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Archive for the ‘Public Records’ Category

The Louisiana Auctioneers Licensing Board doesn’t like former board member Robert Burns. Neither does the board’s attorney, convicted felon Larry Bankston.

That’s understandable. They haven’t like him since he uncovered payroll fraud and other irregularities and was bounced off the board by Bobby Jindal, whose idea of accountability is to hold whistleblowers fully accountable. When he was shown the door, Burns began video recording board meetings. During one meeting he even captured the board’s attorney saying Jindal’s office had advised the board not to worry about a legislative auditor’s report critical of illegal payments and illegal pay raises to part time executive assistant Sandy Edmonds.

Burns can be much like a canker sore when he puts his mind to it—irritating, always there, and impossible to ignore. But there’s nothing in the state public meeting statutes that says spectators—or media—must be liked. In fact, when the media (and Burns, through his newly-launched Web blog, is a member of the media whether that fits the board’s definition or not) become too cozy with public officials, then they no longer serve their purpose as the public watchdog.

Today (Aug. 31), we received a disturbing email from Burns. The Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board is considering turning off and removing his video recorder if he leaves it unmanned to go to the restroom or leaves the room for any other reason. “Frequently I am the only one in attendance” at board meetings, Burns wrote. True, the Auctioneer Licensing Board flies pretty much under the radar and attracts little to no media attention other than from Burns.

“If I need to go to the restroom or something,” he continued, “I leave the video camera running while on its unipod.” (I still don’t know why he doesn’t invest in a tripod which, unlike a unipod, is free-standing, but that’s another story.)

The AGENDA released for Tuesday’s (Sept. 1) meeting contains item number 8, which says:

  • Revision of Board Meeting Rules- In the event that the public videos or records the proceedings, such equipment must be manned at all times. Any equipment left unattended will be removed and turned off.

Now I am no attorney, though Mr. Bankston is, or at least he has been since he got the Louisiana Supreme Court to reinstate his licenses after his release from prison.

In 1994, then-State Sen. Bankston (D-Baton Rouge), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (appropriately enough), met in his law office with one Fred Goodson, owner of a video poker truck stop in Slidell. There followed a discussion of a plan to manipulate the legislative process so as to protect the interest of video poker companies.

And what did Bankston get as quid pro quo? Well, it seems he owned a beachfront condominium in Gulf Shores, Alabama, so Goodson agreed to pay Bankston $1,555 per month for the “non-use” lease of the condo—a bribe, as it were.

Indicted on October of 1996, he was convicted on two counts of racketeering the following year and sentenced to a 41-month sentence in federal prison and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.

He was released on Nov. 6, 2000, and served the remainder of his term in a half-way house in Baton Rouge. He was disbarred on March 9, 2002, retroactive to Nov. 19, 1997, but on Feb. 5, 2004, with only one dissenting vote, the Supreme Court’s disciplinary committee recommended that he be re-admitted to the bar.

So today, he provides legal advice to the Auctioneer Licensing Board—a board that winks and looks the other way at payroll fraud on behalf of one of its part time employees.

“If the proposed rule passes,” Burns wrote, “the board apparently believes it has the right to ‘remove and turn off’ any video recording equipment left running. I see nothing in the statute that requires any equipment to be manned, nor do I see where they have any authority to tamper with my video equipment, much less ‘remove it.’

“This is just another effort by a public body hell-bent on deterring public transparency,” he said, adding that he was going to go on the assumption that Attorney General Buddy Caldwell “has been perfectly willing to aid and abet” in the proposed action.

Duly indignant over this flagrant violation of state law, I fired off my own email to the board which first cited the applicable state law on public meetings:

  • The law grants the public the right to attend and record the deliberations of public bodies including city and parish governing bodies; school boards; levee boards; port commissions; boards of public utilities; planning, zoning and airport commissions; other state, local or special district boards, commissions or authorities with policy making, advisory or administrative functions; and committees or subcommittees of those bodies. Judicial proceedings are exempted.

After providing that remedial lesson on the law, I wrote:

I am given to understand this item is to discuss a new rule which would allow the board to turn off Mr. Burns’ video recorder should he have to leave the meeting for a few minutes for any reason. I have a problem with this and I am personally prepared to take you to court over both.

