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Archive for the ‘Campaign Contributions’ Category

I was in attendance at one of my grandchildren’s school Veterans’ Day programs on Thursday and unable to attend the first meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) in several months but suffice it to say something major is brewing with this newly-made over body.

And whatever it is doesn’t to appear to bode well for the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA).

It was the first meeting of the commission since August which, coincidentally, was also the last meeting for former Chairman State Trooper T.J. Doss and former Vice Chair Monica Manzella. Both have since resigned and Doss, LouisianaVoice is told, has been on extended sick leave.

Doss was succeeded to the chairman’s position by Baton Rouge attorney Eulis Simien, Jr. and Dr. Michael W. Neustrom of Lafayette replaced Manzella as vice chairman.

But most puzzling was the executive session entered into by the commission.

When the motion was made to go into closed session the belated reason given was to discuss pending litigation—even though there is no pending litigation at the present time against the commission.

Upon exiting, however, commission legal counsel Lenore Feeney amended that reason, saying the executive session was for the discussion of “allegations of misconduct,” according to some in attendance.

And upon returned from behind closed doors, commission members were said to be in a much fouler mood than when they went in, an indication there may have been something a little more intense taking place out of sight of attendees.

Simien, normally an amiable sort, immediately launched into a lecture to those there about how business would be conducted differently in the future and that decorum would strictly adhered to.

If there is to be any investigation of “alleged misconduct,” it could be on one or both of two issues: that San Diego trip taken by State Police in October of 2016 and which resulted in disciplinary action against three troopers who have appealed their discipline to the commission.

The commission voted to consolidate the three appeals into one case and also decided to discard the non-report of Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend who was paid $75,000 to investigate and report on possible illegal campaign contributions by the LSTA to various politicians.

The campaign contributions were actually made through the LSTA’s executive director David Young’s personal checking account. Young subsequently billed the association for reimbursement in an apparent effort to circumvent state law prohibiting political activity by state classified employees.

Taylor’s contract, for which he was paid $75,000, called for him to investigate the matter and submit a report of his findings to the LSPC. Instead, he simply told the commission that he recommended “no action” be taken on the matter and the board, which had a completely different makeup at that time, accepted his report.

Since then, the entire board membership, as well as its executive director, has changed dramatically, with almost all the members resigning for various reasons.

Townsend has yet to submit a report the board even though he has been asked to do so on several occasions.

Now, apparently, with a new board in place—with the exception of two positions which remain vacant—a change of heart has taken place and the commission is at least acting like it is serious about investigating the contributions.

One thing is for certain, however:

If the commission was unsure of the real reason for Thursday’s executive session, that can only mean its purpose was illegitimate to begin with. There are specific reasons for executive sessions and the law is narrowly written so as to prevent abuse of the state’s open meeting laws.

To give one reason going into executive session only to change the reason upon exiting is subterfuge in its most blatant form and an action that thumbs its nose at the law itself—from an agency whose very purpose is to ensure compliance with the law.

If there is to be an executive session, public bodies in Louisiana are required to give notice in advance, as an agenda item—in other words, in writing—and to give the reason. Anything else is a lie. They can’t make up the rules on the fly. And they certainly can’t go into closed session and decide the reason for the secrecy after the fact.

Any legal counsel who advises a public agency, body, board, or commission should know the state’s open meetings law (R.S. 42:11) and the Executive Session provision (R.S. 42:16) forward and backward. That requirement comes with the job. http://parlouisiana.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Open_Meetings_Law.pdf

We thought they had learned that in one memorable meeting several months ago when Townsend suggested an executive session and when asked the reason, said—with a perfectly straight face—“We don’t have to give one.”

Uh…yes you do. And it’s more than a little disturbing that it took a layman to inform him of the law at that meeting.

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New Orleans native Donna Brazile has created quite a stir over her new book Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House. But her description of the infighting in the national Democratic Party is mirrored at least in part on a local scale by what has been transpiring in the Louisiana Democratic Party since State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson ousted Buddy Leach as State Chairman in 2012.

