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It’s been a busy last couple of weeks, to say the least:

  • Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards was forced into a runoff with millionaire businessman Eddie Rispone who had never run for office before and who offered no specific solutions to Louisiana’s problems other than to say he was going to “fix it,” a-la the late Ross Perot and that he would lower taxes a-la Bobby Jindal.
  • In the all-important races for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the big money was the big winner. Seven candidates backed by LABI and its PAC money won seven seats on the board, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that it’s not who has the best ideas and who is the best-qualified, but who has the money that determines who gets elected in Louisiana. Voters continue to listen to the sound bites and to read the brochures that clutter our mailboxes instead of educating themselves on the issues. Perhaps the completion of an intensive civics course, complete with a required essay on all the candidates should be a criteria for voting.
  • Two Soviet-born emigres managed to penetrate the White House’s inner circle by cozying up to Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump by pouring $350,000 into federal and state Republican campaigns and contacted Ukrainian officials at the behest of Giuliani in his efforts to dig up information on Democrats. No word if any of that $350,000 went into the Rispone campaign.
  • Trump threw erstwhile allies Kurds under the bus by pulling out American forces, using has his excuse the somewhat dubious claim he wanted the U.S. out of the mess in the Mideast even as he was committing more troops to Saudi Arabia to aid that country in its fight against Iran.
  • LSU won a classic heavyweight match-up with Florida and moved into the number two spot in the national rankings.
  • The Hard Rock Café Hotel in New Orleans that was under construction in the French Quarter collapsed, leaving at least two dead and raising questions about construction inspections similar to those raised in a similar incident in Baton Rouge more than 40 years ago. That’s when a building undergoing construction on Airline Highway collapsed, killing three workers and injuring three others. The building had recently undergone its “final inspection” which pronounced it “ready for occupancy.”
  • In a textbook SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) lawsuit, the Ascension Parish Council responded to a public records request from former employee Teleta Wesley by filing a lawsuit against her. The same course was taken by the 4th Judicial District Court (Ouachita and Morehouse parishes) judges against The Ouachita Citizen newspaper and by the Welsh Town Council against town council member Jacob Colby Perry. Similar action was also threatened but never taken by Lake Charles attorney Russell Stutes, Jr. in response to public records requests submitted by Billy Broussard who was never paid by Calcasieu Parish to remove debris from Hurricane Rita in 2005. Such lawsuits are filed for the sole purpose of shutting up critics who generally don’t have the resources to fight such nuisance lawsuits.

Several surveys came out recently that revealed some interesting facts.

  • Louisiana, with a poverty rate of 18.6 percent in 2018 (down from 19.7 percent the year before), improved somewhat to the fifth-poorest state in the nation. The state came in ahead of (in order) New Mexico, Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia.
  • Monroe, meanwhile, ranked as the 28th poorest metropolitan area in the U.S. with a median household income of $44,353 and a poverty rate of 20.7 percent and with 12.2 percent of households with incomes under $10,000 (both among the 10 highest rates). Not to be outdone, the Shreveport-Bossier City metro area was 14th-poorest with a median household income of $41,969 and a poverty rate of 20.4 percent.
  • Louisiana’s state retirement system, often criticized by the numbers-crunchers, while not on the best financial footing, was nevertheless, in “only” the 20th worst shape (putting the state not very far from the middle of the pack) with a funded ratio of 65.1 percent and a total pension shortfall of $18.2 billion (19th highest). That compares favorably with Kentucky’s funded ratio of only 33.9 percent and its $42.9 billion shortfall (the worst in the nation) and next-door neighbor Mississippi, which had a funded ratio of 61.6 percent but a total pension shortfall of $16.8 billion, two spots better than Louisiana’s.
  • Finally, a survey of the worst colleges in each state was done using U.S. Department of Education, Niche and College Factual (college ranking services) data based on graduation rates, costs of the university, salaries post-graduation, average student debt, and return on investment. Grambling State University near Ruston was deemed the worst in Louisiana. Grambling has a anemic graduation rate of only 10 percent and students leave with an average student debt of $27,656. With a median post-graduation salary of only $28,100, the default rate on student loans is 16.1 percent. By comparison, the worst college in Mississippi is Mississippi Valley State, which has a graduation rate three times that of Grambling at 29.8 percent and a loan default rate of 18.9 percent on average student loans of $32,252. In Arkansas, the worst is Philander Smith College in Little Rock which has a graduation rate of 39 percent but a default rate of 20.1 percent on average student debt of $26,616. The worst school in the nation is DeVry University. While it operates in nearly every state, its physical location is Illinois, so it was ranked as the worst in that state with a graduation rate of only 20.6 percent and average debt of $30,000 per student.
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Some weeks ago, I stopped counting political brochures arriving in my mailbox by sheer numbers, choosing instead to measure them by the pound.