First of all, you have no right to tamper with his video equipment. It is perfectly within the law for him to record the meetings as per the section on public meetings laws highlighted above. Whether he happens to be in the room at the time or not is irrelevant. It is his equipment, not yours, and he has every right under law to record any open meeting.

Moreover, if you follow through on this action, I will pay the costs of Mr. Burns’ filing a lawsuit holding the board chairperson and its legal counsel personally liable for all applicable fines and legal costs. Mr. Burns will not only file suit for damages under the open meetings laws but for harassment and intimidation, as well.

There’s another twist in this sordid soap opera. Item 2 on the agenda calls for a discussion of Burns. He recently lost a public records lawsuit against the board, not because he was wrong in his contention, but because, in the presiding judge’s words, the office of Attorney General Buddy Caldwell gave the board bad advice.

Be that as it may, the agenda said that the discussion of Burns may require an executive session.

Not so!

The only reason for an executive, or closed session is to discuss ongoing negotiations, pending litigation or personnel matters. In the case of Burns, he is not an employee of the board, so any claim of discussing personnel would be invalid as would any claim of ongoing negotiations. As for pending litigation, it is no longer pending. The ruling has been made and the case is over, so all excuses for executive session are out the window. So, if there is to be a discussion of Burns, he has every right under law to insist that all such discussion be done in open session for all (including video cameras) to see and hear. If the board does otherwise, it will be yet another claim in future litigation.

In fact, the board is now skating dangerously close to civil rights violations, which would through any lawsuit into federal court.

 

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A former reserve law enforcement officer from southwest Louisiana has filed a formal complaint against a state trooper and his then-captain over an ongoing feud with State Trooper Jimmy Rogers that was the subject of an earlier LouisianaVoice story. http://louisianavoice.com/2015/08/12/the-stark-reality-of-jindal-administrations-double-standards-found-in-discipline-of-state-trooper-for-text-phone-threats/

The latest complaint marks the second time Rogers has become confrontational with individuals in Troop D and yet he has been assigned to work in the Troop D area school systems as a State Police School Resource Officer.

It is the third formal complaint that Dwight Gerst has attempted to file against Rogers and the second against Maj. Chris Guillory after Guillory refused to act on—or even accept—Gerst’s first complaint against Rogers last year. State Police Internal Affairs likewise never followed up on Gerst’s complaint that the state trooper stalked him at his home and at his child’s school in his state police vehicle.

Guillory refused to accept Gerst’s initial attempt at filing the complaint against Rogers, telling Gerst that he had “a problem” with Gerst and would not talk about his complaint until his “problem” was resolved. That “problem” was a festering dispute with Rogers that began in earnest when Gerst picked up two children from school and drove them home. Gerst says he had a reciprocal agreement with a neighbor whereby either parent could pick up the other’s child after school, but one of the children he picked up was Roger’s child.

Rogers, however, would seem to have problems of his own, judging from that heavily redacted nine-page disciplinary letter to him from State Police Commander Col. Mike Edmonson. In that Nov. 19, 2010, letter, Rogers was informed he would receive a 240-hour reduction in pay (a 10 percent reduction for 30 pay periods, which amounted to a $4,845.60 cut in pay) for repeated verbal threats of bodily harm and arrest directed to another man with whom he was feuding.

A court document filed by the mother of Rogers’s child and obtained by LouisianaVoice described Rogers as having “a lengthy history of abuse as well as (a) violent temperament.” The petition further said that Rogers had threatened to kill her and her family. The woman also requested that Rogers be entitled to supervised visitation of the child.

Despite the discipline meted out by Edmonson for the threats against the mother and her family, and despite Gerst’s attempt to file the complaint against him that was refused by Guillory, and never acted upon by State Police hierarchy, Rogers was nevertheless reassigned by Guillory this year as School Resource Officer to work in the Troop D area schools. SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER

Last August, Gerst picked up the neighbor’s nine-year-old child and Rogers’s five-year-old child who was left in the care of the older child. He said he took the children “straight home,” a distance of some 400 yards and then notified Rogers via text. Upon receiving the text, Rogers became infuriated. He subsequently pulled Gerst over at the school and demanded proof that he was authorized to pick up his own son and a niece and nephew. Gerst said Rogers was in uniform and was driving a state police vehicle in which two children were riding at the time.

