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Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

To probably no one’s surprise except a clueless Gov. Bobby Jindal, the takeover of the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits (OGB) by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana 18 months ago has failed to produce the $20 million per year in savings to the state.

Quite the contrary, in fact. The OGB fund balance, which was a robust $500 million when BCBS took over as third party administrators (TPA) of the Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) in January of 2013, only 18 months later stands at slightly less than half that amount and could plummet as low as an anemic $5 million a year from now, according to figures provided by the Legislative Fiscal Office.

OGB is one of the main topics to be taken up at today’s meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) when it convenes at 9 a.m. at the State Capitol.

OGB is currently spending about $16 million per month more than it is collecting in revenue, said Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter.

The drastic turnaround is predicated on two factors which LouisianaVoice warned about two years ago when the privatization plan was being considered by the administration:

  • Jindal lowered premiums for state employees and retirees. That move was nothing more than a smokescreen, we said at the time, to ease the state’s share of the premium burden as a method to help Jindal balance the state budget. Because the state pays a percentage of the employee/retiree premiums, a rate reduction would also reduce the amount owed by the state, thus freeing up the savings to patch gaping holes in the budget.
  • Because BCBS is a private company, it must return a profit whereas when OGB claims were processed by state employees, profits were not a factor. To realize that profit, premiums must increase or benefits decrease. Since Jindal had already decreased premiums, BCBS necessarily found it necessary to reduce benefits.

That, however, still was not enough and the negative income eroded the fund balance to its present level and now legislators are facing a severe fiscal crisis at OGB.

And make no mistake: this is a man-made crisis and the man is Bobby Jindal.

In a span of only 18 months we have watched his grandiose plans for OGB and the agency’s fund balance dissolve into a sea of red ink like those $250 million sand berms washing away in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the disastrous BP spill.

There is no tactful way to say it. This Jindal’s baby; he’s married to it. He was hell bent on privatizing OGB and putting 144 employees on the street for the sake of some hair-brained scheme that managed to go south before he could leave town for whatever future he has planned for himself that almost surely does not, thank goodness, include Louisiana.

So ill-advised and so uninformed was Jindal that he rushed into his privatization plan and now has found it necessary to have the consulting firm Alvarez and Marcel, as part of their $5 million contract to find state savings, to poke around OGB to try and pull the governor’s hand out of the fiscal fire. We can only speculate as to why that was necessary; Jindal, after all, had assured us up front that the privatization would save $20 million a year but now cannot make good on that promise.

In the real world, the elected officials are supposed to be the pros who know that they’re talking about while those of us on the sidelines are mere amateurs who can only complain and criticize. Well, we may be the political novices here, but the results at OGB pretty much speak for themselves and we can rightfully say, “We told you so.”

Are we happy or smug? Hell, no. We have to continue to live here and raise our children here while Jindal will be taking a job with some conservative think tank somewhere inside the D.C. Beltway (he certainly will not be the Republican candidate for president; he isn’t even a blip on the radar and one former state official now residing in Colorado recently said, “No one out here has ever even heard of him.”)

In a five-page letter to JLCB Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro), Carpenter illustrated the rate history of OGB going back to Fiscal Year 2008 when premiums were increased by 6 percent. The increase the following year was 3.7 percent and the remained flat in FY-10. In FY-11, premiums increased 5.6 percent, then 8.1 percent in FY-12 when the system switched from a fiscal year to calendar year. but in FY-13, the year BCBS assumed administrative duties, premiums dropped 7 percent as Jindal attempted to save money from the state’s contributions to plug budget holes. For the current year, premiums decreased 1.8 percent and in FY-15 are scheduled to increase by 5 percent.

OGB Report_July 2014 FOR JLCB

Carpenter said that since FY 13, when BCBS took over the administration of OGB PPO claims, OGB’s administrative costs began to shift to more third party administrator (TPA) costs as the state began paying BCBS $23.50 per OGB member per month. That rate today is $24.50 and will increase to $25.50 in January of 2015, the last year of the BCBS contract.

That computes to more than $60 million per year that the state is paying BCBS to run the agency more efficiently than state employees who were largely responsible for the half-billion-dollar fund balance.

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Apparently our story about the furtive amendment that boosted State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by a whopping $30,000 a year (note: that’s a $30,000 increase; most state retirees don’t even make $30,000) got the attention of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS).

Our friend over in Hammond, C.B. Forgotston, the “King of the Subversive Bloggers,” according to Baton Rouge Advocate columnist James Gill (a pretty fair political observer and writer in his own right), sent us a memorandum that went out to LSPRS staff members by Assistant Director Kimberly Gann.

Forgotston also forwarded information listing additional perks enjoyed by Edmonson as well as calculations of what his retirement income will be, thanks to the amendment tacked onto SB 294 on the last day of the recent legislative session.

Forgotston (don’t let the name fool you; he rarely forgets anything), an attorney who previously worked for the Legislature, also said the amendment by the Legislative Conference Committee to the bill that became Act 859 when it was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal “violates at least five provisions of the State Constitution.”

“We were notified yesterday than an article was written about a piece of retirement legislation that passed the legislature,” Gann said in her e-mail. “Irwin (LSPRS Executive Director Irwin L. Felps, Jr.) wanted you to know about the article and have an opportunity read it. Please let us know if you have any questions. We will discuss this at the meeting on Wednesday (July 16).”

