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Archive for the ‘Coastal Erosion’ Category

           As 2014 winds down, we decided that everyone else does a year-end wrap-up of the year’s significant events, so why not us?

            Accordingly, here is our review of the first six months of LouisianaVoice installments. The last six months will appear on Wednesday (Dec. 31).

JANUARY

IT Contractor linked to Obamacare, other problems:

A company holding two contracts with the State of Louisiana worth $32.8 million was the lead IT contractor of the ill-fated Affordable Health Care enrollment web page rolled out late last year.

CGI Technologies and Solutions, headquartered in Quebec, has experienced problems with other contracts in Canada and the U.S. even before the Obamacare debacle.

CGI Technologies and Solutions was awarded a $32.5 million contract with the Office of Community Development’s (OCD) Disaster Recovery Unit (DRU) on March 2, 2012 to provide computer software hosting, support and training for OCD’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), small rental programs.

That contract is scheduled to run out on March 1, 2015.

CGI executives have been involved with at least 20 other troubled government IT projects, including one contract to automate retirements for millions of federal employees that went $60 million over budget and despite $2.3 billion in contracts with two dozen federal agencies, the company was rejected by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) because of “performance issues” in carrying out an earlier contract.

HGI ties to Jindal, Christie:

MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal have begun focusing attention on a Louisiana firm with more than $200 million in contracts with both the Chris Christie and Jindal administrations for federally-funded relief to hurricane victims.

Hammerman & Gainer, Inc., or HGI, of Lutcher, was awarded a $68 million contract in May of 2013 to oversee two programs distributing $780 million in federal money to Sandy victims. That contract was cancelled only six months later, on Dec. 6, 2013, because of mounting complaints about delays in processing claims.

New Jersey homeowners say they have been unable to get answers, paperwork has been misplaced and HGI employees, most of whom are temporary employees, could not be reached by phone and that the company’s recovery centers change rules midstream and that no reconstruction program grants to thousands of applicants already approved have yet been awarded.

HGI also just happens to hold a $60 million contract with the Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit to administer the state’s Road Home Program. That contract began on March 20, 2012, and ends on March 19, 2015. Prior to that contract, HGI had a similar contract for $83.3 million which ran from March 20, 2009 to March 19, 2012. The $83.3 million contract replaced a $912 million contract with ICF Emergency Management Services of Baton Rouge.

In New Jersey, HGI hired Glenn Paulsen, former chief of the Burlington County Republicans, as its legal counsel when it submitted its bid to run the two Sandy relief programs. Paulsen’s law firm Capehart Scatchard, made a $25,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association which Christie now heads.

HGI contributed $15,000 to Jindal in three equal contributions in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The company also gave $7,500 to Robert Wooley ($2,500 in 2003 and $5,000 in 2002), $5,000 to the Republican Party of Louisiana, $5,000 in 2011, to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin in March of 2006, only months after Hurricane Katrina, and $7,500 to his successor Mitch Landrieu in equal contributions of $2,500 in 2010, 2011 and 2012. In addition, HGI President Larry Oney gave $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign in 2008.

Alvarez & Marsal gets fat at state trough:

Jindal also awarded a four-month contract to Alvarez & Marsal for a tad more than $5 million that called for the firm to deliver $500 million in savings to the state.

A & M’s cozy if disastrous relationship with state government goes back further than Jindal. In December of 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted Resolution 59-05 on the advice of the consulting firm.

The resolution, passed in the aftermath of disastrous Hurricane Katrina was specifically cited in the ruling earlier this week by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision the school board was wrong to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006.

Then-State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard chose Alvarez & Marsal to prevail upon the school board to replace acting parish Superintendent Ora Watson with an Alvarez & Marsal consultant.

So, Watson was replaced, 7,500 teachers were fired, the teachers sued and won, leaving the Orleans School Board and the state liable for a billion-five and the firm that started it all is hired by Jindal to find a $500,000 savings.

Alvarez & Marsal is specifically cited—by name—no fewer than six times in the first 51 pages of a 2009 report calling for the privatizing the state’s charity hospital system. Alvarez & Marsal performed that bit of work under a $1.7 million contract that ran for nine months in 2009, from Jan. 5 to Sept. 30.

The firm also received a $250,000, contract of a much shorter duration (10 days) from Jindal on April 9, 2013, to develop Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state income taxes in favor of other tax increases. That plan was dead on arrival during the legislative session and Jindal quickly punted before a single legislative vote could be taken.

