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Archive for the ‘Campaign Contributions’ Category

With a flurry of (count ‘em) 37 bills dealing with gambling gaming, there is probably none more interesting to the folks in Tangipahoa Parish than identical bills introduced in the Senate (SB-417) and House (HB-438) that would facilitate the move of a Bossier Parish casino to property along the Tangipahoa River.

Brent Stephens is owner of the current license for Diamond Jacks in Bossier City. He and his company, Peninsula Pacific, acquired the license for Diamond Jacks in June 2016 after Legends, the previous owner, was released from bankruptcy the previous year. Stephens operates at least two other gaming properties in Louisiana—the Amelia Belle in Amelia in St. Mary Parish following Hurricane Katrina, and Evangeline Downs in Opelousas in St. Landry Parish.

His first choice for relocating Diamond Jacks was Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish but he encountered a couple of insurmountable snags: he couldn’t get political support and he couldn’t find any landowners willing to sell.

He then turned his attention to Tangipahoa Parish and was initially looking at sites around Manchac adjacent to I-55 but abandoned that idea for reasons known only to him.

He then settled on an area south and west of Hammond along I-12.

And though the governor has made a point of staying out of all the gaming legislation (with the exception of two: a non-gaming-related proposal involving Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans and one to permit gaming on land within 1200 feet of an authorized berthing site, both of which he supports, he has said he would sign the Tangipahoa Parish bill if it made it to his desk.

And that is one great big IF—as in, not likely.

Despite strong support from Parish President Robby Miller, the parish council, and 48 percent and a large contingent still undecided among Tangipahoa Parish voters, there remains two chances—slim and none—that the Tangipahoa River will become a Mecca for casino gamblers.

That’s because of the formation of a rather unique alliance against the proposal: Tangipahoa Parish churches and video poker.

Whoever coined the phrase that politics makes strange bedfellows was dead right. There can be no stranger bedfellows than fire-and-brimstone-breathing protestant ministers and video poker operators.

And while ministers can exert considerable influence, video poker operators are every bit as powerful, if not more so. That’s because while casino operators are prohibited from making political contributions, there are no such restrictions on the video poker industry.

Video poker interests are well-represented on both sides of the legislative aisles, meaning they spread a lot of campaign money around and enjoy substantial influence at the capitol.

Throw in State Rep. Sherman Mack and you have some formidable opposition.

  • Mack, from the Livingston Parish town of Albany, just happens to be Chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee.
  • Mack is casting a lustful eye at the district attorney’s office for the 21st Judicial District which includes the parishes of Livingston, St. Helena and….Tangipahoa.
  • That office is currently occupied by four-term DA Scott Perrilloux who is considered vulnerable.
  • Mack does not want to be labeled as a “pro-gaming” legislator should he decide to challenge Perrilloux.

HB-438 was introduced by Rep. Stephen Pugh (R-Ponchatoula) and SB-438 by Sen. Bodi White (R-Central). Only White’s bill has made it out of committee (on March 20) and it now awaits debate on the Senate floor. Should it pass the full Senate, it will then be sent to Sherman’s committee where in all likelihood, it will die an ugly death.

And therein lies the real political story.

The bill does two things:

  • It authorizes the Tangipahoa River as a designated waterway on which gaming may be conducted, and
  • It calls for a parish-wide referendum.

But in case it passes the full Senate, makes it out of Mack’s Criminal Justice Committee, and gains approval by the full House, then and only then does the proposal move onto the State Gaming Board which would have to approve the move.

Because the Tangipahoa is barely large enough to entertain tubers and the occasional Bateau boat, it ain’t about to accommodate a full-blown floating casino. The alternative would be a “free-standing” casino and the odds of that getting approved are pretty long.

Just another example of the interesting political issues that color Tangipahoa Parish.

 

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Just when you thought enough had been written about the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA), wouldn’t you know that the organization sent out solicitation letters to three members it had kicked out a couple of years back because they questioned the group’s political activity?

Talk about adding insult to injury.