While the copy of Gann’s e-mail provided by Forgotston did not contain the names of the addressees, the message is presumed to have been sent to retirement system staff members. They include Retirement Benefits Analyst Tausha E. Facundus, Administrative Assistant Shelley S. CPA Stephen M. Griffin, accountant Kristin Leto.

Edmonson, upon his appointment, sold his home and he and his family moved into the “Colonel’s Home” on the Department of Public Safety campus which is also equipped to be the governor’s “Safe House” and command center for disaster relief.

That means he is residing in a four-bedroom, four-bath home completely furnished by the state. And because he has worked more than 30 years at retirement calculated at 3.3 percent per year based on his highest three years of earnings, he would already be eligible for retirement income of 100 percent of his salary. By adding the additional years above 30 (he has worked 34 years) and the three Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) years, he will not only receive the full $134,000 (100 per cent of his salary), but an additional $30,000 per year when he retires.

The amendment allowed Edmonson to revoke an otherwise irrevocable decision to enter DROP, which allows his retirement to be calculated on his higher salary and to add years of service and longevity pay.

Forgotston, in listing the constitutional violations of the bill amendment giving Edmonson the $30,000 retirement increase, cited each section of the State Constitution he said the amendment violated. They are:

  • It was not introduced 45 days prior to the opening day of the 2014 Regular Session. (La. Const. Article III, Section 2, Paragraph (2)(c));
  • It was not advertised prior to being introduced. (La. Const. Article X, Section 29C);
  • It does not contain a recitation that it was advertised. (La. Const. Article X, Section 29C);
  • As amended contains two objects. (La. Const. Article III, Section 15, Paragraph A);
  • Language to provide the extra benefits is not germane to bill as introduced. (La. Const. Article III, Section 15, Paragraph C).

“The legislative process is often compared to watching sausage being made,” Forgotston said. “That is meant to convey the idea that the process is ugly, but the end product is worth it. In this case, even the end product is horrible. This is the type of legislation that is referred to by insiders as ‘snakes’ that crawl out in the last days of a session. For most, snake is much less appetizing than sausage.”

Forgotston said there “are only two ways to prevent these unconstitutional benefits from being paid and (to restore) integrity to the legislative process:

“The head of the State Police (Edmonson) can refuse the benefits or by someone filing a lawsuit,” he said, adding that the six members of the Conference Committee should initiate such litigation.

Forgotston can be quite cantankerous—and clever—when he wants to be, which is most of the time, and this action is no different.

He suggests that if readers who know an active or retired member of the Louisiana State Police, “Please pass this (information) onto them.”

He also listed the names and e-mail addresses of the six members of the Legislative Conference Committee who approved the action which has been denied to many others making similar requests in recent years:

Rep. Bryan Adams: badams@legis.la.gov

Rep. Jeff Arnold: larep102@legis.la.gov

Rep. Walt Leger: wleger@legis.la.gov

Sen. J.P. Morrell: jpmorrell@legis.la.gov

Sen. Neil Riser: nriser@legis.la.gov

Sen. Mike Walsworth: mwalsworth@legis.la.gov

 

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“This was done in Conference Committee and was done on an obscure bill with obscure references to old acts in hopes that the conferees would never have to answer any questions about why this was done.”

“Many bills are brought before the (House and Senate) retirement committees that (would) allow a revocation of a DROP decision and…all have been voted down.”

—Irate but attentive legislative observer.

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He is on the cover of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ghost-written book Leadership and Crisis. In case you don’t remember that very forgettable book, it’s the one purportedly written by Jindal but in reality, hastily slapped together by Hoover Institute flak Peter Schweizer.

You’ve seen him standing solemnly (never smiling) in the background at virtually each of those rare Jindal press conferences as well as during the governor’s staccato briefings whenever he pretended to exhibit leadership, usually during a hurricane or oil spill.

One of those events may have even been when the governor pitched his ill-fated state pension reform legislation a couple of years ago that, had it succeeded, would have slashed retirement income for thousands of state employees—by as much as 85 percent for some.

But the next time you see Louisiana State Police Commander Mike Edmonson, you may see a trace of a smile crack that grim veneer.

That’s because a special amendment to an obscure Senate bill, passed on the last day of the recent legislative session, will put an additional $30,000 per year in Edmonson’s pocket upon retirement.

Talk about irony.

SB 294, signed into law by Jindal as Act 859, was authored by Sen. Jean-Paul J. Morrell (D-New Orleans) and appeared to deal with procedures for formal, written complaints made against police officers.

There was nothing in the wording of the original bill that would attract undue attention.

Until, that is, the bill turned up in Conference Committee at the end of the session so that an agreement between the different versions adopted in the House and Senate could be worked out. At least that was the way it appeared.

Conference Committee members included Sens. Morrell, Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), and Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans), Walt Leger, III (D-New Orleans) and Bryan Adams (R-Gretna).

That’s when Amendment No. 4 popped up—for which Edmonson should be eternally grateful:

http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=911551&n=Conference

Basically, in layman’s language, the amendment simply means that Edmonson may revoke his “irrevocable” decision to enter DROP, thus allowing his retirement to be calculated on his higher salary and at the same time allow him to add years of service and longevity pay.

The end result will be an increase in his annual retirement benefit of about $30,000—at the expense of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System and Louisiana taxpayers.

The higher benefit will be paid each month over his lifetime and to any beneficiary that he may name.

Edmonson makes $134,000 per year and has some 34 years of service with the Department of Public Safety.

