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Archive for the ‘Campaign Contributions’ Category

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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There are those like a certain former governor who see no good in any state employee. Perhaps that is why efforts were exerted to privatize every state government agency in sight and even to the extent of destroying one of the better teaching hospital systems in the country.

And gutting higher education’s budget only brought higher tuition costs, putting a college education out of reach of thousands of Louisiana students.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons Louisiana is the SEVENTH-FASTEST shrinking state in the nation, according to 24/7 Wall Street, a research organization that routinely publishes lists of the best and worst in a wide array of subjects.

Of course, another reason steeped in Louisiana tradition is the sordid history of CORRUPTION that has permeated the political culture of this state for longer than anyone reading this has lived.

And when you have a state legislature that ignores the well-being of the state’s citizens in favor of the corporate interests of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the oil and gas industry get first consideration, it’s no wonder that folks are a tad jaded.

Yet, thousands of state employees report to work each day to do jobs that go largely unnoticed—until something goes awry. Then, of course, all hell breaks loose. A civil servant gets fined for receiving an unsolicited Christmas ham from a vendor (that really happened), but another employee, an administrator, gets caught claiming time on the job while actually on vacation and nothing gets done.

Let a few rank and file state troopers drive across country for a conference at the direction of the State Police Superintendent and they are punished while the superintendent is allowed to retire—with full benefits.

Let another agency head trade sex with the manager of a restaurant in exchange for a permit to operate and nothing happens. But that same agency head dished out arbitrary punishment and fired employees for no cause and it took civil lawsuits to bring some measure of justice. And not even all of the lawsuits produced satisfactory results for the fired employees.

I write all that to say that while little seems to get done much of the time, there is one agency that has uncovered nearly $6.3 million in criminal violations, initiated investigations that have resulted in 51 criminal prosecutions that have resulted in produced 57 terminations or resignations.

A hard-charging, politically ambitious, headline-seeking prosecutor?

Nope. Just the work-a-day numbers-crunchers working for Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

From Jan. 1, 2015, through Nov. 13, 2017, Purpera’s office has submitted 108  investigative audits of local and state government agencies, boards and commissions and quasi-public entities. From those 108 investigative audits came 72 actual reports with 200 findings reported and 555 recommendations made.

summary of projects

An investigative audit, by definition, is far more serious than routine audits that agencies undergo on a regular basis. Before embarking on an investigative audit, there must be a reason for the auditor’s office to suspect some kind of wrongdoing.

The dollar amount covered in those 118 investigative audits was $148.96 million dollars with almost $6.3 million in alleged criminal violations turned up.

Some of the more high-profile investigative audits performed during the 22-month period included:

  • Misappropriation of funds by an employee of the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office;
  • Misapplication of funds at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches;
  • Improper payments and tickets to athletic events at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette;
  • Improper expenditure of $268,000 by the Institute for Academic Excellence in New Orleans;
  • Improper expenditure of $360,000 by the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System;
  • Nearly $800,000 in seized cash assets was not deposited in the account of the 9th Judicial District Attorney in Rapides Parish;
  • Employees of the Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court Office improperly paid for 51 days that they did not work;
  • Numerous violations by management at Angola State Penitentiary which resulted in the resignation of Warden Burl Cain and others;
  • Nearly $200,000 in seized cash assets was not deposited in the account of the District Attorney’s Special Asset Forfeiture Fund as required by the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office;
  • Mismanagement and missing state equipment from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries;
  • Improper use of state vehicle, hotel rooms, personnel, meals and training facilities by management personnel of Louisiana State Police;
  • Improper use of $164,000 of state funds by two employees and a student worker, unauthorized use of student identification cards, unauthorized free meals totaling more than $12,600 and improper advances of financial aid to students at Grambling State University.
  • Failure of the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority in New Orleans to collect more than $600,000 in boat slip rental fees.