When Guillory refused to accept Gerst’s formal complaint against Rogers, Gerst took his complaint up the chain of command, to State Police headquarters in Baton Rouge but that complaint was never addressed by Baton Rouge.

A state police spokesperson acknowledged on Monday (Aug. 17), however that Internal Affairs was investigating “some serious allegations” at Troop D Though he did not specify what the nature of those allegations were, they are probably related to Gerst’s latest complaint filed last week.

Following his complaint to State Police headquarters last year, Gerst was arrested and booked on $15,000 bail for two misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Though the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office declined to make an arrest, it was made at the behest of the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s Office. Rogers and Guillory were said to have met with the district attorney representatives to push for the charges against Gerst.

After the prosecution presented its case at Gerst’s trial, the case was apparently so weak that the presiding judge issued a directed verdict of not guilty before Gerst’s attorneys even found it necessary to put on a defense. A directed verdict is an order given when the presiding judge finds that no reasonable jury could reach a decision to the contrary.

In his latest complaint, Gerst said he knew Rogers and the two communicated regularly. He said he picked up his neighbor’s nine-year-old daughter who was with Rogers’s five-year-old. “It was a hot day and I thought that someone was not able to pick the children up because children that young seem too young to walk home without supervision,” he said. “I had authorization from the parents to pick up the nine-year-old from school and they had the same permission for picking up my children. Jimmy was very angry and I told him it would not happen again.” He said after that incident, Rogers began stalking him. “He parked outside my home while off duty in his state police patrol vehicle and in uniform on several occasions.”

Later, he said he was in line to pick up his child at school and Rogers was behind him in his marked unit and in uniform. “He put the nine-year-old and his son in the patrol vehicle,” he said. “He then approached me (and) demanded I get out of my vehicle. He then questioned me about my authority to pick up my niece and nephew from school. The stop was made with two children in his state police vehicle. He left the children in the vehicle while he questioned me about whether I had authorization to be there,” Gerst said.

Gerst said he attempted to file a complaint at Troop D. “I met with Captain Guillory,” he said. “Lt. Cyprien was also present. Before I got the chance to tell Guillory that I wanted to file a complaint, he informed me that if I was there to file a complaint, he would not accept a complaint from me. He said he thought I had problems and he was not doing anything until there was a disposition on my case from the sheriff’s office. He further said that he had a problem with me personally and professionally and he would not accept any complaint I may have.”

After being turned away by Guillory, Gerst said he contacted State Police Internal Affairs. “I attempted to file a formal complaint on Rogers,” he said. “I also attempted to file a complaint on Guillory for refusing to take my complaint. I had to drive to Baton Rouge to file my complaint (and) I have yet to hear the disposition of either complaint.”

Gerst said that after filing the complaint in Baton Rouge, he feels that he has been the victim of retaliation that included the revocation of his law enforcement commission. The worst part of that retaliation, he said, “was the subsequent arrest and prosecution. At trial, the prosecutor informed my defense attorney that he knew the charges were not justified but the state police (were) pushing it. We were not required to put up a defense and the judge issued a directed verdict of not guilty.”

In his latest complaint, Gerst also cited Guillory for his refusal to accept his initial complaint against Rogers last year.

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Sometimes you just have to shake your head and wonder what the hell our governor and our legislators are thinking when they make laws and stake out political positions on controversial topics like, say, meaningful legislation that would keep the mentally unstable prone to violence from obtaining weapons.

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in that Lafayette movie theater that left two victims and the gunman dead and seven others wounded, Bobby Jindal opined that it was “not the time” to discuss the “politics” of Louisiana’s gun laws. For Bobby and his ilk (read: right-wing, neo-fascist, stand-your-ground idiots), there is never a right time to discuss such trite matters as Sandy Hook, Columbine, Aurora, Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, or Lafayette’s Grand Theater.