The Actuarial Services Department of the Office of the Legislative Auditor calculated in its fiscal notes that the amendment would cost the state an additional $300,000 as a result of the increased retirement benefits.

In the Senate, only Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) voted against the bill while Sen. Jody Amedee (R-Gonzales) did not vote.

Over on the House side, there were a few more dissenting votes: Reps. Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette), Raymond Garofalo, Jr. (R-Chalmette), Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles), Hunter Greene (R-Baton Rouge), John Guinn (R-Jennings), Dalton Honoré (D-Baton Rouge), Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport), Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell), Eric Ponti (R-Baton Rouge), Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux), Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), John Schroder (R-Covington), and Jeff Thompson (R-Bossier City).

The remaining 127 (37 senators and 90 representatives) can probably be forgiven for voting in favor of what, on the surface, appeared to be a completely routine bill, particularly if they did not read Conference Committee amendments carefully—and with the session grinding down to its final hours, there was the usual mad scramble to wrap up all the loose ends.

Here’s what the bill looked like when originally submitted by Morrell and before the Conference Committee members slipped in the special favor for Edmonson:

http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=878045&n=SB294 Original

But while the sneaky manner in which this matter was rammed through at the 11th hour is bad enough, it is especially so given the fact that numerous bills have been brought before the House and Senate retirement committees in the past few years which would have allowed a revocation of a DROP decision and without exception, each request has been rejected.

“This was done in Conference Committee and was done on an obscure bill with obscure references to old acts in hopes that the conferees would never have to answer any questions about why this was done,” said one observer.

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“The convictions are just the ones who got caught. If there’re a lot of convictions, there’s probably a bunch that haven’t been caught.”

—From a Governing magazine story by writers Liz Farmer and Kevin Tidmarsh, quoting John Mikesell of Indiana University, who co-authored a new report that placed Louisiana at the top of the list of most corrupt states.

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Another survey is out that ranks Louisiana as number one in the nation but it’s not very likely that the results will appear on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s feel-good blog and perhaps not on the web page of his biggest cheerleader, the Baton Rouge Business Report.

Liz Farmer and Kevin Tidmarsh, writing for Governing magazine penned an eye-opening story which we apparently failed to properly attribute. Though we did make a point of including the link to their article, which we felt made it abundantly clear that we were not claiming the work as our own and were citing them—through inclusion of the link to their story—as our source, they nonetheless felt we should have done more to identify them as the authors. By simply including the link to Governing, we apparently did not go far enough in proper attribution and for that we apologize because they did a superb job in identifying the problem of money and politics.

In their story, they cited a report by the Public Administration Review that details states’ corruption risks, accountability practices and related laws puts Louisiana at the top of the list of states for public corruption. http://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/state-public-corruption-convictions-data.html

The report, released on Monday (June 9), also shows that states with higher levels of corruption are able to shape budget allocations and that they have a propensity to spend more money on capital outlay projects than for health and education.

Construction projects provide greater opportunity for the misappropriation of public funds for personal gain than expenditures on health, education and welfare, the study says.

The report provides an in-depth review of how some states showed progress while others remain behind the curve in mitigating corruption. Louisiana, with 384 public corruption convictions between 2001 and 2010, is far ahead of the pack both in terms of convictions per 100,000 population (8.5), and convictions per 10,000 public employees (10.5).

By contrast, Oregon (1.2) and Kansas (1.3) had the lowest rates of convictions per 10,000 public employees.

And though Pennsylvania and New Jersey had more convictions (542 and 429, respectively), their rate of corruption convictions per 10,000 public employees was less than Louisiana (7.1 for Pennsylvania and 6.7 for New Jersey). Neither Pennsylvania nor New Jersey appeared among the worst 10 states for the number of convictions per 100,000 population, the report shows.

Louisiana’s 384 total convictions during the 10-year period ranked behind Texas (697), California (679), Florida (674), New York (589), Pennsylvania (542), Ohio (495) and New Jersey (429), but with a considerably smaller population base than those states, Louisiana’s conviction rate was much higher.

“If levels of convictions are high, that’s a sample of the climate of the state, said Indiana University’s John Mikesell, who co-authored the report with Cheol Liu of the University of Hong Kong. “The convictions are just the ones who got caught. If there’re a lot of convictions, there’re probably a bunch that haven’t been caught.”

Among the higher profile convictions in Louisiana during the first decade of this century were former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, former Sen. William Jefferson, former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, and Mandeville Mayor Eddie Price.

In what should have been of particular embarrassment to the state, in December of 2010, the U.S. Senate closed out the decade by convicting Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of Federal District Court in Louisiana on four articles of impeachment and removed him from the bench, the first time the Senate has ousted a federal judge in more than two decades. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/09/us/politics/09judge.html?_r=0

 Judge Porteous, the eighth federal judge to be removed from office in this manner, was impeached by the House in March on four articles stemming from charges that he received cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, used a false name to elude creditors and intentionally misled the Senate during his confirmation proceedings.

Additionally, Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan announced his resignation in November of 2007 after what one observer called “almost five insufferable years in office.”  His resignation ended a tenure marked by a perceived failure to prosecute violent criminals, a jury verdict ruling that he racially discriminated against white employees, a seizure of the office’s assets and disruption of his staff’s salaries—all capped off when a robbery suspect fled to Jordan’s Algiers house only to then become a suspect in the shooting of a New Orleans police officer. http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/10/sources_talks_underway_for_jor.html

U.S. Sen. David Vitter dropped out of the 2003 gubernatorial race after reports surfaced of a relationship with a prostitute. He was elected to the Senate two years later but in 2007, his number appeared on telephone records belonging to Deborah Jeane Palfrey who was convicted in 2008 for running a high-end prostitution ring. He is an announced candidate for governor in the 2015 race.