So, while it’s easy to criticize civil servants, it’s important to understand that while the public perception may be one of “deadheads,” they are people just like you—people with mortgages, student debt, family illnesses, and myriad other concerns (again, just like you). They are your neighbors, your friends and your relatives and they show up for work every day—just like you. And they struggle to make ends meet—just like you.

Given that, it’s a little difficult for me to understand how someone like autocrat Trump can pretend to say he relates with 800,000 federal workers who are facing the second pay period without a paycheck.

It’s puzzling also that daughter-in-law/adviser Lara Trump calls the government shutdown during which federal employees have to resort to food banks to eat, hold garage sales to pay the rent, or worse, be ordered to work without pay thus preventing them from taking part-time jobs that do pay, “a little bit of a pain.” This privileged, self-centered little rich girl has never known “a little bit of a pain.” so, how the hell can she relate?

And how can Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett even dare to suggest that idled workers are better off because they’re benefiting from “a free vacation”? That’s unsurpassed arrogance.

But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross took the prize by suggesting that federal workers simply run out to the corner bank or credit union and float a loan.

Perhaps Ross was trying to encourage them to borrow from the Bank of Cyprus that he once headed as it washed the money of Russian oligarchs.

All of this just so Trump can try to score some kind of vague point in order to say he’s a winner.

But my question to all those I’ve talked to who suddenly think a wall is of the utmost importance to the continued existence of a free and pure America is simply this:

Did you ever—even ONCE—consider the crushing need for a wall before Trump tossed the idea out as a throw-away line during a campaign stop in 2016? Did you know he was instructed to do that by his handlers only as a means of keeping him on topic?

Neither Trump, you, your mama, my mama, nor anyone else had ever given a wall a fleeting thought until then. Suddenly, it became the holy grail for all his followers who were unable to come up with an original thought of their own. And so, they fell in lockstep and followed, like so many sheep.

But there was another part to his promise that he has quietly dropped.

Mexico ain’t paying for it.

So, that’s my tribute to public employees, both state and federal and I hope to hell every one of them remembers our two U.S. Senators and five of our six U.S. Representatives who blindly support Trump’s every asinine utterance, tweet, and stumbling, bumbling, fumbling action.

 

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The hits just keep coming.

Another victory in a public records lawsuit—sort of—while a state tax official goes and gets himself arrested for payroll fraud, and three members of the Louisiana State Police Commission (them again?) find themselves on the hotseat for apparent violations of state regulations that already cost some of their predecessors their positions.

All in a day’s work in Louisiana where the sanctimonious, the corrupt, the unethical, and the unbelievable seem to co-mingle with a certain ease and smugness.

The Lens, an outstanding non-profit news service out of New Orleans, has just won an important fifth with the Orleans Parish District Attorney when the Louisiana Supreme Court DENIED WRITS by the district attorney’s office in its attempt to protect records of fake subpoenas from the publication.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in October had AFFIRMED a November 2017 ruling by Orleans Civil District Court which had ordered the DA to turned over certain files pursuant to a public records request dating back to April 2017.

As in other cases reported by LouisianaVoice, the court, while awarding attorney fees to The Lens, stopped short of finding that the DA’s denial of records was “arbitrary and capricious,” meaning the DA’s office would not be fined the $100 per day allowed by law for non-compliance with the state Public Records Act.

And because the district attorney was not held personally liable for non-compliance, he will not have to pay the attorney’s fees either; that will be paid by the good citizens of New Orleans.

And, in all probability, the next time the DA’s office or any other public official in New Orleans decides to withhold public records from disclosure, he or she will also skate insofar as any personal liability is concerned with taxpayers picking up the costs.

Until such times as judges come down hard on violations of public records and public meeting laws, officials will have no incentive to comply if there is something for them to conceal.

The records requests were the result of the practice by the DA of issuing FAKE SUBPOENAS (and this preceded Trump’s so-called “fake news”) to force reluctant witnesses to speak with prosecutors—a practice not unlike those bogus phone messages from the IRS that threaten us with jail if we don’t send thousands of dollars immediately.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune described the practice as an “UNDERHANDED TRICK.”