Anything approaching legislation aimed at keeping guns away from the mentally disturbed or hate-consumed racists is anathema to those who cater to the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and their demented, all-encompassing defense of the sacred Second Amendment.

JINDAL RECEIVING RIFLE FROM NRA

JINDAL RECEIVING GIFT RIFLE FROM NRA

A florist is required to obtain a license to sell flowers in Louisiana—even as the Brady Campaign’s “scorecard” on gun control ranked Louisiana the second-worst state in the U.S. in terms of laws designed to prevent gun violence. And that was in 2013, long before the Lafayette assault.

The Louisiana State Board of Dentistry has carte blanche to harass dentists for such infractions of publishing advertising of prohibited size or font, “violations” that in several cases have resulted in fines of six figures and which have literally put some dentists out of business. Meanwhile, Louisiana has the second highest firearm death rate and the highest gun-related homicide rate in America—even before the Lafayette shootings by John Houser.

Inspectors for the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology are allowed to barge into Vietnamese-owned nail salons, order everyone to freeze and proceed to pull out drawers and open cabinets searching for God knows what and to impose steep fines for vague infractions in much the same manner as the Board of Dentistry, all the while informing the Vietnamese operators that they are subject to “different rules for you guys.” But for some strange reason known only to the NRA and ALEC lapdogs like Jindal, Louisiana does not require private gun sellers (who, by the way, are not licensed dealers) to initiate background checks when transferring a firearm.

JINDAL RECEIVING GUN

JINDAL EXAMINING WEAPON DURING IOWA CAMPAIGN STOP

Police officers from Shreveport to New Orleans, from Lake Providence to Lake Charles, may (and often do) pull you over for the life endangering violation of not having an illuminated license plate (yep, gotta have a working light bulb over your license plate or you could get a ticket). But if you happen to have a gun in your vehicle when you’re pulled over….well, that’s okay provided you have a concealed carry permit.

Bobby Jindal and his NRA buddies in the Louisiana Legislature are all about the freedom to own and carry weapons and in 2010, Jindal even signed into law a bill (HB 1272) by Rep. Henry Burns (R-Haughton) that allows you to pack heat in a church, mosque, synagogue or any other house of worship. At the same time, Jindal has consistently cut funding for mental health care in Louisiana and even closed one mental health facility in New Orleans and privatized Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville. The Florida company chosen to run the facility, Meridian Behavioral Health Systems, was found to have deficiencies serious enough to threaten its eligibility to continue participation in Medicare.

JINDAL AND WIFE WITH GUNS

A FAMILY THAT SHOOTS TOGETHER….

Jindal sent out a Christmas card last December that featured a photo of the entire family clad in cammo and he has attached himself to the gun-totin’ Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame in a way that is almost creepy. State Sen. Neil Riser even authored a bill (SB 178) that would give firearms dealers permission to offer voter registration forms at the point of sale, sending the clear message that voting (Republican, we assume) and the right to own a gun are somehow related and more important than curbing the homicide rate of say, Baton Rouge, which recently had a murder rate higher than that of Chicago. Yet, the Jindal administration rammed through its “deliberative process” catch-all bill in its 2008 “transparency” legislation that makes records of his office off limits to public scrutiny. Moreover, his Division of Administration, as well as other statewide agencies like the LSU Board of Supervisors, continue to throw up barriers to media access of public records.CHRISTMAS CARD

JINDAL FAMILY’S 2014 CHRISTMAS CARD (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

But, Jindal continues to call for prayers and hugs in response to mass killings and to resist any dialogue on such divisive matters as curbing one’s right to defend life and property—no matter that the nation’s murder rate far outpaces the rate of self-defense shootings.

You see, now is just “not the time” to make political points.

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State Treasurer John Kennedy on Tuesday told the House Appropriations Committee that the Division of Administration exerts extortion-like tactics against legislators and takes the approach that it should not be questioned about the manner in which it hands out state contracts and that the legislature should, in effect, keep its nose out of the administration’s business.