And then there is Mr. Clean himself, Gov. Bobby Jindal, who attracted huge monetary contributions for a foundation run by his wife, Supriya Jindal, many of those from oil and gas companies. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/03/us/politics/03jindal.html?pagewanted=all

Those investments—and make no mistake, political campaign  contributions are just that: investments—paid off in spades last week when Jindal signed SB 469, pushed by another recipient of mega-contributions from oil and gas interests, Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton). SB 469 killed a lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) that sought to force 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies to restore the damage they inflicted on Louisiana’s wetlands through decades of abuse to the Louisiana coastal lands.

Farmer and Tidmarsh interviewed several sources for their story that says what we all know but which too often goes unreported.

“Legal corruption” they wrote, is even greater, according to Chuck Thies, a Washington, D.C., political consultant who said the “wink, wink, nod, nod” culture of campaign finance often runs right up to the line of bribery. http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-corruption-politics-spending-study.html

Thies said an example of that would be a contractor who is lobbying a politician for approval of his project. The politician, who is running for reelection, approaches the contractor to ask for a campaign contribution.

“It’s that simple,” Thies said. “It happens all the time. The savvy person knows not to say, ‘If I do my ($5,000), will you authorize my (contract)?’ But (both) know exactly that’s what just transpired.”

When one follows the money into the campaign coffers of Louisiana’s most powerful politicians, it becomes a simple matter to understand in unmistakable terms just how much money runs—indeed, corrupts—the political process. The $10 and $25 contributor has little chance in being heard over the roar of the $5 million that oil and gas companies poured into the campaigns of the state’s 144 legislators and another $1 million that was funneled to Jindal.

Easily available campaign contributions allow legislators to enjoy the perks of eating at the finest restaurants, buy gasoline for personal vehicles, hiring family members as campaign “workers,” and purchasing luxury boxes at LSU, Saints, and Pelicans games, ostensibly for “entertaining” constituents.

So when those contributors come calling, as they most surely will, what legislator—or governor—is going to stand up to the special interests?

When lobbyists outnumber legislators by a 5-1 ratio, it becomes difficult for John Q. Citizen to squeeze his way into the conversation.

It all comes down to who our elected officials really represent, and the answer is obvious—and not pretty.

Louisiana fits the profile perfectly in that it killed Medicaid expansion that would have provided expanded health care access to the state’s indigent citizens while the legislature passed a $5.6 billion construction budget that includes sports complexes, golf courses, local road projects, fish hatcheries, and non-government agencies—all at a time when the state is in dire financial straits.

The classic shakedown can also encourage the culture of corruption while discouraging those who attempt to play by the rules.

A north Louisiana contractor has a lawsuit pending against the State of Louisiana and the Department of Transportation and Development for just such an alleged shakedown attempt by state employees that he said ultimately put him out of business because he refused to go along with the efforts to extract payoffs from him.

And there’s no incentive in spending time and money on a bid when the winning bidder has already bought political sufficient influence to “win” the contract or when the bid specifications have been written in such a way as to qualify a single bidder.

Several years ago in north Louisiana, a parish police jury wanted to purchase a used bulldozer. But not just any used bulldozer; police jury members had already spotted the one they wanted. The answer? The police jury advertised for bids in its legal journal, the local newspaper. Included in the bid specifications along with the make, year and horsepower was….the serial number.

It’s all part of the process that we call Louisiana politics.

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1974 Louisiana Constitution-Declaration of Rights

§22. Access to Courts

Section 22. “All courts shall be open, and every person shall have an adequate remedy by due process of law and justice, administered without denial, partiality, or unreasonable delay, for injury to him in his person, property, reputation, or other rights.”

(Special thanks to Tony Guarisco for researching this provision of the State Constitution.)

 

 

This is about yet two more examples of how Gov. Bobby Jindal conveniently manages to look the other way instead of being up front when confronted with issues that most might believe could present a conflict of interest

When Jindal signed SB 469 into law on Friday he not only killed the pending lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) but he also placed in extreme jeopardy the claims by dozens of South Louisiana municipalities and parish governments from the disastrous 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill that killed 11 men and discharged 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, spoiling beaches and killing fish and wildlife.

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with its accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like blow flies buzzing around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

Russel Honore said it another way, observing wryly that the Exxon flag still flies over the State Capitol.

Blogger Lamar White, Jr. observed that former Gov. Edwin Edwards spent eight years in a federal prison for accepting payments from hopeful casino operators for his assistance in obtaining licenses—all after he left office. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was similarly convicted of using his position to steer business to a family-owned company and taking free vacations meals and cell phones from people attempting to score contracts or incentives from the city.

So what is the difference between what they did and the ton of contributions received by Adley and Jindal? To paraphrase my favorite playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare, a payoff by any other name smells just as rank.

And while big oil money flowed like liquor at the State Capitol (figuratively of course; it’s illegal to make or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session), what many may not know is that Jindal may have had an ulterior motive when he signed the bill into law against sound legal advice not to do so, thus protecting the interests of big oil over the welfare of Louisiana citizens who have seen frightening erosion of the state’s shoreline and freshwater marshes.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is one of the firms that represented BP in negotiating a $4.5 billion settlement that ended criminal charges against the company. Included in that settlement amount was a $1.26 billion criminal fine to be paid over five years.