Meanwhile, former Livingston Parish Tax Assessor and more recently Louisiana Tax Commission administrator CHARLES ABELS has been arrested on charges of payroll fraud, improper use of a state rental vehicle and for submitting unauthorized fuel reimbursement requests for the vehicle.

Abels was elected Livingston Parish assessor, an office held up until that time by his grandfather, with 51 percent of the vote in 1995. He served only one term, however, being defeated by current assessor Jeff Taylor in 1999.

In 2002, he was hired as a staff appraiser by the Louisiana Tax Commission. He said at the time that he was a recovering alcoholic who was trying to turn his life around. He was promoted to administrator of the commission during the tenure of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

He was arrested last march on a domestic violence charge but the case was never prosecuted.

One LouisianaVoice reader, a longtime critic of the Louisiana Tax Commission, said Abel’s arrest came as no surprise and that the entire agency is long overdue a housecleaning. “Let’s hope that the State of Louisiana doesn’t wind up on the hook financially for any misdeeds,” he said.

And then there is the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) which just won’t go away.

Almost three years ago, two members became the second and third to RESIGN after reports that they had contributed to political campaigns in violation of the Louisiana State Constitution.

So, you’d think their successors would’ve learned from their indiscretions, right?

Nah. This is Louisiana, where prior actions are ignored if inconvenient and duplicated if beneficial.

But then again, this is the LSPC that paid Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend $75,000 to not issue a report on a non-investigation into political contributions by the Louisiana State Police Association (LSTA), contributions that were not paid directly to candidates (including John Bel Edwards and Bobby Jindal), but funneled instead through the personal bank account of LSTA Executive Director David Young so as to conceal the real source of funds.

And now, we have three of the commission members who combined to contribute more than $5,000 to political campaigns during their terms on the LSPC), either personally or through their businesses.

Whether the contributions were justified as having be made by a business (as claimed by State Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington) or whether the money was contributed to a political action committee as opposed to an individual candidate appears to make no difference; they are all strictly prohibited under state law.

Despite his earlier obfuscation on the issue, Townsend did provide some clarity on the legality of political activity. Quoting from the Louisiana State Constitution, Townsend said, “Members of the State Police Commission and state police officers are expressly prohibited from engaging in political activity. More specifically, Section 47 provides that ‘No member of the commission and no state police officer in the classified service shall participate or engage in political activity…make or solicit contributions for any political party, faction, or candidate…except to exercise his right as a citizen to express his opinion privately…and to cast his vote as he desires.’”

But the real kicker came from a headline in the Baton Rouge Advocate, which proclaimed, “Three State Police commissioners under probe for possible unlawful political donations.”

Buried in that STORY was a paragraph which said LSPC Chairman Eulis Simien, Jr.” tasked the commission’s Executive Director Jason Hannaman to conduct an investigation into the allegations and report back with the findings. Hannaman, a civilian administrator for the board, said Thursday he hoped to complete the report by next month’s meeting.”

Oh, great. An in-house investigation. That should do it. Get a subordinate to investigate his bosses. At least Taylor Townsend carried out the appearance of an outside, independent investigation—until he proved by his inaction that it wasn’t.

What are the odds of this being truly independent and candid?

 

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So, what, exactly, is going on with the Donald Trump campaign and a cluster of political consulting firms linked to Bobby Jindal political guru Timmy Teepell and his political consulting firm, OnMessage?

As reported earlier, OpenSecrets has learned that Trump’s campaign stopped reporting payments to four of the affiliated ad buyers following the 2016 election cycle, but that his 2020 campaign has continued to use the same individuals employed by the four firms in enabling illegal coordination between the campaign and the NRA.