Republic Services has probably had to put another truck or two into service just to cart away the political mail-outs cluttering the mailboxes on my street alone. They’re too slick to use for the bottoms of bird cages, so they serve no real purpose other than to attest to the fact we are needlessly killing far too many trees.

It wouldn’t be so bad if they actually offered anything new but, to paraphrase a line uttered by Frasier on the sitcom Cheers, they’re redundant, they repeat themselves, they say the same things over and over—and still they don’t tell us a thing about the candidate except perhaps in the case of one Edith Carlin, who insists she’s the male version of Donald Trump, a rather dubious self-accolade, if there ever was one.

Carlin describes herself in her fliers as “an outsider like President Trump.” (And yes, she does underscore the word outsider.) She goes on to say, “Just like President Trump, Edith Carlin is a self-made person…”

Really? Did she begin drawing millions from her father while still a child? Did her father purchase her way into the Wharton School of Business? Did she hire undocumented workers, not pay them, and default on billions of dollars of loans from banks into order to become “self-made”? Did she become “self-made” by declaring bankruptcy half-a-dozen times? Is she “self-made” from cheating thousands of students in a fraudulent “university” that was under investigation until making a big campaign contribution to the attorney general who was investigating the school? Is that what she means by “self-made”?

She should be so proud.

She says she “will hold the government accountable in a way politicians can’t.” Really? How does she plan to do that? That promise has been made thousands upon thousands of times by thousands upon thousands of candidates but nothing seems to change. But she’s different, I suppose. She’s proposing to waltz into a 39-member body and single-handedly convince her fellow senators and 105 House members that they’ve been wrong all along and they will obligingly repent of their evil ways.

That’s about as absurd as every four years, the candidates for mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish vow to make public education better when in reality, the mayor’s office has zero to do with the school board. Zero.

Well, one of the things Carlin says she’ll do is “fix I-12 issues without raising the gas tax.” Well, Ms. Carlin, it would be most interesting to hear just how you plan to go about doing that.

“After billions of dollars in tax increases,” she says, “the government now admits taking too much from us.” I suppose she’s referring to the $300 million – $500 million surplus of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration. But personally, I much prefer a surplus of $500 million to the eight years of $1 billion deficits of the best-forgotten Jindal administration.

She is running against State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, a fellow Republican, who is term-limited and who is running for the seat of former State Sen. Dale Erdy, also term-limited. Pope is a former Livingston Parish school superintendent who brought our school system up to among the best in the state. Pope’s big sin is he doesn’t always vote the party line, choosing instead to vote his conscience, an attribute many claim as their voting philosophy but which few can back up. But when you cross party lines, you cross the party and the party is the party is the party and the party doesn’t forget.

Carlin claims politicians “haven’t fixed our drainage problems,” that “80 percent of our district flooded.” True. I flooded, as did thousands of others. And of course, Carlin’s hero, Trump, dragged his feet in getting the requirements for assistance approved by HUD. It’s been three years and many still have received nothing from FEMA. As for fixing our drainage problems, she says we need an engineer to fix those problems. She is an engineer.

But guess what? Rogers Pope was an educator. Do you think they assigned him to the House Education Committee? Nope. That would make far too much sense. They tucked him away where he wouldn’t be a nuisance to Jindal and John White. Does Carlin think she’ll fare any better? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, she says she’ll work to improve drainage problems but she’s against taxes. It’s going to be interesting to see her just snap her fingers and make our problems vanish.

But to really understand the candidate Carlin, it’s always best to follow the money to see who is the power behind the politician (and she is now officially a politician, her denials notwithstanding).

So, I went onto the campaign finance records to see who her backers are.

The results were eye-opening, to say the least.

To narrow the field, I looked only at contributions of $500 or more. I found 65 contributions totaling $68,500 since January 1, 2019, including a couple of multiple contributions by the same donor, namely Republican power broker Lane Grigsby, who also backed Jindal and who is backing Eddie Rispone for governor.

I also noted a $2,500 contribution from Koch Industries.