An associate of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who has defended clients in government audit cases and in several whistleblower cases is one Nikesh Jindal.

He also is assigned to the division handling the BP case.

Nikesh Jindal is the younger brother of Gov. Piyush, aka Bobby Jindal.

Suddenly, John Barry’s words take on a little more significance: “We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

And that’s not the only instance in which Jindal neglected to be completely candid about connections between him and his brother.

In yet another of his increasingly frequent op-ed columns, this one for the Washington Examiner, prolific writer and part time governor Jindal staked out his position of support of for-profit colleges in their battle against the Obama administration.

A 2012 report by the Senate Committee on Health, Labor and Pensions said that between 2008 and 2009, more than a million students attended schools owned by for-profit companies and by 2010, 54 percent of those had left school without a degree or certificate.

The committee also found that associate degree and certificate programs cost an average of four times the cost of degree program at comparable community colleges. Moreover, bachelor’s degree programs at for-profit colleges cost 20 percent more than flagship public universities.

Jindal disputed proposed U.S. Department of Education “gainful employment” rules that would tie federal aid at for-profit and public and private vocational and certificate programs to their success in preparing students for gainful employment.

“The message from this administration couldn’t be clearer,” Jindal wrote in suggesting that the Obama administration policies are tantamount to “redlining educational opportunities” for low-income and minority youths. “If you want to attend an elite professional school you could end up having tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt forgiven by your school and the federal government. But if you’re a struggling African-American single mother relying on a certificate program at a for-profit school or a community college and you like your current education plan—under this administration, you have about as much chance of keeping it as you do your health plan.”

Critics of the for-profit institutions, however, claim that the schools recruit vulnerable students, some of whom do not even possess a high school diploma, charge exorbitant tuition and encourage students to take out huge student loans they will never be able to repay.

Once again, it was what went unsaid that is significant.

Nikesh Jindal, it turns out, has represented the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), in an earlier legal battle with the Obama administration.

Nikesh Jindal “historically has been part of the team representing APSCU in litigation,” said Noah Black, APSCU spokesman, and was listed as one of the attorneys for the association in its successful challenge to a Department of Education rule that colleges must become certified in each state in which they enroll students.

For a man of repeated claims of transparency, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s lack of candor is awfully opaque.

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When we make a mistake in our attempts to keep you informed about your state government and its elected officials, we make it a point to make amends as quickly and as accurately as possible in order to be fair to all concerned.

With that in mind, we owe a sincere apology for inadvertently misrepresenting the amount of campaign contributions received by certain legislators in our Wednesday post about the House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Gordon Dove (R-Houma), State Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) and Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin).

You may remember that we said that Adley had received $70,500 in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests and that Dove and Allain received $10,500 and $6,800, respectively.

We were incorrect and in fairness to them, we want to give the correct figures here and now:

  • Sen. Robert Adley: $597,950;
  • Sen. Bret Allain: $34,139;
  • Rep. Gordon Dove: $28,950.

There, now. We certainly feel better for having cleared the air and we hope the honorable legislators will forgive us our error.

We do not have a revised amount of oil and gas-related campaign contributions for Gov. Bobby Jindal, but we have confirmed that it is at least $545,000, most probably more. A lot more.

If there are any lingering doubts out there that politicians are bought and sold by the special interests like so many sacks of potatoes, consider the money that has been spread among our state lawmakers—just from the oil and gas interests:

  • The 144 incumbent legislators (remember, this does not include those who have left office) have received more than $5.8 million in campaign contributions by a single special interest group—oil and gas. That comes to an average of $40,357 per legislator.
  • For the 39 current members of the Louisiana Senate, the aggregate is a little north of $2.8 million, or $51,100 each.
  • A total of $2.99 million was distributed among the 105 House members—an average of $28, 458 each, the figures show.

So, the obvious question is: what do the oil and gas interests expect in return—other than the continuation of the same good, clean government to which we have grown so accustomed in Louisiana?

How about the dismissal of a pesky lawsuit that could result in the 97 oil companies having to spend some of their hard-earned profits to clean up and restore the state’s wetlands that they have destroyed over decades of misuse and abuse.

Just think what a bummer it would be if ExxonMobil had to dip into that $8.35 billion in net profits it earned during the last quarter of 2013. Same for Shell, with its $2.9 billion in net profits for the final quarter of last year. I mean, c’mon, you have to feel some sympathy for ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson who only makes $2.72 million per year—in salary, that is. An adverse court decision could impact his annual bonus of $3.7 million (plus 225,000 shares of restricted stock worth another $21.3 million). That’s $27.7 million in 2013 alone. http://www.foxbusiness.com/industries/2014/04/11/exxon-ceo-2013-compensation-falls-278519336/

So, by obtaining a dismissal of litigation—before it ever goes to trial or even to the discovery stage—that could conceivably cost oil companies several hundred million dollars by spreading $5.8 million around represents a nice return on investment.

And make no mistake about it: campaign contributions are just that—investments. Nothing more, nothing less. More specifically, they are investments not in good government, but in business. And politics is a business—a very dirty business.

Politics long ago, even before the repugnant Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision of 2010, took the citizens of this country and this state out of the equation, eliminated us from the decision-making process on issues that clearly affect our lives each and every day.

And if you still believe our government is of the people, by the people and for the people, then you are either wonderfully naïve or pitifully delusional.