But that isn’t really the story here. What’s interesting about this solicitation is that the Spring 2018 edition of Trooper Talk actually appears to sending out a not-so-subtle message that if you contribute enough money, you will get a handy little magnetic decal to stick on your vehicle to alert troopers that you gave and probably shouldn’t get a ticket for doing 85 in a 65.

Full disclosure: the story at the top of the page is an LSTA story about the appointment of Col. Kevin Reeves as Superintendent of State Police. Reeves is in no way connected to the LSTA fundraiser. This bulletin is published independent of Louisiana State Police.

And while the LSTA loves to point out how many wonderful projects it supports via its fundraisers, this time the solicitation seems to go out of its way to assure donors that, except for the cost of the newsletter and the decals, 100 percent of the money stays with the LSTA.

Maybe that’s because the LSTA is confident that the State Police Commission, the state police equivalent to the Louisiana Civil Service Commission, won’t lift a finger to investigate the association for its POLITICAL ACTIVITY even though such activity is clearly illegal.

The commission already has hired Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend under a $75,000 contract to conduct a non-investigation investigation of tens of thousands of dollars of LSTA political contributions funneled through the private bank account of its executive director David Young.

So, now there’s this Trooper Talk which informs potential donors that any contribution will get them a couple of window stickers that will, in case you are pulled over for a traffic violation, tell troopers that you are a cheapskate who wouldn’t even pony up $50. But if you give between $50 and $100, you will get a dandy “Silver Distinguished Donors badge.” Those donors will also be entered twice in a drawing for a vacation for two in the Canal Street Inn Bed and Breakfast in New Orleans.

Now this is just any old silver distinguished donors badge. It has a genuine magnetic back “and should be placed on the driver’s side of your vehicle’s trunk or rear door.” (emphasis added.) (Now, why would they suggest placing them there? For better trooper visibility perhaps, hmmm?)

What about those who give $100 or more? Good question. Those generous supporters will get a “Gold Distinguished Donors badge” and four chances at that dream vacation in New Orleans. Those benefactors will also be recognized on the LSTA website. (The site is visited by our troopers and the LSTA personnel,” the solicitation letter said (wink, wink).

And while the letter stresses that the money will remain with the LSTA, it would be unfair not to point out that the organization does do considerable charitable work with children and the families of troopers killed in the line of duty.

On the other hand, however, the LSTA recently announced that it was providing monetary assistance to members who were victims of the 2016 floods in Louisiana. But several retired troopers who also victims of the same floods complained that they received no assistance whatsoever.

Some of those same retirees have filed a complaint with State Police headquarters in Baton Rouge about the latest fundraising solicitation and its indirect suggestion that a large enough donation might help donors avoid a ticket.

 

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In case you’ve ever taken the time to wonder why our legislature has been unable—or unwilling—to effective address the looming fiscal crisis for the state, here’s a quick lesson in civics that may help you understand the real priorities of our elected officials and the forces that motivate them.

Members of Congress are advised to spend four hours per day FUNDRAISING, or on “call time.” That’s time to be spent on the telephone raising campaign contributions—if they want to be re-elected.

They are also told they should spend one to two hours on “constituent visits,” which often translates to meeting with lobbyists and campaign contributors. That leaves two hours for committee meetings and floor attendance, one hour for something called “strategic outreach,” or breakfasts, meet and greets, press interviews (read: Sen. John Kennedy), and one hour “recharge time.”

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that we’re paying big salaries for these guys to actually work only about two hours per day for only part of the year.

Another way of putting it is we’re paying big bucks for them to spend twice as much time raising campaign contributions as actually doing the work of the people who, in theory at least, elected them.

That’s in theory only, of course. The truth is special interests such as banks, hedge funds, big oil, big pharma, the military-industrial complex, the NRA, and other major corporate interests—especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—turn the gears of democracy while letting the American middle class delude itself into thinking we actually affect the outcome of elections.

Now, take that image and move it down to the state level and you have a microcosm of Congress.

The numbers are smaller, of course, given the smaller House and Senate districts from which candidates run but the model is the same.

And that is precisely the reason nothing gets done in regard to resolving the financial plight of the state.

Corporate tax breaks, tax exemptions, and tax credits have eroded the state budget until the onus now falls on the individual taxpayers while companies like Walmart enjoy Enterprise Zone tax credits for locating stores in upscale communities across the state.