But the real story is that of those 65 contributions, is that exactly 11 were from Livingston Parish while 32 were from East Baton Rouge Parish, 14 from other parts of the state and eight were from out of state. That’s 11 from Livingston and 54 from elsewhere.

Those 11 Livingston Parish contributors (actually, only 10 because one person contributed on two different occasions) accounted for $14,500 (including $4,500 from just three persons) while the 32 East Baton Rouge Parish donors ponied up $37,500. The 14 from other areas of the state gave $17,500 and out-of-state contributors chipped in $13,500.

So, Livingston Parish contributors gave just 21 percent of Carlin’s total while backers in Baton Rouge put up 54.7 percent of her total.

Livingston Parish voters may wish to ask themselves why so many people in Baton Rouge are involving themselves in a race in Livingston Parish. Well, let’s see who they are:

  • EastPac, NorthPac, WestPac, and SouthPac, all arms of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), combined to give $19,267. Since there are limits as to how much a political action committee may give, LABI simply bent the rules by creating not one, not two, not three, but four PACs.
  • Lane Grigsby: $2,500.
  • Todd Grigsby: $1,000.
  • ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) Pelican PAC: $2,500.
  • The Louisiana Homebuilders Association PAC: $2,500.
  • TransPac (a trucking industry PAC): $1,500.
  • Investment portfolio manager Meagan Shields: $3,000 (two $1,500 contributions).
  • Louisiana Student Financial Aid Association (LASFAA) PAC: $1,000.

Besides Koch Industries of Wichita, Kansas, out-of-state contributors included:

  • Republican State Leadership Committee, Washington, D.C.: $2,500.
  • Chevron, San Ramon, California: $2,500.
  • Stand for Children PAC, Portland, Oregon: $2,000.
  • Weyerhaeuser, Seattle, Washington: $1,500.
  • Marathon Petroleum, Findlay, Ohio: $1,500.
  • Tanner Barrow, Worthing, South Dakota: $1,000.
  • Micham Roofing, Sparta, Missouri: $500.

Louisiana contributors not from Livingston or East Baton Rouge Parish who contributed were from Bossier City, Slidell, New Orleans (2), Shreveport (2), Raceland, Jennings, Mandeville, Alexandria, Prairieville, Covington, Ponchatoula, and Gray.

So, those who haven’t already voted early may wish to ask themselves why the Republican party has turned on one of its own in such a vicious manner—but mostly why so much outside money is being poured into Edith Carlin’s campaign.

You may also wish to ask yourself whether she will be beholden to the people of Livingston Parish or to the faceless PACs of Baton Rouge, Washington, and elsewhere.

She may call herself a political outsider, but from here, she looks more like a puppet with the potential to be controlled by political insiders from outside Livingston Parish.

 

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Over the years, I have taken Troy Hebert to task over his tenure as head of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC). I even had to give a deposition in a lawsuit filed against Hebert by one of the agents he fired.

But I would be remiss if I did not now point out that we are in complete agreement on at least three issue: the failure of both political parties to represent Americans, lobbyists, and campaign finance.

On August 27, Hebert appeared along with Melissa Flournoy on the Jim Engster Show on Louisiana Public Radio. Both served in the Louisiana Legislature and Engster had them on together to present their viewpoints from the left (Flournoy) and the right (Hebert).

Flournoy correctly pointed out that gubernatorial candidates Eddie Rispone and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham are placing far too much emphasis on their being in lockstep with Donald Trump, who has proven that anyone can indeed become president—even the mentally deranged.

“I’m a little surprised (they) have embraced the President so much. I’m ready for them to talk about their vision for Louisiana and the kind of leadership they can provide,” she said. “I don’t think liking the President is good enough reason to be governor. I’m ready for the governor’s race to pivot to the real issues in Louisiana—education, health care, infrastructure and making Louisiana better.

“People don’t want to talk about solutions. We stand on different sides of the street and shriek at each other when we really ought to be focusing on solutions where we can work together.”

Hebert, a staunch Trump supporter. As a former legislator and member of the Jindal administration, nailed it when he said, “Neither party is getting done what needs to be done in this country.”

Hebert would seem qualified to speak to that issue, having been a member of each party but who now calls himself a “conservative independent. I served on both (parties) and just couldn’t take either one of them.”

He then fired a broadside at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). “As somebody who was in the legislature for 16 years as both a senator and a representative, I think big business owns the legislature and owns many officials.