Illegal campaign coordination allegations could be brought against National Media, Red Eagle Media Group and American Media & Advocacy Group (AMAG), all three of which share storefront offices in Alexandria, Virginia. The addresses for the entities are either 815 or 817 Slaters Lane in Arlington.

America First Action, America First Policies, and the Trump Campaign, along with the NRA made the media buys through the three consulting firms and a fourth, Harris Sikes Media, which appears to be little more than a shell corporation, existing on paper only, but which gives two addresses: 817 Slaters Lane in Alexandria and Suite 700 at 11350 Random Hills Road in Fairfax, Virginia.

A computerized GRAPHIC ILLUSTRATION provided by OpenSecrets shows how the NRA and the three pro-Trump political action committees made their media buys by funneling money through OnMessage, Red Eagle, Harris Sikes Media, and AMAG with the same three employees of National Media—Jonathan Ferrell, Megan Burns, and Ben Angle—actually conducting the media buys on behalf of the four firms. Scroll down to the graphic and move your mouse back and forth over it to see how the money flowed from the various PACs into the four consulting firms, all four employing the same personnel for media buys.

National Media also lists its address as 817 Slaters Lane in Alexandria.

The Trump campaign reported payments of more than $214,000 to Harris Sikes but gave the address of Harris Sikes on its Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filing list as 817 Slaters Lane in Arlington. There is a Slaters Lane in Alexandria, but not in Arlington.

Likewise, the Trump campaign’s Federal Elections Commission (FEC) disclosures give the address for Harris Sikes as 11350 Random Hills Road in Alexandria instead of Fairfax. There is no Random Hills Road in Alexandria.

Common vendors are one of the red flags federal regulators watch for when tracking whether or not communications may constitute illegal coordination between a campaign and an outside group like, in this case, the NRA.

Teepell has been a PARTNER at OnMessage since 2011, joining the firm immediately after managing Jindal’s successful re-election campaign. He re-joined the Jindal team briefly in 2015 for Jindal’s anemic bid for the Republican presidential nomination which never saw him break through the 1 percent rating in preference polls. Jindal was never able to move up from the so-called kiddie table in the GOP debates.

The Ballotpedia web page linked in the preceding paragraph describes OnMessage as “an Annapolis-based political consulting firm” instead of 817 Slaters Lane in Alexandria, Virginia, as provided on its home web page.

Earlier stories have revealed that as much as $30 million in Russian money was funneled through the NRA during the 2016 election with much of that money being spent by the NRA on pro-Trump media ads.

The NRA also used an apparent shell firm called Starboard Strategic, Inc., to produce political ads for Senate candidates who in turned employed OnMessage. Starboard Strategic, which is the NRA’s top election contractor, and OnMessage share the same office address.

Federal law permits outside groups and campaigns to use common vendors but the firm working for either client is required to prevent employees from sharing election-related information.

Brad Todd, a partner of Starboard, declined to provide proof that Starboard has firewall policies in place. Todd, it should be noted, is also a founding partner of OnMessage which also REFUSED to provide its firewall policy and details about how it is enforced.

Another pro-Trump PAC, Rebuilding America Now, has come under scrutiny from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller for allegedly accepting money from a foreign federal contractor barred by the federal campaign finance rules from donating to a super PAC.

Rebuilding America Now spent nearly $23 million during the 2016 campaign with almost $500,000 of that going through National Media.

So, it would seem that Baton Rouge’s very own (or more accurately, Livingston Parish’s very own) Timmy Teepell has found himself smack dab in the middle of a big ol’ mess of campaign chicanery.

He might be a campaign wizard in Louisiana representing the likes of Bobby Jindal but when playing in the major leagues, the players are a bit more experienced and a heckuva lot smarter.

And campaign flim-flammery, rule-bending, and creating a gaggle of shell corporations to rival the operations of some sort of offshore banking scheme, all designed to circumvent campaign finance rules, may not be such a good idea.

And the waters around OnMessage and its affiliates just get murkier and murkier.