Kennedy was testifying on behalf of House Bill 30 by State Rep. Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux) which provides for reporting, review and approval by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) of all contracts for professional, personal and consulting services totaling $40,000 or more per year which are funded exclusively with state general fund (SGF) or the Overcollections Fund. HB 30

HB 30 FISCAL NOTES

Kennedy, in a matter of only a few minutes’ testimony, attacked figures provided by three representatives of the Division of Administration (DOA) who objected to the bill because of what they termed additional delays that would be incurred in contract approval and because of claimed infringement upon the separation of powers between the legislative and administrative branches of government.

Here is the link to the committee hearing. While Kennedy spoke at length on the bill, the gist of his remarks about DOA begin at about one hour and 13 minutes into his testimony. You can move your cursor to that point and pick up his attacks on DOA. http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Video/VideoArchivePlayer.aspx?v=house/2015/may/0526_15_AP

That argument appeared to be a reach at best considering it is the legislature that appropriates funding for the contracts. It also appeared more of a smokescreen for the real objections: DOA’s, and by extension, Bobby Jindal’s wish that the administration be allowed to continue to operate behind closed doors and without any oversight, unanswerable to anyone.

DOA representatives tried to minimize the effect of the bill by downplaying the number and dollar amount of the contracts affected (which raises the obvious question of why the opposition to the bill if its impact would be so minimal). The administration said only 164 contracts totaling some $29 million would be affected by the bill.

Kennedy, however, was quick to jump on those figures. “The numbers the division provided you are inaccurate,” he said flatly. “The Legislative Auditor, who works for you,” he told committee members, “just released a report that says there are 14,000 consulting contracts, plus another 4600 ‘off the books.’

“The fiscal notes of 2014 by the Legislative Fiscal Office—not the Division (DOA)—said the number of contracts approved in 2013 by the Office of Contractual Review was 2,001—not 160—professional, personal and consulting service contracts with a total value of $3.1 billion,” he said. “I don’t know where DOA is getting its numbers.

“To sum up their objections,” he said, “it appears to me that DOA and more to the point, the bureaucracy, is smarter than you and knows how to spend taxpayer dollars better than you. That’s the bottom line. They don’t want you to know. This bill will not be overly burdensome to you. Thirty days before the JLCB hearing, you will get a list of contracts. If there are no questions, they fly through. If there are questions, you can ask.”

Kennedy tossed a grenade at DOA on the issue of separation of powers when he accused the administration of blackmailing legislators who might be reluctant to go along with its programs.

“Let’s talk about how the division’s advice on contracts has worked out,” he said. “The Division advised you to spend all the $800 million in the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly. Now they have zero in that account. In fact, they pushed you to do that. Some of you were told if you didn’t do that, you’d lose your Capital Outlay projects. How’s that for separation of powers? How’d that work out for you?

“My colleagues from Division who just testified against the bill are the same ones who told you to take $400 million out of the (Office of Group Benefits) savings account set aside to pay retirees’ and state employees’ health claims. How’d that work out?”

Kennedy didn’t stop there. He came prepared with an entire laundry list of accusations against the administration.

“My colleagues from Division are the ones who told you, ‘Look, we need to privatize our health care delivery system,’ which I support in concept. They sat at this table and I heard them say we would only have to spend $600 million per year on our public-private partnership and (that it would be) a great deal ‘because right now we’re spending $900 million.’ I thought we’d be saving $300 million a year. Except we’re not spending $600 million; we’re spending $1.3 billion and we don’t have the slightest idea whether it’s (the partnerships) working. How’d that work out for you?

“I sat right here at this table and I heard my friends from Division say we need to do Bayou Health managed care. You now appropriate $2.8 billion a year for four health insurance companies to treat 900,000 of our people—not their people, our people,” he said. “There’s just one problem: when the Legislative Auditor goes to DHH (the Department of Health and Hospitals) to audit it (the program), they tell him no.”

Kennedy said that pursuant to orders from DOA, “the only way they can audit is if they take the numbers given him (Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera) by the insurance companies.

“This is a good bill,” he said. “It’s not my bill. My preference is to tell Division to cut 10 percent on all contracts and if you can’t do it, you will be unemployed. But this bill allows you to see where the taxpayer money is being spent.

“I have more confidence in you than I do in the people who’re doing things right now,” he said.