Not all the political back scratching, vote buying and deal making takes place in Washington. With far too few exceptions, it’s as close as our nearest state senator, state representative Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member and yes, even our governor. Especially our governor, the one who supposedly sets the moral tone for all other elected officials.

And the investments of the oil and gas interests in lawmakers who are supposed to be representing the interests of the state and its citizens are only indicative of a much larger problem, a problem that undermines the trust in the entire body politic, in the political process itself.

Can it be an accident that the seven members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee received an average of $62,902 each from oil interests—$11,785 more than the average for the 32 senators not assigned to that committee?

Do you think it a coincidence that the 19 members of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment received an average of $31,670—again, $3,200 more than the average for the remaining House membership?

Oil and gas contributions for the Senate committee members totaled $462,150 and for the House committee members, $394,150—a grand total of $856,300.

And then there is the seven-member Senate Committee on Environmental Quality, chaired by Sen. Mike Walsworth, or as one blogger refers to him, Walsworthless, (R-West Monroe), whose $46,775 was eclipsed by fellow committee member Sen. Dale Erdy (R-Livingston), who raked in $118,400 in donations from oil and gas.

In all, seven senators, including Adley, Gerald Long (R-Natchitoches) and Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), received in excess of $100,000 from oil and gas interests. Alario, the poster child for using campaign funds for private purposes, received $124,400. That’s a lot of Saints and LSU football tickets and, with his expensive eating habits, a couple of gourmet meals at one of New Orleans’ finer restaurants.

Over on the House side, only one member received more than $100,000. But that just happened to be House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles). How’s that for strategic placement of your money?

And then there is Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas) the carpetbagger from Seattle who is an announced candidate for lieutenant governor. Guillory seems to pop up anywhere there are contributions to be had. A member of the Senate Judiciary C Committee, he managed to pull in $130,400, second only to Adley’s $597,950.

These are just some of the highlights of the data we received, courtesy of Moss Robeson of Brooklyn, N.Y., whom we would like to thank for conducting a more thorough data search and for crunching the numbers for us. Working as an intern on behalf of John Barry and the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SFLPA-E), he not only ran the numbers on the Senate and members of the House Committee on Natural Resources, he ran them for every member of the entire legislature.

After all, if Gov. Jindal can continue pulling in talent from out of state, then why not bring Ross in for this project—especially since his mom resides in New Orleans?

For the complete list compiled by Robeson, click here: Copy of Campaign Contributions

Here is the way the full House voted on SB 469 on Thursday:

YEAS:

Alario

Adams

Arnold

Barras

Berthelot

Billiot

Bishop, S.

Broadwater

Burford

Burns, H.

Burns, T.

Burrell

Carmody

Carter

Champagne

Chaney

Cromer

Danahay

Dove

Fannin

Garofalo

Geymann

Gisclair

Guinn

Harris

Harrison

Havard

Henry

Hensgens

Hodges

Hoffmann

Honore

Howard

Ivey

Jones

Landry, N.

Leopold

Lorusso

Mack

Miller

Morris, Jay

Morris, Jim

Ponti

Pope

Price

Pugh

Pylant

Reynolds

Richard

Robideaux

Schexnayder

Schroder

Seabaugh

Simon

Stokes

Thibaut

Thierry

Thompson

Whitney

Total — 59

 

NAYS

Anders

Armes

Badon

Barrow

Bishop, W.

Brown

Connick

Cox

Dixon

Edwards

Foil

Franklin

Greene

Guillory

Hazel

Hill

Hunter

Jackson

James

Jefferson

Johnson

Lambert

Landry, T.

LeBas

Leger

Lopinto

Montoucet

Moreno

Norton

Ortego

Pearson

Pierre

Ritchie

Shadoin

Smith

Williams, A.

Williams, P.

Willmott

Woodruff

Total – 39

 

ABSENT

Abramson

Gaines

Hollis

Huval

St. Germain

Talbot

Total — 6

 

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While Gov. Bobby Jindal continues to flit around the country like a hummingbird on amphetamines, he apparently can be secure in the knowledge that his lackeys in the Louisiana Legislature will have his back in protecting the 97 oil companies that have done so much damage to Louisiana’s coastline and marshlands.

And at least one legislator has been cited for illegal dumping in another state even as he votes to ensure the oil companies may continue to destroy our wetlands with impunity.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s (SFLPA-E) filed its landmark lawsuit nearly a year ago and the politicians who feed on the mother’s milk called oil and gas immediately closed ranks behind the companies that have destroyed the marshes and in so doing, left the entire Louisiana coastline, from Buras to Lake Charles—and New Orleans—vulnerable to more tragic hurricane destruction like that inflicted by 2005’s Katrina and Rita.

Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, who has benefitted from a minimum of $70,500 in oil and gas contributions and armed with predictable righteous indignation, came to the rescue like the Lone Ranger, complete with the silver bullets of anti-lawsuit legislation. He was followed in quick succession by a flood of similar bills from other shameless oil money-dependent lawmakers—the protectors of Louisiana’s citizenry from the bad old lawsuits and greedy lawyers, all following the lead of Jindal who condemned the litigation as if it were an attack on motherhood itself.

One of those bills, SB 469, by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, was authored by our old friend Jimmy Faircloth. Allain was recipient of at least $6,800 in oil money, his campaign records show. The bill, co-sponsored by Adley, zipped through the Senate by a 24-13 margin with two absentees.

