A question for Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis:
How much is enough?
And that’s not a rhetorical question. We really want to know what your limits are.
According to Francis, a wealthy man in his own right, he should be entitled to a free lunch.
You see, the political campaigns of Public Service Commission (PSC) members, the Louisiana Insurance Commissioner and judges at every level are financed in large part by the very ones they regulate or do business with on a daily basis.
But apparently that association is not cozy enough for Francis, who wants to remove all restrictions on accepting free meals from representatives of utilities, motor carriers, and others regulated by the PSC.
Granted, the PSC purports to hold itself to a higher standard than actual ethics rules allow. Legally, elected officials are allowed to accept up to $60 per day in food and beverage under the guise of “business” lunches or dinners. But, as Baton Rouge Advocate columnist and resident curmudgeon JAMES GILL writes, the PSC, at the urging of members Foster Campbell and Lambert Boissiere, rammed through a rule barring all freeloading.
That didn’t sit well with Francis, who is financially solvent enough to daily feed the entire commission out of his petty cash account.
Saying he wanted the commission to be run like a business, he sniffed that a working lunch is “pretty standard procedure in the real work world.”
Our question to Francis then is this: since when is government run like a business? Businesses are run to make a profit; government is run to provide services for its citizens. The two concepts are like the rails on a railroad track: they never cross though they often do appear to converge.
And then there is our follow up question to Mr. Francis: isn’t it enough that you manage to extract huge sums of money from the industries you regulate in the form of campaign contributions? Why would you need a free lunch on top of that?
After all, your campaign finance reports indicate you received $5,000 from AT&T, $5,000 from ENPAC (Entergy’s political action committee), $5,000 from Atmos Energy Corp. PAC, $2,500 from the Louisiana Rural Electric Cooperative, $2,500 from Dynamic Environmental Services, $2,500 from ADR Electric, $2,500 from carbon producing company Rain CII, $2,500 from Davis Oil principal William Mills, III, $2,500 each from Jones Walker and the Long law firms, each of whom represents oil and energy interests. There are plenty others but those are the primary purchasers of the Francis Free Lunch.
LouisianaVoice would like to offer a substitute motion to the Francis Free Lunch proposal. It will never be approved, but here goes:
Let’s enact a law, strictly enforced, that will prohibit campaign contributions from any entity that is governed, regulated, or otherwise overseen by those elected to the Public Service Commission, the Louisiana Insurance Commission, judgeships at all levels, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner.
- No electric or gas companies, oil and gas transmission companies, or trucking and bus companies or rail companies could give a dime to Public Service Commission candidates.
- Lawyers would be prohibited from contributing to candidates for judge or Attorney General.
- Insurance companies would not be allowed to make contributions to candidates for Insurance Commissioner.
- Likewise, companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF, who control 75% of the world pesticides market, and Factory farms like Tyson and Cargill, which account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide, could no longer attempt to influence legislation through contributions to candidates for Agriculture Commissioner.
- Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) could no longer accept contributions from individuals or companies affiliated in any way, shape or form with education.
While we’re at it, the Lieutenant Governor’s office oversees tourism in the state. In fact, that’s about all that office does. So why should we allow candidates for Lieutenant Governor to accept campaign contributions from hotels, convention centers, and the like?
This concept could be taken even further to bar contributions from special interests to legislators who sit on committee that consider bills that affect those interests. Education Committee members, like BESE members, could not accept funds from Bill Gates or from any charter, voucher or online school operators, for example.
Like we said, it’ll never happen. That would be meaningful campaign reform. This is Louisiana. And never the twain shall meet. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would see to that.
But wouldn’t it be fun to watch candidates scramble for campaign funds if such restrictions were to be implemented?
We might even see a return of the campaign sound trucks of the Earl Long era rolling up and down the main streets of our cities and towns after all the TV advertising money dries up.