BATON ROUGE (CNS)—The influence of lobbyists and campaign contributions was never more in evidence than in last week’s House votes on two separate education bills being pushed hard by the Jindal administration.
Of the 62 House members who are current or former members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) or attended ALEC conferences, accepted campaign contributions from corporate members of ALEC, from education reform lobbyists or from Gov. Bobby Jindal himself, 46 voted in favor of HB 974 and 43 voted for HB 976.
In all, more than $523,000 was doled out in campaign contributions to 50 House members—an average of more than $10,000 each—by lobbyists or corporate entities affiliated with ALEC who supported the bills or from Jindal’s own campaign funds.
Even more telling, of those 50 campaign contribution recipients, only five voted against both bills and two others split their votes. Reps. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles), Jim Morris (R-Oil City), Andy Anders (D-Vidalia), Joe Harrison (R-Gray) and Dorothy Hill (D-Dry Creek) each voted no on both bills.
Rep. Gregory Miller (R-Norco) voted in favor of HB 974 but against HB 976 while Rep. Patrick Williams (D-Shreveport) voted for HB 976 but was opposed to HB 974. Rep. Hunter Greene (R-Baton Rouge) did not vote on HB 974 but voted for HB 976.
Both bills have been criticized by newspapers throughout the state, as well as teachers as being too hurried and not well conceived by the administration.
One of the criticisms by proponents and opponents alike is the problem of classroom space for students wishing to transfer from so-called failing schools to charter schools, with tuition being paid by state-funded vouchers.
Another question, raised in the House Education Committee by Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) was the state’s power to redirect local tax money for purposes other than the uses approved by local voters.
HB 974, by Rep. Stephen Carter (R-Baton Rouge), addressed teacher tenure, pay-for-performance and teacher evaluations. It passed by a vote of 64-40 with Greene not voting.
HB 976, also by Carter, provides vouchers, or to use Gov. Jindal’s terminology, scholarships, for education excellence, allows parents to transfer their children to charter schools and provides for charter school authorizers and course providers. It passed by a 62-43 vote.
Another mostly unspoken criticism of the bills, besides Jindal’s move to fast track them through the legislative process, is that of financial influence, or pressure, from special interests, particularly that of the American Federation of Children (AFC) and its Louisiana affiliate, the Louisiana Federation of Children (LFT).
The LFC recently did an extensive mail-out in House District 72, represented by Edwards in which it accused Edwards of attempting to stymie the education of children in grades K-12.
Additionally, Baton Rouge attorney Bryan Jeansonne, a law partner of Jason Dore, executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party, has submitted a public records request for all email correspondence between Edwards and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) or any of its employees, a move that could be construed as intimidation, given Jindal’s propensity to fire or otherwise punish those who disagree with him.
Jeansonne also made a request to the Tangipahoa Parish School Board for a list of all the system’s teachers and home addresses. Edwards said his wife is a teacher and a member of the LFT.
AFC was formerly an organization called All Children Matter and both organizations were and are run by Dick and Betsy DeVos of Michigan. Dick DeVos owns Amway and Betsy DeVos is the former chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party. Her brother, Erik D. Prince, is the founder of Blackwater USA, the private security firm that made international headlines in 2007 when its guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians and then attempted to bribe Iraqi officials to quell criticism of their actions.
In 2006, All Children Matter was fined $5.2 million for funneling campaign money into Ohio through the organization’s various state networks. All Children Matter also was fined for illegal political activity in Wisconsin. A “527” organization, its legal problems prompted a change in name to the American Federation for Children.
Betsy DeVos, writing in an op-ed piece for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, said, “I know a little something about soft money as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.”
All Children Matter contributed $71,000 to 32 House members between 2007 and 2011, records from the Louisiana Board of Ethics show.
House members who voted for both bills and the amount of contributions received from all sources includes:
• John Berthelot (R-Gonzales), $8,000;
• Christopher Broadwater (R-Hammond), $47,000;
• Timothy Burns (R-Mandeville, $29,500;
• Stephen Carter (Chairman of the House Education Committee and author of House Bills 974 and 976), $24,675;
• Simone Champagne (R-Erath), $45,000;
• Patrick Connick (R-Marrero), $7,500;
• Gregory Cromer (R-Slidell), $13,250;
• Raymond Garofalo (R-Chalmette), $15,000;
• Kenneth Havard (R-Jackson), $35,000;
• Lowell Hazel (R-Pineville, $11,000;
• Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe), $40,500;
• Paul Hollis (R-Covington), $10,000;
• Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles, Speaker of the House), $15,000;
• Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette), $7,000;
• Christopher Leopold (R-Belle Chasse), $7,500;
• Gregory Miller, $17,500;
• Erich Ponti (R-Baton Rouge), $7,000;
• Stephen Pugh (R-Ponchatoula), $6,000;
• Clifton Richardson (R-Baton Rouge), $17,000;
• Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), $13,600;
• Clay Schexnayder (R-Sorrento), $27,500;
• Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport), $25,750;
• Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport), $1,500;
• Cameron Henry (R-Metairie), $2,500;
• John Schroder (R-Covington), $4,500;
• Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell), $2,500;
• Nick Lorusso (R-New Orleans), $6,500;
• Anthony Ligi (R-Metairie), $26,700;
• Jack Montoucet (D-Crowley), $6,000;
• Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge), $6,000;
• Austin Badon (D-New Orleans), $4,000;
• Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans), $3,500;
• Steve Pylant (R-Winnsboro), $2,500;
• Walt Leger (D-New Orleans), $3,500;
• Karen St. Germain (D-Plaquemine), $2,500;
• Dorothy Hill (D-Dry Creek), $2,500;
• Andy Anders, $2,000;
• Charles Chaney (R-Rayville), $1,000;
• Ledricka Thierry (D-Opelousas), $500;
• Robert Billiot (D-Westwego), $1,000;
• Frank Howard (R-Many), $1,000;
• Anthony Ligi (R-Metairie), $1,000;
• Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge), $1,000;
• Patrick Jefferson (D-Homer), $1,000.
Greene, who did not vote on HB 974, received $13,000 in contributions from supporters of both bills.
Thibaut, who voted for HB 974 and against 976, received $4,500;
Those receiving contributions from supporters of the bills but who voted no on each included Joseph Harrison (R-Gray), $1,000; Geymann, $6,000, and Morris, $13,750.