SB 469 “provides that no state or local governmental entity may have, nor may pursue, any right or cause of action arising from any activity subject to permitting under present law or certain federal statutes in the coastal area, or arising from or related in any use as defined by present law, regardless of the date such use or activity occurred.”

In plain English, which most of the great unwashed employ in our everyday communications, the bill simply prohibits any entity like SFLPA-E from attempting to hold oil companies accountable through litigation for the destruction they have unleashed with careless abandon on our coastline and marshlands.

But here’s the real kicker: The bill was amended by the House Committee on Natural Resources to make that prohibition retroactive, thus in effect, killing the SFLPA-E attempt to hold the companies legally responsible for cleaning up the mess they created. As the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live was fond of saying, “How convenient.”

How’s that for giving a kid your credit card in a toy store?

So, what makes the committee vote on the amendment so different from any other backroom deal by lawmakers to protect not their constituents but the ones who bankroll their election campaigns?

For starters, we have the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, one Gordon Dove (R-Houma), who voted in favor of the amendment.

gordon dove

(CLICK TO VIEW IMAGE)

Dove, who has been the recipient of at least $10,500 in oil and gas campaign money since 2005, just happens to own a trucking company that was cited last month for dumping radioactive waste in the state of Montana.

http://m.missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/company-suspected-of-dumping-radioactive-waste-in-montana-ordered-to/article_e63b89ac-cdc2-11e3-b909-0019bb2963f4.html?mobile_touch=true

Dual Trucking and Transport of Houma has been ordered by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to cease all operations near the Bakken community of Bainville after it was determined that the company was believed to have illegally dumped radioactive oilfield waste in an Eastern Montana landfill over a two-year period.

The Montana Secretary of State listed Dove and Tony Alford of Houma, president of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Board, as principals in the Montana trucking company. Another Montana company, KJK Trucking, lists Dove’s daughter, Jackie Elizabeth Dove (Sye), as its registered agent.

The Montana DEQ said the waste site is only a couple hundred yards upwind from a housing development and is located in a sandy-soiled region where the water table is sufficient high to produce wetlands.

That sounds vaguely familiar. Oh, wait. It was only five months ago that Plaquemine Parish accused BP and Chevron in a federal lawsuit of dumping toxic waste—some of it radioactive—from their drilling operations into the parish’s coastal waters.

Dual was issued a warning nearly two years ago, in September of 2012, to cease operations until it was licensed by DEQ’s Solid Waste Program and the company did begin the permit process but subsequently refused the state’s requests for additional information, saying it was no longer processing oilfield waste and did not require a permit.

But in April of this year, DEQ again inspected the site and found that Dual was still hauling the oilfield waste without a permit.

The Montana regulatory action arose from growing reports of illegally disposed of waste from the Bakken shale oilfield in nearby North Dakota. Garbage bags full of the oilfield sock filters were also discovered in an abandoned North Dakota gas station and on a flatbed trailer near a landfill in that state. Neither of the North Dakota sites has been tied to Dove’s trucking company.

The citation issued to the chairman of the Louisiana Committee on Natural Resources by the State of Montana apparently has no relevance when it comes to the all-important duty of our elected officials to protect the very ones who are destroying our coastline.

But it does raise another important issue.

Gordon Dove is merely symptomatic of a much larger problem in Louisiana and that is one of trust.

For our part, we find it impossible to place any degree of confidence in those who would go against the best interests of our state in favor of prostituting themselves to political benefactors while at the same time flaunting environmental laws in another state and in effect, flipping off the citizens of both states.

The Louisiana official motto “Union, Justice and Confidence” has become a cruel hoax perpetrated on the citizens of Louisiana and Bobby Jindal and Gordon Dove are right out front as the primary proponents. There is no justice nor is there confidence. There is, of course, ample evidence of the unholy union between the big oil donors and those who took oaths to protect the interests of this state.

Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell (D-Elm Grove) made two important points during an appearance on the Jim Engster Show on Louisiana Public Radio several months ago:

  • As a member of the legislature, he supported former Republican Gov. Dave Treen’s unsuccessful efforts to pass the Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy (CWEL)—a tax on the transportation of oil and gas through the state’s coastal wetlands;
  • If someone drives his car through your fence, destroys your lawn and a storage building, you would justifiably expect that person or his insurance company to pay for those damages.

But apparently that’s just not the case in Louisiana.

The amended version of SB 469 is scheduled for floor debate in the full House tomorrow (May 29). If you wish to email your legislator, you don’t have much time.

Here are the links to both the House and Senate:

http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Reps/H_Reps_ByName.asp

http://senate.legis.louisiana.gov/Senators/Default.asp

(Click on legislator’s name to access email address and House or Senate phone number.)

Next from LouisianaVoice: a complete list of oil and gas company contributions to all members of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the full Senate.

 

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An interesting civil trial is transpiring at the 19th Judicial District Court. Though estimates vary, if the plaintiffs prevail, about one taxpayer in five in the Greater Baton Rouge area may eventually wind up with a surprise check in the mail.

The trial involves a group of taxpayers, now represented as a class, who have sued the Amite River Basin Commission (ARBC) over what they claim are vastly overpaid property taxes covering construction of the Comite River Diversion Canal. The project was originally envisioned after the massive 1983 flood which resulted in significant backwater flooding long after rains had stopped. The concept behind the project involves providing a sort of relief valve (the Canal) to divert water from the Comite River into the Mississippi River. By lowering the water level of the Comite River, water levels would also be lowered in the Amite River basin in flood-prone areas such as Port Vincent and French Settlement.

