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy (CWEL), which he said would place no undue burden on any individual or group, fell twelve votes short of the necessary two-thirds approval in the House after being vehemently opposed by oil and gas interests and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).

That stands in stark contrast to Jindal, who, beholden to the oil companies for their financial support of his political campaigns, was in bitter opposition to (and eventually succeeded in killing) a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) seeking to force the companies to restore the state’s damaged wetlands.

These are the personality and philosophical traits sorely lacking in Jindal’s psychological makeup. He cannot champion the working people of Louisiana—or America—in the manner of Huey Long. He could never negotiate the peace between warring factions the way in which Edwin Edwards could get both sides to comprise—and like it. Jindal, with his disconcerting rapid-fire speaking manner, is devoid of the ease with which Jimmie Davis could hold an entire room captive with his homespun humor. His response to Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009 proved that beyond any doubt. He could never be relaxed after more than five minutes of visiting something as ordinary as an agricultural station in north Louisiana but McKeithen, on the other hand, was right at home. Earl may have had mental issues, but even in his deteriorated emotional state, he stood head and shoulders above Jindal in his ability—and willingness—to do for people what they could not do for themselves.

There does not exist a hole sufficiently deep to bury the differences between Jindal and any one of those six governors. To somehow think he is presidential timber is simply beyond comprehension. He would be wise to consider the human element of leadership over any poll results.

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And the hits just keep coming.

Bobby Jindal, a little distracted in his presidential campaign by his pesky job back home in Louisiana, has yet more legal problems piling up on his desk.

Meanwhile, Jindal, laser focused on becoming the leader laughingstock of the free world, offered up one of his most confusing diatribes yet while on his 99-county tour of Iowa, offering conflicting comments that any reporter worth his press credentials should be salivating over about now.

As the infamous north Louisiana hospital deals, complete with a contract containing 50 blank pages, begins its inevitable collapse (predicted by just about anyone with an IQ higher than a cluster of wet Spanish moss), complete with litigation and a backdoor public relations campaign by the current operator of the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway in Monroe, yet another lawsuit has been slipped under the door.

The first court hearing for a lawsuit against the state Office of Group Benefits (OGB), the Office of the Governor and the state Division of Administration will be conducted July 27 in Baton Rouge District Court before Judge Janice Clark. The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m.

And guess who the state’s defense attorney will be? Yep, you got it. Jimmy Faircloth who has enjoyed about as much courtroom success as Wiley E. Coyote in pursuit of the elusive roadrunner. The only thing missing from Faircloth’s courtroom misadventures are anvils and dynamite. In representing the state in the OGB litigation, Faircloth will be adding to more than the $1.5 million he has already received in other representations. It’s not all Faircloth’s fault of course; he has been given some dogs to defend by this hapless administration.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of state employees, teachers and retirees, who are asking the court to overturn changes to OGB’s health plans that took effect March 1—premium increases and reduced coverage that were predicted by LouisianaVoice way back when the privatization of OGB was first proposed by the Jindal administration.

Representing the plaintiffs is J. Arthur Smith III of the Smith Law Firm of Baton Rouge.

The plaintiffs are claiming that changes forced on them by OGB were not enacted legally and they were denied a reasonable opportunity, as required by the Louisiana Administrative Procedure Act, to comment on the proposed changes. The plaintiffs further maintain that the OGB and the administration violated due process, the contracts clause of the Louisiana Constitution and their fiduciary duties to plan participants. The plaintiffs also say that increased costs and decreased benefits pose a financial hardship that limits their access to healthcare services and needed medicines.

An association formed to fund the lawsuit, LA VERITE’ 2015, is registered with the Louisiana Secretary of State. LA VERITE’ is French for TRUTH, and stands for Louisiana Voices of Employees and Retirees for Insurance Truth and Equity. There are no dues and membership is open to any active or retired state employee, teacher, or other interested individual.

Plaintiff Marilee Cash, a retiree, said the goal of the lawsuit is to protect approximately 230,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents who have health insurance through the Office of Group Benefits. “Large increases in out-of-pocket expenses, combined with withheld pay increases for active employees and cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, pose a financial hardship for many people covered by OGB,” she said. “Our compensation has not kept up with inflation during Gov. Jindal’s administration, due to mismanagement of state funds and poor fiscal decisions. Before March 1, our healthcare costs and insurance premiums were manageable. Now these increased costs have put healthcare services out of reach for many dedicated public servants and retirees.”

The administration claims the changes were made to preserve the Group Benefits reserve, which has been drastically reduced as OGB reduced premium revenue while paying out increasing medical claims expenses. The fund, created by the premiums paid by those who are insured, stood at about $500 million just two years ago. Less than half that amount remains. The Jindal administration drew down the reserve by reducing employer contributions in order to balance the state budget and then using money saved from reduced employer contributions to patch holes in the state budget.

In Iowa, Jindal took what might be considered an ill-advised swipe at President Obama and the U.S. Supreme Court (you know, the court he said several days ago should be abolished) at the Family Leadership Summit over the weekend.