Brazile, in her book, described how candidate Hillary Clinton took over the Democratic National Committee’s funding during the primary season while still competing with Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination for President. By gaining control of the party’s finances, Brazile said, Clinton effectively rigged the process to kill whatever chance Sanders may have had to win the nomination.

But paralleling the infighting that developed between followers of Hillary and Sanders, the Louisiana Democratic Party appears to have fallen into its own state of considerable disarray on Peterson’s watch. And its problems, like that of the DNC, can be traced back to money and power.

Back room deals, endorsements, and questionable expenditures in the recent campaign for state treasurer have raised a number of questions. For example:

  • Is State Sen. Neil Riser truly a Republican?
  • If so, why did he lavish money on traditionally Democratic organizations like the Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD), THE New Orleans East Leadership PAC, New Orleans East Leadership PAC, Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors, Algiers PAC, Jefferson United, and Treme Improvement Political Society in his campaign for state treasurer?
  • Are the aforementioned actually Democratic organizations or are they simply a means to raising money in exchange for the endorsement of the highest bidder?
  • If they are Democratic organizations, why didn’t they endorse Democrat Derrick Edwards in the first primary instead of waiting until Riser lost—he finished dead last among the four major candidates—to direct their support to Edwards?

BOLD’s open bidding policy pre-dates Peterson. In 2003, the organization endorsed Bobby Jindal over Kathleen Blanco for governor. Of course, that was after Jindal paid BOLD $10,000 for “consulting and printing.”

During his campaign, Riser’s expenditures included $15,000 to BOLD for printing (BOLD, which Peterson’s dad, Ken Carter, co-founded, subsequently listed Riser at the top of its sample ballots), $14.500 in two contributions to New Orleans East Leadership PAC, a $10,000 contribution to the Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors, $6,000 to Algiers PAC for printing, $5,000 to Jefferson United for undetermined expenses, $5,000 to Treme Improvement Political Society.

But the treasurer’s race is merely symptomatic of a far greater problem within the State Democratic Party.

One of Peterson’s first acts as the new State Chairperson in 2012 was to nullify all parish executive committee appointments made during Leach’s tenure. And it’s been downhill ever since.

In an organization that is perpetually financially strapped, the Executive Committee, once stacked with her appointees, awarded her an annual stipend of $36,000 plus expenses. This was done without the approval of the Democratic State Central Committee, most of whom were unaware of the stipend. She has continued taking the money in her second term, again without approval.

Stephen Handwerk, Executive Director of the State Democratic Party, pulls down nearly $100,000 in salary but he has been reluctant to make use of an available database to identify and engage Democratic voters, claiming he has insufficient staff to do so. Yet, he found the time to take a second salaried job with the Democratic National Committee, according to DNC expense reports.

Peterson also has made it a point to take care of family in her role as chairperson. Her sister, Eileen Carter, of Houma, was paid $13,000 during October and November 2015 for “organizational/grassroots consultation,” according to figures provided by the Louisiana Ethics Commission.

Other payments made by the Louisiana Democratic Party under Peterson include:

  • Twelve payments of $600 each to the Chicken Shack of Baton Rouge for party card distribution and catering. Chicken Shack is a business owned by former State Sen. Joe Delpit of Baton Rouge.
  • Four separate payments of $900 each to J&M Transportation of Slidell for state party card distribution. J&M is a limousine service.

Peterson denies being among the three prominent Democrats (including then-Sen. Mary Landrieu) who met with then-State. Rep. John Bel Edwards at New Orleans International Airport in 2015 and tried to convince him to withdraw from the governor’s race so that a moderate Republican might be elected. Landrieu has since apologized for her part in that effort but Peterson has not.

Peterson also threw up roadblocks to the State Democratic Party’s official endorsement of Derrick Edwards (no relation to Gov. John Bel Edwards) for treasurer until after the first primary, in which Edwards led all candidates as the only Democrat in the race.

According to the State Democratic Party’s by-laws, “The Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC) shall conduct such activities, as it deems appropriate to elect Democratic candidates in national, state and local elections.”