What is in dispute is the amount of funding for which the ARBC (through local property owners) is responsible. The original estimate of the project’s construction costs was approximately $120 million (the current estimate is $199 million). Of that $120 million, the Army Corps of Engineers (through the Federal government) was to be responsible for 70% of the construction costs, or $84 million. The remaining $36 million cost was originally designated to be $30 million to the State of Louisiana, and $6 million to the ARBC.

A sidebar to the whole affair is how a Baton Rouge lawyer is legally or ethically able to represent ARBC when he also served as the plaintiff attorney in litigation against the state that could ultimately cost the state from $60 million to $70 million.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have indicated that $6 million was the full extent of the construction costs for which the ARBC was responsible. To date, by way of a 3-mill property tax approved by voters in the District in 2000, combined with a renewal (at 2.65 mills) of that tax in 2010, plaintiff attorneys say about $24.5 million has been collected to date. The suit seeks a refund of the alleged $18.5 million overpayment.

At various stages in the trial, plaintiff attorneys have accused ARBC Executive Director Deitmar Rietschier of financial mismanagement and voter deception in order to “keep a project alive that is on life support.”

The attorneys have argued that Rietschier has an ulterior motive for over-collecting on the tax in order to fund his own $93,000+ annual salary along with his executive secretary’s $38,000 salary.  The board’s executive secretary, Toni Guitrau, also happens to be the Mayor of the Livingston Parish Village of French Settlement.

So, basically, the trial boils down to the claim that taxpayers of the district have been tricked into paying around $1.1 million in salaries for Rietschier and Guitrau during a period for which no funding has been appropriated for the project’s continued construction.

Plaintiff attorney Steve Irving argued that it is virtually impossible to accurately estimate the final cost of the project or if, it may even be completed.

Defense attorney Larry Bankston says there never was any intent to cap the ARBC’s contribution to construction costs at $6 million. He argues that the Canal project remains viable and is fully ongoing. He indicated that he has eight more witnesses to call.

Bankston’s roles as both plaintiff and defense attorney in cases involving the state would appear to pose a conflict of interests. Currently, he is:

  • Legal counsel to the State Auctioneer Licensing Board under a $25,000 contract;
  • Defense attorney for ARBC in its ongoing litigation over the overpayment of taxes to that board;
  • Plaintiff attorney in ongoing litigation against the Louisiana Department of Agriculture, and the state’s Rice Promotion Board and Rice Research Board over claims of excessive assessments against the state’s rice farmers.

Employing the doctrine that “the state is the state is the state,” it would appear that Bankston may have a conflict of interests under the code of ethics which governs attorney representation.

But as we discovered years ago, nothing is ever cut and dried in the legal world. And it’s obvious those in charge of attorney ethics or either ignorant of the subject or protective of their peers—or both.

And so it is with this question. We contacted a number of organizations, including the Attorney Disciplinary Board, the Louisiana Civil Justice Center, and the State Bar Ethics Council and each one punted. Eric K. Barefield of the State Bar Association’s Ethics Council did finally respond to our email question about the propriety of working both sides of Litigation Street but his answer did little to shed light on the issue:

“Thank you for your inquiry. The Louisiana State Bar Association’s Ethics Advisory Service is designed to provide eligible Louisiana-licensed lawyers with informal, non-binding advice regarding their own prospective conduct and/or ethical dilemmas under the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct (the “LRPC”).  According to limitations set by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, we are not permitted to evaluate contemplated disciplinary complaints, to serve as the catalyst for potential complaints or even to comment on the conduct of lawyers other than that of the requesting lawyer. 

“As such, regrettably, we are not permitted to help you evaluate whether the lawyer in your scenario has or may be violating the LRPC nor are we permitted to give you legal advice on matters such as those contained in your e-mail. 

“In addition to the foregoing, if you are concerned about protecting and/or asserting your rights and interests in this matter, perhaps you should strongly consider consulting another lawyer as soon as possible with regard to getting an evaluation of your facts and a legal opinion about your rights, interests and options.  Regrettably, no one on the staff at the LSBA is permitted to offer legal assistance and/or legal advice.”

That rendition of the Bureaucratic Shuffle would easily get a “10″ rating on Dancing with the Stars.

Bankston, you may remember, is a former staff attorney for the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, was assistant parish attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish and a member of the Baton Rouge City-Parish Commission before his 1987 election to the Louisiana State Senate.

In 1994, while serving as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bankston met in his law office with Fred Goodson, owner of a Slidell video poker truck stop. The FBI later said Bankston and Goodson discussed a plan to manipulate the legislative process in order to protect the interests of video poker companies in exchange for providing key legislators secret financial interests in video poker truck stops.

Bankston was subsequently indicted and convicted on two racketeering counts, one of which was a scheme whereby Goodson would pay Bankston “rent” of $1,555 per month for “non-use” of Bankston’s beachfront condo in Gulf Shores, Alabama—a bribe, according to prosecutors.

Bankston was sentenced to 41 months in prison in 1997 and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.

Released on Nov. 6, 2000, Bankston was subsequently disbarred by the Louisiana Supreme Court on Mar. 9, 2002, retroactive to Nov. 19, 1997, but was re-admitted to practice law on Feb. 5, 2004.

So, now he represents two state boards and is suing two others and a state agency.

And there apparently is no one who can—or will—call a foul in this game.

 

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