The obvious next step for Jindal was to

Problems continue at OGB:

Charles Calvi and Patrick Powers are out at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and Susan West, late of the Office of Risk Management has been named Interim CEO—the fourth person to head OGB in less than three years.

Meanwhile, that $540 million reserve fund balance OGB had on hand to pay benefits at the time of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s infamous raping of the agency now sit at $240 million and is dwindling at a rate of $20 million per month, no doubt the result of Jindal’s 7 percent premium reduction six months before the January 2013 takeover of OGB by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Louisiana.

FEBRUARY

Adley’s not-so-hidden agenda:

State Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) filed Senate Bill 79 which was designed to give Jindal even more power by giving him greater freedom in appointing members of a levee board, specifically the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authorities of both the east and west banks.

The bill was a counteroffensive to attempts by the east bank authority to push for a historic lawsuit that would hold oil and gas companies responsible for damages to coastal wetlands.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPAE) was attempting to force the oil and gas companies to pay for the state’s coastal restoration efforts.

The lawsuit claimed that the companies destroyed the state’s coastal wetlands by dredging canals that contributed to erosion. The marshes had served as a natural buffer that mitigated storm surge. The suit, if successful, could cost the companies billions of dollars.

Adley’s bill should come as no surprise, given his opposition to the lawsuit but some might question why Adley would oppose the legal action against the companies in the first place.

One consideration could be that he has owned pelican Gas Management Co. since 1993, was president of ABCO Petroleum from 1972 to 1993, is affiliated with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and has been the recipient of more than $150,000 in campaign contributions over the years from companies, political action committees, and individuals affiliated with or controlled by oil and gas interests.

Adley’s bill was assigned to the Senate Transportation, Highways & Public Works Committee. The chairman of Transportation, Highways & Public Works?

Robert Adley.

Jindal tantrum goes national:

Jindal’s outburst upon exiting a meeting between the nation’s governors and President Barack Obama Monday was a petulant display of immaturity that only served to underscore his disgraceful scorn for Louisiana’s working poor in favor of pandering to the mega-rich Koch brothers in the apparent hope that some of their Americans for Prosperity (AFP) money might find its way into his campaign coffers.

His shameless promotion of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project coupled with his criticism of Obama’s push for a minimum wage increase comes on the heels of word that Jindal is literally stealing from the blind in drawing down more than half of a trust fund established to assist blind vendors in state buildings to purchase equipment, to pay for repairs and to pay medical bills.

That trust fund shrank from $1.6 million to about $700,000, apparently because of yet another lawsuit the administration found itself embroiled in over the delivery of food services at Fort Polk in Leesville that sucked up $365,000 just for the state’s 21 percent share of attorney fees.

Jindal said of Obama’s push for an increase in the minimum wage that the president “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” and that Obama’s economy “is now the minimum wage economy.”

CIA kidnap accomplice locates in Bossier City

A photo in the Shreveport Times shows a grinning Gov. Bobby Jindal shaking hands with David Zolet, executive vice president and general manager of the North American Sector of Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) as the two jointly announced that the company plans to open a technology center at CSC’s national Cyber Research Park in Bossier City.

CSC will be the anchor tenant of the research park and will partner with Louisiana Tech University to account for 1,600 new jobs over the next four years, thanks in part to $14 million in state funding over the next decade to expand higher education programs to increase the number of computer science graduates per year.

CSC customers, meanwhile, were being urged to boycott the company over allegations that it took part in illegal CIA rendition flights in the U.S. “war on terror.”

Court documents have linked CSC to the rendition of German citizen Khaled El-Masri who was abducted on Dec. 31, 2003, after being mistaken for a known terrorist by the CIA.

El-Masri was blindfolded, beaten, imprisoned for 23 days, stripped, sodomized, chained, drugged, flown to Afghanistan where he was again beaten and imprisoned for another four months, interrogated, threatened, denied legal representation, force fed and finally flown in a CSC-chartered plane to Albania, where he was left on a remote road in the middle of the night some 1500 kilometers from his home.

CSC was contracted for the flight as well as for other illegal CIA renditions, according to human rights charity Reprieve. CSC has so far refused a request by Reprieve to sign a pledge of “zero tolerance to torture,” and has also declined to respond to questions from Computer Weekly about the allegations.

Germany has paid the company some $405 million since 1990 and over the past five years, the country has awarded more than 100 contracts to CSC and its subsidiaries.

The story said it is “no coincidence” that the company’s various German offices are often located near U.S. military bases.