“The little man is either dead or on life support in the legislature,” he said. “Why don’t you just pull up the campaign finance reports and find out who gives to these candidates.” LABI, he said, is “so blatant that they hinge their support on … a report card they give every year. And you have to score a certain percentage in order to receive funding from LABI when you run for re-election.

“I can’t tell you how many times I approached legislators with a bill I thought was a good idea to help the little guy and they said, “… This is a really good bill but the problem is LABI is against it and if I vote for it, they’re going ding me on their report card and I’m not gonna get money.”

Flournoy agreed, saying that LABI and the Chemical Association control and big corporations “… control and influence every decision made in Louisiana. They’re looking out for their interest and not for the people of Louisiana.”

Hebert, while agreeing with Flournoy, took his argument a step further by attacking the emphasis on money politics and how it even affects the media.

“The media judges a candidate’s ability by how much month they have in the bank. If you look at every report when the news comes on, when they talk about this governor’s race, they don’t talk about their ideas or what their policies are. They talk about how much money they’ve raised.

“When I ran for the U.S. Senate (in 2016), they had a debate put on by LPB (Louisiana Public Broadcasting) and you had to have a million dollars in order to be on the debate stage. So, the media also is responsible and is guilty for bringing money into play.

“The regular working guy who would want to run for office, the media won’t even let them in.”

Turning to the 2020 presidential campaign, Hebert said Joe Biden is probably the only Democrat in a crowded field who could give Trump a decent run but because he’s more moderate. “But watch the Democrats cannibalize Joe Biden. He’s going to be eaten by his own. The people in charge of the Democratic Party will not allow Joe Biden to be the nominee.”

Flournoy, while agreeing that the Democratic Party is moving too far to the left, said she does not believe we have seen the candidate who will end up running against Trump. “There’re going to be some late entries,” she said.

If I were a TV news analyst, I would sum up that appearance by pointing out that Melissa Flournoy and Troy Hebert are in agreement on more issues than those on which they disagree and that the common culprit is the influence of LABI and its big business membership on the Louisiana Legislature to the detriment of the citizens of Louisiana.

But the really unique aspect of Hebert’s diatribe against the influence of big money and big business on politics is that as he spoke, I found myself nodding in full agreement with someone about whom I had written many negative stories.

 

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To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: here they go again.

The expenditure of public funds, under the law, is supposed to be just that: public.

But trying to pry an accounting of legal costs associated with the state’s defense of 4th Judicial District law clerk Allyson Campbell has proved to be somewhat problematic, to say the least, for a north Louisiana publication.

The Ouachita Citizen in West Monroe is the only newspaper willing to take on the powers that be and so far, it has encountered a huge stone wall.

[The unwillingness of the Monroe News-Star to involve itself in the fight for the public’s right to know may be attributed to two factors: (1) it’s a Gannett publication which in and of itself, lends itself to mediocrity, and (2) Campbell once worked part time as something of a gossip columnist for the paper. Of course, it didn’t hurt that her father was an executive with Regions Bank and is married to the daughter of influential attorney Billy Boles, or that Campbell is the sister of Catherine Creed of the prominent Monroe law firm of Creed and Creed. Got all that? If not, here’s a LINK to one of our earlier stories about Campbell.]

But back to the latest developments in this ongoing saga. The Citizen made a by-the-books public records REQUEST of the Division of Administration (DOA) in which it sought an accounting of legal costs in defending Campbell in a lawsuit brought against her by Stanley Palowsky, III, for damages incurred when she “spoliated, concealed, removed, destroyed, shredded, withheld, and/or improperly handled” his petition for damages against a former business partner.

It seems that some 52 writ applications went missing for more than a year only to be found in Campbell’s office where, incredibly and inexplicably, she was using them as an end table in her office.

So, how DOA respond to the Citizen’s request? Basically, it said attorney’s bills for legal services were exempt from production under an exception pertaining to pending claims.

That’s debatable. Yes, in ongoing litigation, communications between attorney and client are definitely privileged. But a simple accounting of expenditures for legal representation has nothing to legal strategy or negotiations. It’s an expenditure, pure and simple, and should be available as a public record.

The Citizen, in its story, pointed out that Christian Creed, Catherine Creed’s husband and law partner, contributed $5,000 to Attorney General Jeff Landry’s campaign in November 2015.