Kennedy said he was somewhat reluctant to testify about the bill “but I’m not going to let this go—especially the part about separation of powers.

“You want to see a blatant example of separation of powers?” he asked rhetorically, returning to the issue of the administration’s heavy handedness. “How about if I have a bill but you don’t read it. You either vote for it or you lose your Capital Outlay projects. How’s that for separation of powers?”

That evoked memories from November of 2012 when Jindal removed two representatives from their committee assignments one day after they voted against the administration’s proposed contract between the Office of Group Benefits and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana.

“Everything they (legislative committees) do is scripted,” said Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray), speaking to LouisianaVoice about his removal from the House Appropriations Committee. “I’ve seen the scripts. They hand out a list of questions we are allowed to ask and they tell us not to deviate from the list and not to ask questions that are not in the best interest of the administration.” http://louisianavoice.com/2012/11/02/notable-quotables-in-their-own-words-142/

Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) asked Kennedy what his budget was to which Kennedy responded, “Less than last year and less that year than the year before and probably will be even less after this hearing. But you know what? I don’t care.

“There’s nothing you can say to get Division to support this bill,” he said. “They’re just not going to do it.

“You can’t find these contracts with a search party. But if you require them to come before you, you can get a feel for how money is being spent that people work hard for and you can provide a mechanism to shift some of that spending to higher priorities.

“Next year, you will spend $47 million on consulting contracts for coastal restoration. I’m not against coastal restoration; I’m all for it. But these consultants will not plant a blade of swamp grass. Don’t tell me they can’t do the job for 10 percent less. That $47 million is more than the entire state general fund appropriation for LSU-Shreveport, Southern University-Shreveport, McNeese and Nicholls State combined.

“Under the law, agencies are supposed to go before the Civil Service Board and show that the work being contracted cannot be done by state employees but that is perfunctory at best,” Kennedy said.

To the administration’s arguments of delays in contract approvals and infringements on the separation of powers, Rep. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles) dug in his heels. “This is not a bad thing,” he insisted. “We’re not going to go through every page of every contract unless someone calls it to our attention. It doesn’t matter if it’s 14,000 or 14 million contracts. The number is immaterial. If there’s an issue with a contract, we need to look at it.”

For once, the administration did not have its way with the legislature. The committee approved the bill unanimously and it will now move to the House floor for debate where Jindal’s forces are certain to lobby hard against its passage.

Should the bill ultimately pass both the House and Senate, Jindal will in all likelihood, veto the measure and at that point, we will learn how strong the legislature’s resolve really is.

But for Kennedy, the line has been drawn in the dust.

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Additional checks by LouisianaVoice into the expenditure of campaign funds after leaving office has revealed that Troy Hebert, director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control was something of a piker in what appear to be his inappropriate expenditures of $39,000 in campaign contributions long after he left the Louisiana Senate in November of 2010.

Campaign reports examined by LouisianaVoice show that two former governors combined to spend more than $600,000 on what would appear to be such non-allowable expenditures as clerical salaries, club memberships, consulting fees, federal taxes, internet fees, office equipment, and something called “constituent relations” long after there were no longer any constituents. shall not be used for any perso

Three other former legislators who, like Hebert, now serve in other appointive capacities in state government were also checked at random and found to have combined for a little more than $22,000 in post-office-holding expenditures that appear to be for purposes specifically disallowed by the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

But former governors Kathleen Blanco and Mike Foster have made generous use of their leftover campaign bank accounts by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for similarly disallowable purchases and expenditures.

Campaign expenditures for former governors Buddy Roemer and Edwin Edwards were not available on the State Ethics Board’s web page.

At the same time, we found one former legislator who has not spent a penny of his leftover campaign funds—for anything. Democrat Dudley “Butch” Gautreaux of Morgan City has spent none of his campaign funds—for any purpose—since leaving office in January of 2012. We sincerely hope there are others.