At issue was the court’s ruling on the court’s recent same-sex marriage decision that prohibits discrimination against gays by businesses.

“The next president should do what we did in Louisiana,” he said: “issue an executive order saying the federal government will not discriminate or take action against any individual or business that has a traditional view of marriage.”

But wait. Isn’t the ACLU suing Jindal over his May 19 executive order that he issued after the legislature shot down a bill by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) to pass the Marriage and Conscience Act?

And wait again. Didn’t Jindal recently go a little ballistic over executive orders issued by President Obama?

Yep. As a matter of fact, after calling on the next president to issue an executive order like his, he turned right around and said…Wait. We want to make that a separate paragraph:

            “We’ve got a president who has made it a consistent practice to ignore the Constitution, ignore the laws, issue executive orders,” Jindal said as he promised that if he is elected president, he would immediately rescind Obama’s “illegal” executive orders.

So, on the one hand, he wants to rescind Obama’s “illegal” executive orders while proposing that the next president (presumably himself) to issue an illegal executive order identical to his own “Marriage and Conscience” order—illegal because the governor may issue executive orders pertaining to the executive branch of government only and not on matters that affect private sector action of any kind, according to ACLU executive director Marjorie Esman.

But hey. Once again LouisianaVoice implores you to remember that it was a Jindal operative who told Division of Administration employees in a meeting, “Let’s not be bound by the law.” If that’s not downright Nixonian, then up is down, down is up, and Brenda Lee was acid rock.

Any bets as to who will be representing the state on the ACLU litigation?

We’re reminded of the joke that (and we’re paraphrasing to fit the situation here) Jindal is a lot like a slinky: Not really good for anything but they still bring a smile when you push them down a flight of stairs.

Except Jindal’s not a slinky. He’s more like a train wreck and the damage inflicted when he went off the rails was widespread and massive—and it impacted every one of us.

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Two emails popped up on our computer on Wednesday that we simply could not ignore and while the messages concern men who have an intense dislike for each other, the emails are nevertheless related in ways that should offend every voter citizen in Louisiana.

If you were not already turned off by Bobby Jindal and David Vitter, these should do it. If not, then you are part of the problem.

The first is a response to one of our readers from U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the odds-on favorite to become Louisiana’s next governor.

Our reader had written Vitter to ask for his support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that said corporations and unions may not be restricted from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections, in effect giving corporations the same rights as citizens. (The exception is that citizens may be sentenced to prison terms for white collar crimes while corporations may only be fined—usually in amounts far less than the financial gains realized from the criminal activity.)

Anyone who still does not see the manner in which money buys elections in this country—from legislators all the way up to president of the United States—either is a special interest lobbyist, a corporatist power broker, or someone who lives under a rock.

Vitter, in his response, somehow managed to morph the request for the regulation of campaign finance to the muzzling of free speech. “Thank you for contacting me in support of a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress and states to regulate campaign finance and political speech,” he said.

“As you know,” he said, “more than 40 Senate Democrats are supporting an amendment to the Constitution to allow regulations on political speech during federal elections. This proposal comes in response to multiple United States Supreme Court cases upholding the free speech protections enshrined in the First Amendment.”

Right away, he manages to turn it into a Democrat vs. Republican rather than a bipartisan issue. Somehow, when they get to Washington, they just have to make everything an us vs. them fight—like it would kill them to ever admit anyone in the other party might have a good idea. No wonder Congress has such a low approval rating, right down there with televangelists. And we just as quickly get the feeling that Vitter isn’t going to be very sympathetic to any suggestion of campaign reform. Not that’s any real surprise; a special super political action committee was set up on Vitter’s behalf earlier this year to help catapult him into the governor’s office. That PAC, The Fund for Louisiana’s Future, immediately funneled more than $3 million into his campaign.

But back to his email:

“Proponents of the amendment argue that corporations and individuals should be limited in their ability to indirectly support or oppose federal candidates, but the amendment would grant Congress power to pass new statutory limitations on political speech that could impact anyone,” he said.

Oh, please.

“I fear that its adoption would allow Congress to regulate everyone from the Sierra Club to the National Rifle Association, pro-life and pro-choice groups, and could even suppress publishers and producers from releasing new books and movies that pertain to a candidate.”

What unmitigated B.S.

“Moreover, nothing in this amendment is limited to corporations or billionaires; it could easily include limitations on the rights of every American. A free society must engage in robust discourse in search of truth,” he continued in his self-serving gooneybabble.

“Objectionable speech should be confronted in the free marketplace of ideas where the best ideas win out, not through government regulations.

“Never in the history of the Constitution have we amended the Bill of Rights. I firmly disagree that we should do so now, especially not a right so fundamental to who we are as a nation. Although we disagree, rest assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind.”

So the bottom line is Mr. Vitter, who desires to be our next governor, wants corporations, lobbyists and special interest organizations with the financial clout to continue to buy access while drowning out our voices—to club our ideas, letters, emails and small (read: meaningless) contributions into so much pulp with their millions of dollars.