Barksdale AFB, home of the U.S. Air Force’s 2nd Bomb Wing and Global Strike Command, and Cyber Research Park are nearly adjacent in their proximity to each other, with the proposed CSC facility and Barksdale separated only by I-20.

MARCH

Jindal contributor benefits from state road work

The controversy over that 55,000 hunting lodge that straddles three central Louisiana parishes has taken a new and curious twist as the result of a $1.7 million highway resurfacing project that conveniently runs right past the entrance to the lodge that is owned by a major contributor to Gov. Bobby Jindal and to unsuccessful congressional candidate State Sen. Neil Riser.

The overlay of LA. 127, also known locally as the Olla-Sikes Highway, started on Feb. 20 at the Caldwell Parish line and run 5.5 miles east in Winn Parish to LA. 1238, according to an announcement by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).

The LA. 127 project ends at the camp entrance and at the property of TV reality show Swamp People star Troy “Choot ‘em” Landry, whose campsite is located within the hunting camp.

A search of political campaign contributions show that camp owner Bill Busbice and his wife, Beth each contributed the maximum allowable $2,600 ($5,200 total) to State Sen. Neil Riser’s campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat won by Vance McAllister.

Jindal also picked up $20,000 from Busbice and Alfred Lippman of Morgan City, the registered agent for Olla Productions, LLC., one of Busbice’s may business entities.

Busbice contributed $5,000 to Jindal in April of 2009 and Beth Busbice gave another $5,000 in December of that same year, while Lippman contributed $5,000 in October of 2003, $3,500 in April of 2009 and his firm, Lippman, Malfouz, Tranchina & Thorguson of Morgan City gave another $1,500 in September of 2010.

Additionally, one of Lippman’s law partners, David Thorguson and his wife contributed $1,300 to Jindal, Jindal campaign records show.

Appel’s shrewd investments:

State Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) purchased Discovery Communications stock in 2010 a week before a major announcement of a partnership between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Capitol News Service has learned.

On Dec. 7, 2010, Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications, announced that Louisiana and Indiana had joined Oregon in adopting the Discovery Education Science Techbook as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction.

Appel is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and was in a unique position to know not only of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) but also of the company’s recent agreement with Indiana and Oregon, as well as Texas and Florida.

Appel’s financial disclosure form obtained from the State Board of Ethics indicates his Discovery Communications stock purchase was for “between $5,000 and $24,999.”

Discovery Communications is traded on NASDAQ and on the date of Appel’s purchase, the company’s shares opened at $40.96 and closed at $40.78.

And while there was no significant movement in the stock’s prices on the date of and on the day’s following Discovery’s announcement of the agreement with BESE, the stock hit a high of $90.21 per share on Jan. 2 of this year, meaning Appel’s on-paper profit after a little more than three years was in excess of 100 percent. The stock closed on March 27 at $75.72, still an 85 percent gain for Appel.

Appel’s 2012 financial report reveals that he also purchased between $5,000 and $24,999 of Microsoft stock on June 4, 2012, the same date that the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its 85-day session.

Ten days earlier, on May 25, the Louisiana Legislature approved the implementation of Common Core in Louisiana after a major push by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which poured more than $200 million to develop, review, evaluate, promote and implement Common Core.

APRIL

Deputy Sheriff dabbles in private background checks:

A former DeSoto Parish sheriff’s deputy may have violated state law by using his office to run background checks for a company in which he owned a major interest, according to a report by the Legislative Auditor’s office in Baton Rouge.

Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during an 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the report says. Robert Davidson, retired chief investigator for the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, is 50 percent owner of Lagniappe and Castillo. He was employed by DPSO from 1980 until his retirement in May of 2013.

The report, released on Monday, also noted that three DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office (DPSO) employees were paid nearly $2,000 by Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations for running the background checks between January 2011 and May 2013, duties they would normally perform as part of their jobs with the sheriff’s office.

The company charged its customers $12 for each background report and paid the sheriff’s office $3 for each report. That represents an income of more than $374,000 and a profit of more than $372,000 for owners Robert Davidson and Allan Neal Castillo.

Extortion claimed on state highway project:

A six and one-half-year-old lawsuit took a dramatic turn following a Mangham contractor’s claim that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) denied payments for work performed by his company because he resisted shake-down efforts by a DOTD inspector.