Petro-chemical plans along the Mississippi River and in the southwestern part of the state enjoy millions of dollars in tax breaks for construction projects that produce few, if any, new permanent jobs.

And who is front and center in protecting the interests of these corporations?

That would be the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), first created with the intent of breaking the stranglehold of organized labor back in the 1970s and now focused on maintaining lucrative tax incentives for its membership.

LABI has four primary political action committees: East PAC, West PAC, North PAC, and South PAC.

LouisianaVoice has pulled the contributions of LABI, its four PACs.

For lagniappe, we’ve also thrown in contributions from pharmaceutical and oil and gas interests. The latter list offers a clear-cut explanation of why efforts to hold oil and gas companies accountable for damage to Louisiana’s coastal marshland have died early deaths.

You will notice in reviewing the reports that LABI, while making individual contributions, pours most of its money into its four PACs, which then make the direct contributions to the candidates.

Enjoy.

LABI CONTRIBUTIONS

EAST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

WEST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

NORTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

SOUTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

PHARMA CONTRIBUTIONS

OIL AND GAS CONTRIBUTIONS

 

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It was Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War SIMON CAMERON who is credited with having defined an honest politician as one “who, when bought, stays bought.”

And it was Louisiana’s own Sen. JOHN BREAUX who told a reporter in 1981, “My vote can’t be bought, but it can be rented.”

Whether bought or rented, contributions to legislators by nursing home interests appear to have been sound investments when it shelled out a total of $27,250 to six state senators, members all of the Health and Welfare Committee, who obligingly voted down a BILL by fellow Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie that would have given more home health services to the elderly as an alternative to nursing homes. Make that $35,250 if you count contributions to committee chairman Fred Mills who did not vote on the bill because of a conflict. He owns an interest in a Breaux Bridge nursing home and received $8,000 in contributions from the Louisiana Nursing Home PAC.

But the two members who voted in favor of Appel’s Senate Bill 357, Sens. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) and Ed Price (D-Gonzales) apparently didn’t stay bought—or rented—despite their having received $5,500 between them from the Louisiana Nursing Home PAC. They probably won’t be receiving any further contributions from the nursing home interests.

Appel may also be crossed off their list since he sponsored the bill despite having received $3,500 from the same PAC.

Mind you, the contributions looked up hurriedly by LouisianaVoice by no means constitute the total dished out by nursing home interests, particularly individual nursing homes and their operators. The only contributions searched were from the Louisiana Nursing Home PAC and Elton Beebe of Ridgeland, Mississippi, who operates a string of nursing homes in Louisiana.

The committee voted 6-2 to kill the bill despite the support of AARP lobbyist Andrew Muhl who apparently was no match for the Louisiana Nursing Home Association, which represents about 250 nursing homes in Louisiana—or its money.

Mills, while not voting, did not let his nursing home ownership deter him from speaking against Appel’s bill, calling managed care “too risky.”

Senators voting against the bill and their contributions from nursing home interests included:

  • Yvonne Dorsey Colomb (D-Baton Rouge): $6,000;
  • Norbert “Norby” Chabert (R-Houma): $6,250;
  • Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge): $5,000;
  • Gerald Boudreaux (D-Lafayette): $5,000;
  • Dale Erdy (R-Livingston): $4,000;
  • Jay Luneau (D-Alexandria): $1,000.

Voting no and their contributions:

  • Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge): $4,000;
  • Ed Price (D-Gonzales): $1,500.

Perhaps we misunderstood John Kennedy’s intent when he said, “Louisiana doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.”

Click on the link to see a partial list of NURSING HOME CONTRIBUTIONS to Louisiana’s elected officials since Jan. 1, 2011. Remember, this is just a partial list.

 

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Louisiana residents victimized by floods and hurricanes don’t need a reminder of the frustrating-ineptness of the Feeble Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or of the soul-crushing corruption of the Department of Housing and Urban Discrimination (HUD).