Foster, a Republican, accounted for more than $201,000 in apparent non-allowable expenditures from his campaign fund. He had the following expense items listed in his campaign expenditure report:

  • $3,000 for internet service;
  • $66,675 for clerical payroll;
  • $70,000 for copiers and other office equipment and maintenance contracts;
  • $9,400 in dues to the Camelot Club and City Club, both in Baton Rouge;
  • $4,300 in workers’ compensation insurance premiums for office staff;
  • $25,000 for bookkeeping services;
  • $9,800 in federal income tax payments on office staff;
  • $13,500 for “constituent services”;
  • $403 in payments to M.J. Foster Farms—an apparent reimbursement to himself for unknown expenditures.

In addition, Foster contributed to numerous causes, including $1,000 to a lamppost restoration drive in his hometown of Franklin and other charitable civic and church organizations and several political candidates. Only his contributions to political candidates and to the Louisiana Republican Party appeared to have been allowable under Ethics Board regulations.

Democrat Blanco easily eclipsed Foster with more than $400,000 in expenditures described in various Ethics Board opinions as not allowable for purposes “related to a political campaign or the holding of a public office.”

Some of her questionable expenditures included:

  • $188,000 for communication consulting;
  • $88,000 in clerical salaries;
  • $67,000 in donations to various causes;
  • $64,500 in tech support;

To be fair, however, there was brief speculation that Blanco would oppose Jindal in his re-election campaign of 2011 until health considerations took her out of that race. Any funds spent in exploration of a possible run would probably be looked upon favorably as campaign-related. Charitable contributions are allowed under certain conditions, such as in the cases of pro-rata refunds of unused contributions but otherwise such use of campaign funds for charitable donations is not allowed. We found an Ethics opinion that addresses that very issue: James David Cain

Like Foster, she also contributed generously to several political candidates as well as to the Louisiana Democratic Party, all allowable under Ethics Board regulations.

Former Sen. Anne Duplessis (D-New Orleans), now a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors ($13,440), former Rep. Kay Katz (R-Monroe), now a member of the Louisiana Tax Commission ($7,700), and former Rep. and former Sen. Noble Ellington (R-Winnsboro), now Chief Deputy Commissioner of Insurance ($1,300), each also had combined expenditures from their respective campaign funds totaling about $22,400 for purposes not allowed, according to Ethics Board regulations.

Small as those expenditures were when contrasted to Blanco, Foster or even Hebert, however, the samplings of more than $662,000 in questionable expenditures found by LouisianaVoice for only six former office holders—and the many examples of misuse of campaign funds by current officer holders—illustrates the critical lack of oversight of the manner in which office holders and former office holders alike live the good life off, what for many of them, is tax-free income most times in the tens of thousands of dollars but in some cases, six figures.

Campaign funds are contributed by donors, such as lobbyists, corporations, or other special interests who want something in return, like a favorable vote on a key issue. And because the politicians generally oblige, the donors couldn’t care less how campaign funds are spent. The funds are donated for the wrong reasons, so why should they care if they are spent for the wrong reasons?

That in a nutshell is what is wrong with our political system today. Far too much quid pro quo, a few winks, a couple of drinks over steak or lobster and donors look the other way as the recipient enjoys nice restaurants, club memberships, luxury car leases and tickets to college and pro athletic events and perhaps the occasional hooker.

Two things can occur to rein in this abuse:

The Louisiana Legislature, in a rare (and we do mean rare) moment of integrity and soul-searching, could enact binding laws governing who can contribute to campaigns (such as tracking the federal elections laws prohibiting corporate contributions), limiting PAC funds and spelling out in detail how campaign funds may and may not be spent.

But don’t look for that to happen in this or any other lifetime. Like corporations and banks, politicians just aren’t going to self-regulate without including a gaggle of hidden loopholes in any legislation that might happen to address the issue. You can bet any legitimate attempt will either be killed outright or amended to death in committee.

The other—and this, sadly, is just as unlikely—the voters of Louisiana will, in unity, say “ENOUGH!” They will, like Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network, scream out their windows, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more” and they will turn out of office any legislator who so much as buys the first ticket to a football game or dines at a fine restaurant or leases a luxury auto with campaign funds. And in equal unanimity, they will demand reimbursement of all funds wrongly spent by current and former office holders alike.

But a final word of caution: That would be in a perfect world so don’t hold your breath.

 

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