Jeff Mercer owner of the now-defunct construction company that bears his name, worked as a subcontractor to several prime contractors on six different projects for which he has not been paid. He first filed his lawsuit against DOTD on Sept. 7, 2007, in state district court in Monroe, claiming that the state owes him nearly $9 million for actual work done for which he was never paid, plus interest and delay costs which bring the total to more than $11.6 million.

The $500 million savings report by Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) was finally released on Monday only minutes before adjournment of the 2014 legislative session.

The 425-page report, produced under a $5 million contract, while projecting a savings of $2.7 billion over five years (an average of $540 million a year).

Most of the projected cost savings were based on assumptions for which A&M offered little or no supporting data other than arbitrary estimates and suppositions that could have been produced at a fraction of the report’s $11,760 per-page cost.

MAY

It pays to play I:

If there are any lingering doubts that politicians are beholden to the special interest who bankroll their campaigns, consider the money that has been spread among our state lawmakers—just from the oil and gas interests:

  • The 144 incumbent legislators have received more than $5.8 million in campaign contributions by a single special interest group—oil and gas. That comes to an average of $40,357 per legislator.
  • For the 39 current members of the Louisiana Senate, the aggregate is a little north of $2.8 million, or $51,100 each.
  • A total of $2.99 million was distributed among the 105 House members—an average of $40350 each, the figures show.

So, by obtaining a dismissal of litigation that could conceivably cost oil companies several hundred million dollars—before it ever goes to trial or even to the discovery stage—by spreading $5.8 million around represents a nice return on investment.

And make no mistake about it: campaign contributions are just that—investments.

It pays to play II:

The Senate Finance Committee on Sunday (Sen. Dan Claitor discarded their oaths of office—their sworn duty to protect the interests of the people of Louisiana—in favor of political expedience of the very lowest sort by ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and allocating the money for a Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish.

LouisianaVoice conducted a search of the Secretary of State’s web page to learn the identities of the NOLA Motor Club corporate officers and whose name should pop up as one of the principals? Laney Chouest, that’s who.

So, who is Laney Chouest, you ask?

Well, he also showed up as an officer in a few other corporations run by the politically active Chouest family of Galliano. Their main business is in shipbuilding and Laney Chouest was listed as an officer in Edison Chouest Offshore, Inc., Alpha Marine Service Holdings, LLC. and Beta Marine Services, LLC., to name only three.

So, armed with that information we did a campaign contribution search of only the last name of Chouest and we hit the mother lode.

Between 2007 and 2010, members of the Chouest family and their various businesses contributed $106,500 to Jindal.

JUNE

Legislator’s firm cited for environmental infractions:

A citation and a cease order issued to Dual Trucking Co. by the Montana Department of Environmental Equality for dumping oilfield radioactive waste from the nearby Bakken Oilfield, it turns out, is not the only problem State Rep. Gordon Dove (R-Houma) has experienced with environmental authorities, Capitol News Service has learned.

Vacco Marine, Inc., a company owned by Dove, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, has been the subject of several investigations, negative reports, citations, and compliance orders by and from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over a period of several years, records show.

Last week, while presiding over a meeting of the Natural Resources Committee, he joined 12 other members in passing an amendment to SB 469 that made the prohibition against suing oil companies for damages to the state’s wetlands and marshes retroactive.

Dove also serves as a member of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Lobbyists swarm to protect BP:

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with it accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like so many blow flies around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

Blogger Lamar White, Jr. observed that former Gov. Edwin Edwards spent eight years in a federal prison for accepting payments from hopeful casino operators for his assistance in obtaining licenses—all after he left office. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was similarly convicted of using his position to steer business to a family-owned company and taking free vacations meals and cell phones from people attempting to score contracts or incentives from the city.

So what is the difference between what they did and the ton of contributions received by Adley and Jindal? To paraphrase my favorite playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare, a payoff by any other name smells just as rank.

And while big oil money flowed like liquor at the State Capitol (figuratively of course; it’s illegal to make or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session), what many may not know is that Jindal may have had an ulterior motive in going against sound legal advice to sign the bill into law, thus protecting the interests of big oil over the welfare of Louisiana citizens who have seen frightening erosion of the state’s shoreline and freshwater marshes.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is one of the firms that represented BP in negotiating a $4.5 billion settlement that ended criminal charges against the company. Included in that settlement amount was a $1.26 billion criminal fine to be paid over five years.

An associate of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who has defended clients in government audit cases and in several whistleblower cases is one Nikesh Jindal.

He also is assigned to the division handling the BP case.

Nikesh Jindal is the younger brother of Gov. Piyush, aka Bobby Jindal.