Yet, there was Republican Riser’s name at the top of BOLD’s sample ballots which most likely accounts for Peterson’s reluctance to endorse Edwards at the outset.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, despite Peterson’s attempt to get him to drop out of the gubernatorial race, has been loath to support a replacement for her for fear of alienating the Legislative Black Caucus.

But the biggest concern to several Democratic Parish Executive Committee (DPEC) members is the lack of membership on no fewer than 29 parish executive committees, a condition critics attribute to Peterson’s lack of timely appointments.

“There are 29 parishes which have five or fewer members on their committee,” one DPEC member said. “There should be at least 15 members of each parish executive committee. That’s nearly half the state that has non-existent or non-functioning DPECs. Livingston Parish has only seven of 15 seats filled. One member of the Livingston DPEC has been working since February to get the seats filled but that still hasn’t been done even though names have been submitted.”

And nearly two years into Peterson’s second term as state chairperson, there are 33 DSCC vacancies. “If she fills positions at all, it’s usually with her minions,” one DSCC member said.

Parishes with one or more vacancies in DSCC representation include Caddo, Bossier, DeSoto, Sabine, Lincoln, Union, Ouachita, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana, Caldwell, Catahoula, Franklin, LaSalle, Tensas, Concordia, East Carroll, Madison, Tensas, Rapides, Lafayette, Vermilion, Calcasieu, Acadia, Iberia, St. Martin, East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Tangipahoa, Washington, St. Tammany, and Jefferson.

Meanwhile, Peterson in March of this year managed to get herself elected to the DNC as Vice Chair of Civic Engagement and Voter Participation. “How ironic is that?” the DSCC member asked.

“Karen Carter Peterson is an ambitious politician of questionable loyalties who has used her chairmanship of DSCC to build a fiefdom and to launch a national career, all at the expense of the organization she was elected to build and serve,” the DSCC member said.

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U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, himself the victim of an unhinged would-be mass killer, says the Second Amendment means the rights to bear arms is “unlimited.”

I respectfully disagree. (Full disclosure: I own a lever-action .22 rifle I inherited from my grandfather and two handguns. I don’t hunt and I fervently hope I never have occasion to use those weapons. And I don’t harbor irrational fears that someone is coming to take them from me.)

Whenever there is a mass shooting like the one in Las Vegas, there are three things of which we can be certain:

  • There will be renewed calls to address the problem of the easy accessibility to guns, especially automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
  • There will be those members of Congress (and the occasional POTUS), the beneficiaries of large campaign contributions by the NRA who will say, “Now is not the time for that discussion.”
  • There will be those, mainly gun owners steeped in the indoctrination that people will be coming for their guns, who will pose the not-so-rhetorical question, “Why is it when a horrible incident like Las Vegas, certain people start hammering gun control?” (That was a question actually asked in the comment section of a recent LouisianaVoice post.)

Taking the reader’s question first, my response would be because that’s when the image of the carnage brought by these weapons is the freshest on our minds. It’s because politicians are obligated to regurgitate the cliche that they are “praying for the victims” (when most of them haven’t bother to pray in years, if ever, and, truth be known, won’t now) and we are obligated to sigh and shake our heads and ask why this keeps happening and why isn’t something done to keep guns away from these people before our attention is again diverted to LSU and Saints football.

As for that second certainty, I would pose my own question: When the hell is “the right time,” you imbecile? What is your idea of a “right time”—when the outrage has subsided and we return to our daily routines like so many sheep while you continue taking campaign cash from the NRA?

If that is what you consider the “right time,” then I suggest the “right time” has come for you to resign from Congress and enlist in the military so that you can deploy to some hot spot on the planet that you, as a member of Congress, have deemed important to U.S. interests so you can get your ass shot off defending some vague concept of Liberty and the American Way which I suspect is little more than protecting the financial well-being of war profiteers—big oil, weapons and military aircraft manufacturers, and those companies who move in afterwards to “rebuild” with their contract cost overruns of $100,000 a week like a certain Baton Rouge firm with a contract to help rebuild Iraq.