But more significantly, LouisianaVoice combed through campaign reports and found that Christian Creed, Catherine Creed, and the Creed Law Firm were quite active in their support of other candidates.

Gov. John Bel Edwards was the beneficiary of $25,000 in contributions from both Catherine and Christian Creed over the three-year period of 2015-2107, and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne received $2,000 in contributions from Christian Creed in 2013 and 2014.

Attorney Scott Sternberg of New Orleans is representing the Citizen and by letter dated August 27, gave DOA until today (August 30) to comply with the request.

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The news release by last September said that former Gov. Bobby Jindal had been appointed to the board of directors of by Wellcare Health Plans, Inc., of Tampa, Florida.

Yawn. Ho-hum. Has LouisianaVoice become so desperate for stories that it resurrects a nine-month-old news release?

Well, things have been a little slow of late. Even the recently-adjourned legislative session failed to generate any surprises other than the usual parties, dinners at Baton Rouge’s most expensive restaurants and hobnobbing with lobbyists to the general detriment of constituents, i.e. Louisiana citizens.

But it has long been my contention that when one peels back a few layers from the cover story, one will usually find the real story. After all, a July 2016 LouisianaVoice STORY turned up a link between Jindal and a lucrative state contract for another company that had appointed him to its board.

Accordingly, I went looking a little deeper and YOWSER! Sha-ZAM!

It seems that appointment of Jindal, described in the news release as one “who has dedicated his career to public service and advancing innovative healthcare polices,” appears to have been payback for services rendered while he was governor.

Documents obtained from the Louisiana Department of Health show that CENTENE, a major U.S. health insurer, is the parent company of Louisiana Healthcare Connections, Inc., which was awarded a contract for nearly $1 billion with the Louisiana Department of Hospitals in September 2011, just a month before Jindal’s reelection to a second term.

LHCC Contract 2012

The contract called for Louisiana Healthcare Connections to perform “a broad range of services necessary for the delivery of health care services to Medicaid enrollees…”

That contract was to run from February 1, 2012, through January 31, 2015.

On January 19, 2015, the contract was renewed for another three years, to run through January 31, 2018. The contract amount was increased from the original $926 million to $1.9 billion.

LHCC Contract 2015

But just before Jindal left office, on December 1, 2015, that contract was amended from $1.9 billion to $3.9 billion, perhaps in anticipation that incoming Gov. John Bel Edwards would keep his promise to expand Medicaid under Obamacare—which he did.

In March of this year, USA Today published a STORY that Centene (Louisiana Healthcare Connections parent company, remember) would purchase WellCare Health Plans, Inc. for $17.3 billion.

It would be most interesting to see if Jindal netted a windfall from that transaction, coming as it did only six months after he was named to WellCare Health Plans’ board.

It’s unknown just how long negotiations had been ongoing between Centene and WellCare Health Plans, but the timing does open the door for speculation that the doubling of the Louisiana Healthcare Connections contract, Jindal’s appointment to the WellCare Health Plan board and Centene’s purchase of WellCare are more than coincidental.

To add a little spice to the recipe of Louisiana political gumbo, they’re also a few interesting campaign contributions.

  • On March 11, 2011, just six months before Louisiana Healthcare was awarded that initial contract for $926 million, WellCare of Louisiana, a subsidiary of WellCare Health Plans, contributed $5,000 to Jindal’s reelection campaign.
  • On January 17, 2012, only two weeks before its initial contract took effect, Louisiana Healthcare Connections gave Jindal $5,000.
  • Louisiana Healthcare’s parent company, Centene, gave Jindal $5,000 on January 17, 2012 (the same date as Louisiana Healthcare’s contribution). Centene gave him another $5,000 on November 19, 2012 and still another $5,000 back on August 14, 2008, eight months after Jindal first moved into the governor’s office.
  • Oh, and the New Orleans law firm of McGlinchey Stafford, the registered agent for Louisiana Healthcare, gave Jindal $1,000 on September 23, 2003; $5,000 on October 30, 2003; $5,000 on April 6, 2007, and $5,000 on March 2, 2011.
  • On April 23, 2009, Centene’s then Chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff kicked in $3,000 to Jindal.

It would seem that Bobby Jindal is perfectly willing to skirt a few ethical standards in order to ensure that life after politics can continue to benefit from life while in politics.

So, you see, even the most mundane news release can carry a wealth of information if one is willing to follow a convoluted path to the ultimate source of the money.

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