FEMA trailers, more appropriately designed as egg incubators than dwellings for human beings, stand as mute testimony to mismanagement on a grand scale. At a COST of $150,000 to $170,000 per trailer, including purchase and set-up following the 2016 flood, only to SELL the units for as little as $5,000 each a year later, it’s difficult to imagine even the Pentagon being able to match FEMA in a waste-for-waste competition.

With 144,000 trailers PLACED following hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike, and another 4,500 (upgrades vastly superior to the earlier models but still little better than a tent) following the 2016 floods, one can readily see how FEMA now claims to be broke.

Another reason? Try this: Following Hurricane Katrina, The Shaw Group was contracted to place tarpaulins over damaged roofs at a rate of $175 per square (one hundred square feet per square) after Katrina. That’s $175 for draping a ten-foot-by-ten-foot square blue tarpaulin over a damaged roof. Shaw in turn sub-contracted the work to a company called A-1 Construction at a cost of $75 a square. A-1 in turn subbed the work to Westcon Construction at $30 a square. Westcon eventually lined up the actual workers who placed the tarps at a cost of $2 a square.

In normal circumstances, MIKE LOWERY, an estimator for an Austin, Texas, company, said, his company would charge $300 to tarp a 2000-square-foot roof in Austin. For that same size job, the government is paying $2,980 to $3,500, or about 10 times as much, plus additional administrative fees that couldn’t be readily calculated.

FEMA ISSUED 81,241 blue roof tarps across Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said spokesman Aaron Walker ($14.2 million total cost: $8.1 million for Shaw as opposed to $162,000 for those who did the actual work).

But if you think that’s bad, consider this: “Overall, Restore Louisiana (the program set up to assist flood victims) has awarded $207 million of the $1.3 billion allotment from the federal government to homeowners,” according to a story in the Baton Rouge ADVOCATE. Of that amount, only $60.5 million has actually been paid to those driven out of their homes by the floods. The remaining $147 million is being paid in increments to contractors as work progresses.

At the same time, however, the state has shelled out $75 million to IEM, the contracted administrator for environmental reviews and program management. That means administrative costs are 23.4 percent higher than the amount actually spent helping flood victims. Said another way, the amount spent on actual work is only 80 percent of administrative costs so far.

IEM’s total contract to administer the $1.3 billion Restore Louisiana program is for an eye-popping $308 million. That computes to administrative costs that are 19.25 percent of the total contract but which appear to be running closer to 26.6 percent at the present time.

Contrast that, if you will, with contracts the Ruston firm of Hunt, Guillot has received to date to administer Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for the recovery of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike and to administer CDBG funds for the Restore Louisiana program set up immediately following the 2016 floods.

Hunt, Guillot received a contract for $18.2 million to administer the disbursement of $7.5 billion in grant funds for LOUISIANA. That contract ran from Oct. 31, 2007, to Oct. 30, 2010. The firm was given an additional contract of $3 million for the period of Feb. 1, 2011, through June 3, 2011 for Katrina and Rita recovery grant funds. IEM’s $308 million contract is 14.5 times the size of Hunt, Guillot’s $21.2 million in contracts even though Hunt, Guillot oversaw the disbursement of nearly six times the amount in federal grants that IEM is responsible for.

IEM’s contract was not without CONTROVERSY, but it probably didn’t hurt that IEM and the company’s CEO, Madhu Beriwal, combined to contribute $15,000 to the campaign of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

But even putting aside all the outrageous administrative costs that are eating up dollars intended to help flood victims, here is the one overriding factor that leads writers like Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) and others to write INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS about the incestuous relationship between natural disasters and corruption?

Could it be that 19 months after thousands of Louisiana residents were forced out of their homes in South Louisiana, only $207 million of a total allocation of $1.3 billion for reconstruction has been approved and checks written for only $60 million even as administrative costs mount?

Could it be that a visit to observe activities at Restore Louisiana headquarters reminds visitors of the organizational skills of a sack of rats in a burning meth lab?

Could it be the frustration encountered by State Rep. Rogers Pope who, first told he qualified for an SBA loan of $250,000 (even though he never applied) but later told it was actually for a lesser amount, responded that he was not interested in a loan of any description but that $50,000 was nevertheless deposited in his bank account by the SBA—and when he insisted again that he did not want the money, was charged $384 in interest for the week that it was in his bank account? (for those of you who may be wondering, that computes to an annual interest rate of 40 percent.) And get this: Pope is a member of the Restore Louisiana Task Force and even he can’t deal with the feds.