Speaking of defending America from aggression, has it occurred to anyone else that we didn’t really have much of a terrorist threat in this country until we started sticking our collective noses into the affairs of other countries? Have we, in our indignation of Russia’s interference in our election, ever tallied up the number of elections in other countries that we have interfered in? A hint: the number is more than 80, including places like Central America, South America, Africa, Iraq, Iran, France, Italy and even Israel. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-us-intervention-foreign-elections-20161213-story.html

Try defending America’s honor with statistics like that. Try coming to terms with those facts while popping a blood vessel over some jock kneeling during the National Anthem.

That’s why I was just a little astonished at Scalise’s erroneous interpretation of the Second Amendment. But it is consistent with his political viewpoint and those of his constituents who, incidentally, are the same ones who once elected white supremacist David Duke to the Louisiana Legislature and who elected Bobby Jindal to Congress from the same First Congressional District that Scalise now represents.

Scalise was on Meet the Press Sunday morning when host Chuck Todd asked him about his view on gun laws after the Las Vegas shootings. Instead of answering Todd’s question, Scalise gave the usual B.S. political two-step, saying the focus should be on “the amount of people across the country who over the course of a day or week or month use guns to protect themselves against criminals.”

Huh? But…but, Congressman, did those people at that concert in Las Vegas have an opportunity to defend themselves against the assailant’s automatic weapons? A handgun wouldn’t have been much help in that situation, now would it?

Todd then asked, “Is the right to bear arms unlimited or is there a limit?”

“The Second Amendment really predates the Bill of Rights,” Scalise responded, as if that was an answer to the question. A do-si-do to go with the two-step.

Todd pressed on. “But is it unlimited?”

Incredulously, Scalise finally said, “It is.” (Click HERE to see the interview.)

Okay, I’ll give him that the U.S. Supreme Court said in 2008 in the District of Columbia v. Heller ruling that the Second Amendment “codified a pre-existing right” and that it “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with the service in a militia.”

That was Scalise’s apparent reference to the right to bear arms predating the Bill of Rights. But Scalise did not quote the rest of that opinion, which said:

  • “The right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Bingo. Or should that be touché?

Let’s return to Scalise’s contention that the Second Amendment gives unlimited rights to bear arms.

First of all, I thought Scalise was a conservative but that’s a pretty damned liberal interpretation of the Second Amendment.

But let’s assume for a moment that he’s correct.

Carrying that logic to its natural conclusion, a most liberal interpretation would have to be applied to all the other amendments. Thus, we would have an “unlimited” right to say and write anything we want about anyone at any time simply because the First Amendment gives us unlimited rights to speech and press.

I could, for example, write that Scalise once had a romantic relationship with a nanny goat but had to break it off when his donkey got jealous. Now, is that true? Probably not. I don’t think he owns a donkey. But the by God First Amendment gives me unlimited rights to say and write that.

And if someone wanted to practice a religion that called for its adherents to slaughter all red-haired, left-handed men with big feet by beating them to death with a badminton racket, then the First Amendment gives me unlimited religious freedom so there’s not a thing anyone can do about it.

And if that same religious leader and all his followers wished to hold a parade through downtown Baton Rouge to display the racket-mutilated carcass, then hey, no parade permits need be obtained because the First Amendment gives them the unlimited right to free assembly.

No, Congressman, the Second Amendment does not give unlimited rights. But I know you, like most of your contemporaries in both the House and Senate long ago sold your souls to the NRA, so you are obligated to stick to the game plan despite your own tragic near-death experience with a deranged sociopath who happened to get his hands on a semi-automatic weapon.

And I understand your reluctance to talk about legislation making it more difficult for these people to obtain weapons.

Now is just not the time to discuss it.

 

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Former Director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter was acquitted of all the dubious charges brought against him by the Jindal administration after Painter refused to bend the rules for granting alcohol permits to a vendor for Tom Benson’s Champions’ Square in New Orleans. (See our original story HERE.)