Were it not for the pullout of troops from Syria, the government shutdown, and the Mueller probe, this story might have made its way to the front pages of major newspapers and at least a mention on CNN.

That it did not is regrettable because this has all the earmarks of a major news story.

 

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Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Scott Angelle appear to have made media buys during their respective 2015 campaigns through a political consulting firm affiliated with a shell company said to be at the center of an alleged illegal coordination scheme with the NRA, according to an investigation by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

Read the full story HERE.

Donald Trump’s campaign funneled money to ad buyers which in turn set up illegal coordination between the campaign and the NRA by routing funds through a secretive shell company for the 2016 campaign and has continued to use the same individuals working for the same firms for his 2020 campaign. The payments were made through Harris Sikes Media, LLC, a company that appears to exist only on paper but which shares a mailing address with several other companies.

Three of the companies—National Media Research, OnMessage, and Harris Sikes—list their address as 817 Slaters Lane in Alexandria, Virginia. Three others—American Media & Advocacy Group, Red Eagle Media Group, and Purple Strategies, LLC, give their address as 815 Slaters Lane in Alexandria.

Funny thing is, there is no such street as Slaters Lane in Alexandria, Virginia.

And one of those companies, OnMessage, is headed up by none other than Bobby Jindal’s very own political guru, Timmy Teepell of Baton Rouge.

National Media, American Media & Advocacy Group (AMAG), and Red Eagle Media Group are all facing allegations of illegal coordination of campaign funds because besides sharing identical or similar addresses, they also share staff and resources.

The analysis of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) records by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) found that Trump campaign ad disclosure forms on file with stations across the country have continued to include signatures and names of individuals working for National Media, despite no mention of National Media or its affiliates on required federal disclosures. Those individual ad buyers’ names simultaneously continued to be included in ad documents for the NRA and America First, but with the ad buyers’ affiliation listed as National Media or one of its affiliates.

The three ad buyers whose names have popped up the most on political ad records for all three groups are Ben Angle, Megan Burns and Jonathan Ferrell, CRP says. And even though their names appeared on filings from Harris Sikes Media, all three are listed as employees of National Media and its affiliates. Their names and/or signatures have appeared on FCC political ad filings for AMAG, Red Eagle and National Media.

NRA’s relationship with Purple Strategies is obscured through a network of affiliated companies. Documents filed with the FCC indicate that the NRA routinely does its ad buys through American Media & Advocacy Group and Red Eagle Media. Both companies give the same Alexandria, Virginia, address—815 Slaters Lane.

Court records reveal, however, that like the address, Red Eagle Media does not actually exist, but rather is a fictitious business created and owned by National Media.

Harris Sikes Media’s registered agent, attorney Joel Dahnke, is also the registered agent for National Media.

The Trump practice of routing funds through Harris Sikes Media —a previously unreported shell company that was not known to be affiliated with National Media — appears to be a new tactic, and Trump is the first major federal candidate known to have been a part of it, according to CRP’s review of FCC records.

The only other political ad disclosures in FCC records dating back to 2015 that mention Harris Sikes Media are for former U.S. Rep. and current Attorney General Jeff Landry and Louisiana Rising, the political action committee associated with Scott Angelle’s failed gubernatorial campaign.

“Using shell entities to circumvent campaign coordination rules is hardly a new concept, and something that often occurs without consequence — giving consultants free rein to exploit these tactics,” the CRP report said.

Just another way in which so-called “dark money” is used to usurp the democratic process in this country, effectively stifling the voice and the will of the people. Instead of focusing on the all-too-real issues facing us, we are instead seduced into voting for the candidate with the sharpest, most appealing TV ads.

We now vote the candidate who can make the best use in a 30-second spot of catchy phrases like “border wall,” “drain the swamp,” “make America great again,” “I believe love is the answer but you oughta own a hand gun just in case,” and “I’d rather drink weed killer.”

Real depth of thinking that addresses myriad problems, right?

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