Mr. Vitter’s version of free speech—speech that favors those who are connected and who have the financial resources to purchase elections and politicians—is precisely what is wrong with the political system in the United States—and Louisiana.

The plain truth is Vitter is trying to purchase the governor’s office with his PAC and well-heeled political supporters who are contributing to his campaign not in the interest of good government but in the expectation of some quid pro quo in the form of contracts or favorable legislation. In other words, the buddy system wins, the state of Louisiana loses.

That email is just the sort of thing that State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) should plaster all over every newspaper and television station in the state to show the real manner in which David Vitter views democracy and free speech.

And those views have nothing to do with representative government. They are to be used as a vehicle to roll over honest, hard-working citizens and, in the process, to make them think he’s doing them a favor. It’s all about convincing the great unwashed to vote against their own best interests by waving the flag and finding new enemies to hate.

The other email was a report in Wednesday’s online edition of the Baton Rouge Business Report, edited by Rolfe McCollister, a Jindal appointee to the LSU Board of Supervisors and who served as campaign treasurer of Jindal’s gubernatorial campaign and who now serves a treasurer of his presidential campaign.

That story said Jindal, who announced he was a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination just a week before the close of the second quarter fundraising period, raised $578,758 in that first week.

In all, he has raised more than $9 million, with the bulk of that (more than $8.6 million) raised through super PACs—the American Future Project, Believe Again, and the America Next non-profit—which only reinforces what we said above about the unlevel playing field created by PACs.

The report said that 87 percent of Jindal’s campaign donors contributed $100 or less.

That’s the same kind of garbage he once tried to feed us about the contributions to his governor’s campaign. Trouble is, readers should not listen to what he says but rather to what is not said.

In poring over his initial presidential campaign report (yes, we do that), we found 180 contributors gave the maximum $2,700. That included multiple members of the same household, or in the case of the Madden Construction family in Minden, eight separate Maddens contributed $2,700 each.

The 180 individual donors combined to account for $486,000 of that $578,758. Two of those donors were listed as giving additional checks of $5,400 each (which exceeds federal limits, but we’ll leave that to the Federal Elections Commission). Moreover, an organization identified as the Smoke Bend Political Action Committee ponied up another $5,000.

That runs the subtotal to $501,800.

Continuing down the list, we find that 14 individuals gave $1,000 each, 21 gave $500 each, 42 contributed $250 each, five gave $350 and two more chipped in $300 each.

Altogether, that comes to $538,800, or 93 percent of the total $578,758 and it leaves only about $40,000 for that 87 percent who gave $100 or less. Don’t listen to what they say; hear what they’re not saying.

So the point is, the big money donors simply overwhelm the small donors and to say that most of his donors were small donors is deliberately misleading and disingenuous.

But just for argument’s sake, let’s take a look at a few of major donors.

  • Rolfe McCollister (LSU Board of Supervisors member) and Gene McCollister of Baton Rouge, $2700 each;
  • Hank Danos (LSU Board) and Rodlyn Danos of Larose, $2700 each;
  • Jack Lawton (LSU Board) and Holly Lawton of Lake Charles, $2700 each;
  • Jim McCrery (LSU Board), $2700;
  • Robert Yarborough (LSU Board) and Marsha Yarborough of Baton Rouge, $2700 each;
  • Chester Lee Mallett (LSU Board) and son Brad Mallett of Iowa, LA., $2700 each;
  • James Moore (LSU Board) and Lynn Moore of Monroe, $2700 each;
  • Scott Ballard (LSU Board) and Kristi Ballard of Covington, $2700 each;
  • Blake Chatelain (LSU Board) of Alexandria, $2700;
  • David Madden, Connie Madden, Sharon Madden, Lydia Madden, James Madden, John Madden, Melissa Madden and Douglas Madden, all of Minden, $2700 each;
  • Former Congressman Robert Livingston and Bonnie Livingston of Alexandria, VA., $2700 each;
  • Former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater of Baton Rouge, $2700;
  • Louisiana Department of Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield and Nan Barfield of Baton Rouge, $2700 each;
  • Publisher of Baton Rouge Business Report Julio Melara of Baton Rouge, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, $2700;
  • Robert Bruno of Covington, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, $2700;
  • J.E. Brignac of Prairieville, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, $2700;
  • William Windham of Bossier City, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, and Carol Windham, $2700 each;
  • Former Jindal Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth of Pineville, $2700.

Those are just a few, but they account for $94,500. Not too much in the way of contributions outside Louisiana. Apparently the price of being appointed to a prestigious board or commission is not only to vote the way you’re told (see LSU board’s vote on firing presidents, doctors and attorneys, and on giving away state hospitals) but to pony up campaign funds when the boss comes calling.

Conspicuously absent (with only a couple of exceptions), however, were the names of Indian-Americans who practically lined up to contribute to his gubernatorial campaigns of 2003, 2007 and 2011 before watching in dismay as he began to distance himself from his Indian heritage, claiming that he did not believe in hyphenated-Americans.

 

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