But now, three years after his hard-fought battle to clear his name, events are only now coming to light that illustrate just how far the Jindal administration was willing to go in violating Painter’s Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure in order to build what it thought would be a slam dunk criminal case against him.

Instead, the state ended up having to pay Painter’s legal fees of $474,000.

Documents obtained by LouisianaVoice also show that investigators lied—or at least distorted the truth beyond recognition—about Painter and that the state tampered with and/or destroyed crucial evidence, much of it advantageous to Painter’s case.

Benson, after all, was a huge contributor to Jindal campaigns and the state’s agreeing to lease office space from Benson Towers at highly inflated rates apparently was not enough for the owner of the Saints; that liquor permit needed to be approved, rules notwithstanding, and when Painter insisted on playing by the book, he was called before the governor and summarily fired and federal charges of sexual harassment were doggedly pursued by an administration eager to put him away for good.

But he fooled them. He was acquitted, and he filed a civil lawsuit against his accuser, which he won at the trial court level but lost on appeal (See story HERE). He currently has another civil lawsuit pending against the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Now the state is dragging that litigation out in the hopes that with his limited finances and the state’s ability to draw on taxpayer funds indefinitely, he can be waited out until he no longer has the financial resources to seek the justice due him.

Briefs, motions, requests of production of documents, interrogatories, continuances—all designed to extend the fight and to keep the lawyers’ meters running and the court costs mounting—are the tactics of a defendant fearful of an adverse ruling. If that were not the case, it would be to the state’s advantage to try the case ASAP.

And never mind that every brief, every motion, every interrogatory, every request for production, and every continuance means the state’s defense attorneys are getting richer and richer—all at the expense of taxpayers who are the ones paying the state’s legal bills.

But all that aside, LouisianaVoice has come into possession of documents that clearly show the state was in violation of Painter’s constitutional rights and that an investigator for OIG simply colored the truth in the reports of the OIG “investigation” of complaints against him.

That investigator, who now works for the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner’s office, was inexplicably dismissed from Painter’s civil lawsuit against the state by the First Circuit Court of Appeal. Painter has taken writs on that decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court as that civil litigation rocks on in its sixth year of existence. I’ll get back to him momentarily.

The events leading up to Painter’s firing and subsequent federal indictment began innocently enough with a March 29, 2010, letter to Painter from then-Department of Revenue Secretary Cynthia Bridges. She was writing pursuant to a complaint lodged by ATC employee Kelli Suire who would later the catalyst in Painter’s firing. Bridges, however found no violations by Painter regarding the complaint of “unprofessional” behavior toward Suire, but said concerns about his management style would be left “to the proper authority to discuss with you at a later date.”

Then on Aug. 13, 2010, more than four months following Bridges’s letter, Baton Rouge television station WBRZ reported that Painter “resigned” and the OIG’s office simultaneously raided ATC offices, seizing Painter’s state desktop and laptop computers, three thumb drives, notes, affidavits, reports, maps, ATC documents, telephone reports, and a 2010 Dodge Charger assigned to Painter.

 

There was only one problem with the timing.

Bonnie Jackson, 19th Judicial District Judge, did not sign the search warrant authorizing the raid and search of Painter’s office until Monday, Aug. 16.

That would appear to have made the previous Friday’s raid—pulled off three days before a judge had signed the search warrant—illegal and a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment which says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (Emphasis added.)

The second violation, the destruction of evidence was not learned until three years later when Painter’s computer was finally returned and he found that some 4,000 files had been deleted. Much of that, of course, would have been routine state business related to ATC operations but there was other information contained in the files, Painter says, that could have helped exonerate him from the charges that were lodged against him by the Jindal administration. It is not only illegal to destroy evidence, but also to destroy state documents—even if they do not constitute evidence.

The third violation, this one by OIG, involved the apparent misrepresentation of testimony given in interviews by an attorney and his assistant who had experienced difficulty in obtaining a liquor license on the part of his client, a business with multiple out-of-state owners, a situation which made the licensure procedure more involved.