Could it be that an applicant who applied for assistance was told that because he had obtained an SBA loan of $124,000, he was ineligible for a grant? The person in question here was yours truly and I was told that the loan was considered a benefit. I’m a 74-year-old retiree on a fixed income, with a brand-new $124,000 mortgage and I’m supposed to consider that a benefit?

What’s more, I’m told, even if I had been offered the loan, and turned it down, I’d still be ineligible because it was offered. (I think that’s what’s called a Catch-22.) And just to add insult to injury, I was told (after at least four separate on-site inspections by FEMA, Restore Louisiana, and Shelter at Home) I was only allowed $60,000 for reconstruction (someone needs to tell my contractor who charged what I considered to be a reasonable fee of $90,000 to make my home livable again—the remainder went to replace furniture and appliances).

I was told at the time of receiving the news of my ineligibility that I could, of course, appeal. “But the appeal won’t do any good,” the nice man said, “because we’re only going by the rules established by FEMA and HUD guidelines.” (A Catch-22 variable.)

It’s the kind of FUBAR guvmint that can send you to a padded room where you’re allowed only crayons as a means of communication.

And if you think I’m angry, consider the frustration level of Stephen Winham of St. Francisville.

Winham, often a LouisianaVoice guest columnist, for 12 years was the state’s budget director, serving under three governors, so he, of all people, should be accustomed to navigating the confusing waters of state bureaucracy. He was, nevertheless, finally moved to send the following email to an official of Restore Louisiana:

I have NEVER seen as poorly run a program as Restore Louisiana and I have seen some poorly run programs in my 21 years of state budget analysis.  If the contractor for whom you work represents the benefits of privatizing public services we are in deep manure, particularly since our worst governor ever, Bobby Jindal, moved us to new heights in that direction.

I have talked on the phone and communicated with your company many times.  I did not initially apply because I knew I was not eligible.  I allowed one of your employees to talk me into applying anyhow, so I did – I assume this was done to get the numbers up.  In subsequent steps, it was confirmed I was never eligible and should never have bent to the pressure put on me to apply.  In other words, I was officially ruled ineligible months ago.

This correspondence and any phone conversations I might have with you would be a waste of my time – your company is apparently going to get its money no matter what so I have no interest in saving you money.  Your company has spent $75 million on itself so far and only disbursed $60 million to the people who really need it – the homeowners.  Do you not see a problem with that?

Although I am not eligible, I have a sister-in-law who is.  My wife and I have tried to help her work through the many meaningless steps necessary to get her Restore Louisiana grant and she has not gotten a dime yet.  My wife has hauled her down to Celtic Studios more than once.  She has had visits from what I assume are project managers/coordinators many times.  She has completed the necessary paperwork at every step.  She has been advised of the amount of her “award” (her part of the $207 million in reported awards, $147 million of which apparently remain undisbursed), but has gotten ZERO.  The people who live across the street from my East Baton Rouge property just started LAST WEEK on work to restore their home pursuant to their Restore Louisiana “award”

I think your company is taking the public for a ride – oh, I know, this is federal money – I am doing my federal taxes today – I guess that never was my money to begin with, or something.  These things should be block granted.  If the eligible recipients take their grants down to a convenient casino and blow it rather than fixing their homes, that’s their problem and it is also better than creating what to me is essentially a pyramid of contractors and sub-contractors each getting their golden crumbs as the grants trickle down to the people who should be getting the money.

Sorry for taking this out on you and you probably haven’t even read this far, but on the off chance you have, LEAVE ME ALONE and devote your attention to eligible recipients many of whom have been waiting over a year and a half for relief.

Your federal—and state—guvmint hard at work for you, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer. The best we can hope for is that we never need the their “help” in the future.

(Editor’s note: for the record, a class-action lawsuit is being considered because of the discriminatory policies of HUD and FEMA. More details on that as they are forthcoming.)

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