The attorney, Joseph Brantley, and Painter had exchanged emails whereupon Painter invited Brantley to come to the ATC offices so that the problem could be worked out. “Why don’t you come by here around 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 if that works for you tomorrow and we will go over ours versus yours,” Painter said in his email at 12:26 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2008. Brantley responded three minutes later, asking, “Is it OK if I bring the lady that has been doing the primary work (on the file)?”

OIG investigator Shane Evans, who now works for the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner’s office as its chief investigator, then laid the groundwork for the sexual harassment charges to be brought against Murphy when he wrote in a report of his interview with Brantley on Oct. 13, 2010:

“Mr. Brantley advised that Toby Edwards was a former assistant (paralegal) of his, that she is an attractive woman, and that after the meeting in late 2008, Mr. Painter granted the permit immediately.”

In his report of his interview with Edwards, also on Oct. 13, 2010, Evans wrote:

“During the meeting with Mr. Painter, he told Ms. Edwards that he had run her driver’s license and looked at her photograph. He said that was the only reason that he had granted them the meeting. (That is blatantly false: Copies of the Dec. 14, 2008, email exchange between Painter and Brantley obtained by LouisianaVoice clearly show that Painter invited Brantley to a meeting before he ever knew of Edwards’s existence.) She took his statement as the only reason he decided to meet with them is because he thought she was attractive. Ms. Edwards said his statement and demeanor made her very uncomfortable. She said she was very glad Mr. Brantley was present.

“She also said that she found it unusual that the permit had been repeatedly turned down but once she met with Mr. Painter face-to-face, her client immediately received the permit.”

Another report by OIG, the result of a second interview with Edwards on Nov. 5, 2012, described both Brantley and Edwards as “uncomfortable” during the meeting with Painter.

A second interview of Brantley on Nov. 7, 2012 produced yet a fourth OIG report that said, in part, that Edwards wore a “professional,” semi-low-cut shirt. “Mr. Brantley noticed that Mr. Painter noticed and glanced at Ms. Edwards’s chest during the meeting.

“…According to Mr. Brantley, Mr. Painter ‘clearly looked at’ Ms. Edwards’s chest,” the report says. Mr. Brantley even told Ms. Edwards that Mr. Painter was attracted to women, maybe more ‘than the average guy.’ Although Ms. Edwards would have attended the meeting anyway, Mr. Brantley took her to the meeting ‘for effect.’ He thinks that the meeting was more successful than it would have been otherwise if Ms. Edwards had not attended.

Pretty damning stuff, right?

Well, it would be except for affidavits signed and sworn to by Brantley and Edwards (now Pierce), which provide quite a contrasting version of events.

Brantley, after reviewing the OIG reports, flatly denied ever telling Evans or any other OIG investigator that Edwards took part in the meeting with Painter because Painter was fond of females.

“I brought her because she had more knowledge about the file than did I and she was more capable of answering any questions that may have arisen.”

Edwards pointedly noted that the meeting took place in a room “with all glass windows and doors.” She said she also learned at the meeting that Painter was a long-time acquaintance of her father, a former deputy sheriff in East Feliciana Parish and joked to her that he didn’t know her dad “had a daughter that was so pretty.” She said he then excused himself for a few minutes and later returned with a license for Brantley’s client.

Here are both of those affidavits:

 

So, with a little tweaking of the facts, a man’s career was ruined, his occupation stripped from him and his finances gutted—all because he insisted that a major campaign contributor submit the proper forms before obtaining a liquor license for his Sunday parties outside the New Orleans Superdome.

This is Louisiana at its worst, folks, and it’s a clear example of how the political establishment can crush you if you don’t have the right contacts and sufficient financial resources to match those of the state’s taxpayers.

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Before Louisiana voters trek to the polls in record low numbers on Oct. 14, there are a few things to consider about State Sen. Neil Riser, one of four candidates for the job of state treasurer, who, besides failing to help landowners being fenced out of their hunting lands, actually took campaign cash from a family member of the one erecting the fences.

Riser, author of that infamous bill amendment in the waning minutes of the 2014 legislative session that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an additional $100,000 or so per year in retirement benefits, has received some other interesting contributions as well.

The Louisiana Safety Association of Timbermen gave $2,500 to his senate re-election campaign in March 2014 and only 18 months later filed for BANKRUPTCY on behalf of its self-insurance worker’s compensation fund, leaving quite a few policy holders in the lurch.

Several nursing homes have contributed $2,500 each to his treasurer campaign. The nursing home industry, heavily reliant on state payments on the basis of bed occupancy, consistently benefited from favorable legislation by the Louisiana Legislature over the past decade that discouraged home care for the elderly.

But by far the biggest beneficiary of Riser’s legislative efforts is Vantage Health Plan, Inc., of Monroe which contributed $1,000 in 2015 to his Senate re-election campaign and another $1,000 to his treasurer campaign in March of this year.

Vantage has received six state contracts totaling nearly $242 million during the time Riser has served in the State Senate.

But it was Riser, along with Sens. Mike Walsworth of West Monroe, Rick Gallot of Ruston and Francis Thompson of Delhi, who pushed Senate Bill 216 of 2013 through the Legislature which cleared the way for the state to bypass the necessity of accepting bids for the purchase of the state-owned former Virginia Hotel and an adjoining building and parking lot. That was done expressly for the purpose of allowing Vantage to purchase the property for $881,000 despite there being a second buyer interested in purchasing the property from the state, most likely for a higher price.

By law, if a legislative act is passed, the state may legally skip the public bid process to accommodate a buyer. This was done even though a Monroe couple, who had earlier purchased the nearby Penn Hotel, wanted to buy the Virginia and convert it into a boutique hotel. Thanks to Riser and the other three legislators, they were never given the opportunity.

And Vantage, from all appearances, really got a bargain. The building was constructed in 1925 at a cost of $1.6 million and underwent extensive renovations in 1969 and again in 1984, according to documents provided LouisianaVoice, all of which should have made the property worth considerably more than $881,000. Read the entire story HERE.

Internal documents revealed concerns by Vantage that if the building were to be offered through regular channels (public bids), “developers using federal tax credits could outbid Vantage.”

Another document said, “VHP (Vantage Health Plan) fears that public bidding would allow a developer utilizing various incentive programs to pay an above-market price that VHP would find hard to match.”

Finally, there was a handwritten note which described a meeting on Nov. 1, 2012. Beside the notation that “Sen. Riser supports,” (emphasis added) there was this: “Problem is option of auction—if auction comes there is possibility of tax credits allowing a bidder to out-bid.”

All of which raises the obvious question of why did the Jindal administration turn its back on the potential of a higher sale price through bidding, especially considering the financial condition of the state during his entire term of office? We will probably never know the answer to that.

One might think that that kind of effort on its behalf would be worth more than a couple of thousand in campaign cash to Vantage. Vantage could have at least shown the same gratitude as the relative of the owner of 55,000 of fenced hunting property in Riser’s district.

When landowners in Winn, Caldwell and LaSalle parishes felt they were being fenced out of their hunting rights back in 2013, they did what any citizen might do: they went to their legislator for help–in this case, Riser, who paid the obligatory lip service of expressing concern for landowners Wyndel Gough, Gary Hatten, and Michael Gough but who, in the end, did nothing to assist them.

Instead, as so often happens today in politics, he sold out to the highest bidder.

One the $5,000 contributors to Riser’s campaign is none other than Hunter Farms & Timber, LLC, of Lafayette. An officer in that firm is Billy Busbice, Jr., of Jackson, Wyoming.

William Busbice Sr., one-time chairman of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, and Junior’s father, is a partner in Six C Rentals Limited Partnership of Youngsville, LA. Which purchased and proceeded to fence in some 55,000 acres of prime hunting land a few years back.

The original LouisianaVoice story on that dispute can be read HERE.

All of which only serves to underscore the long-held perception that we in Louisiana, by continually electing the type of public officials who are interested only in the next big deal, get the kind of representation we deserve.

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