Suddenly, John Barry’s words take on a little more significance: “We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with it accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like so many blow flies around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

 

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Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who has been uncharacteristically quiet in his campaign to succeed U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District seat, came out swinging at his opponent at Monday’s appearance before the Baton Rouge Press Club.

At the same time, the campaign of his opponent, Garret Graves, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s hand-picked candidate, appears to be doing everything it can to go into a self-destruct mode with Graves following smear tactics against a first primary opponent with a vitriolic email-writing campaign to reporters perceived by him to be antagonistic.

One veteran Baton Rouge reporter described Graves’ strange behavior as the campaign enters its stretch drive as “weirdly Nixonian.”

Edwards was also critical of Graves’ role in attempts to stifle the lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E). “Someone needs to restore our coastal lands and who better than the ones who destroyed it?” he asked.

The event was intended to serve as a face-off between the two candidates, but Graves chose not to attend.

Edwards, meanwhile, took the opportunity of renewing earlier claims of $130 million contracts awarded to Graves’ father under his watch as President of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities.

“Not only was he responsible for $130 million in contracts to his father’s engineering company,” Edwards said, “but 18 sub-contractors got another $66 million in contracts. Those companies gave $250,000 to Graves’ campaign and $360,000 to Gov. Jindal’s campaign. This is a scheme by Jindal and Graves to maintain and to perpetuate the control of the flow of dollars from the Corps of Engineers and the BP spill.

“Gov. Jindal took $160 million in BP grant funds and wasted it on the construction of a sand berm and gave the contract to a Florida firm. That berm, as was predicted, is long gone.

“Jindal then took another $35 million to $40 million to build the million-square-foot Water Campus in Baton Rouge,” Edwards said.

He said the Water Campus office complex and research center under construction in Baton Rouge, will house the agency Graves once headed. The leasing agent for office space in the facility, Edwards said, is Randy White, Graves’ brother-in-law. “They’re going to lease one million square feet of office space at probably $25 to $50 per square foot,” he said. “At a commission of 2 or 3 percent, that’s a $1 million a year. I guess it would be accurate to say Graves is a family man.”

More recently, Graves has ramped up an email-writing campaign to reporters that borders on paranoia, accusing veteran reporters of ganging up on him, not liking him, and being against him. The emails more resemble incoherent rants than logical communications with some making wild accusations, a tactic that has puzzled various recipients.

Edwards reserved most of his disgust, however, for Graves’ smear campaign against Paul Dietzel, III, in the Nov. 4 primary election. Graves intimated during the campaign that Dietzel, grandson of legendary former LSU football coach Paul Dietzel, was gay.

“At the time, the contest for the runoff position was between Graves and Dietzel,” Edwards said. “Dietzel is a fine young man and he never recovered from that scurrilous attack.” Dietzel finished third in the primary with 13.55 percent of the vote. Graves finished second to Edwards with 27.36 percent.

Edwards said that while he has not spent any money on media advertising “because I really didn’t think it was necessary,” he intends to begin a media blitz early next week.

He and Graves are scheduled to meet in their only scheduled head-to-head debate in Denham Springs next Tuesday.

Read Full Post »

While we have had no trouble unearthing double standards, misrepresentations, distortions and outright lies in our coverage of the Jindal administration, political campaigns often take the practice to a new level.

The mind-numbing campaign for the U.S. Senate comes to mind. At this point in the campaign, voters just wish Mary Landrieu and Bill Cassidy would both shut up and leave us alone. But those TV ads from both camps keep pounding away at us, each accusing the other of distortions, lies, misrepresentations, pro-this, and anti-that.

The comic strip Non Sequitur would well have been referencing either candidate with this submission:

nq141010[1]

Or it could have been alluding to the recently ramped-up campaign of 6th Congressional District candidate Garrett Graves, former chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, who only recently kicked off his media blitz.

Of course most observers are accustomed to grandiose promises.

For at least the past 20 years or so, the challenger in the Baton Rouge mayor-president’s election without fail has promised to improve public education in East Baton Rouge Parish—never mind the fact that the mayor’s office has absolutely nothing to do with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. Zero. Zilch. They are two entirely separate political entities.

And we’re all used to congressional candidates saying they are going to fight waste, work to improve infrastructure, and vote to defend the Constitution blah, blah, blah.

But Graves has taken the rhetoric to a new extreme. He has one TV spot running on the Baton Rouge in which he says not that he will “work to” or “vote to,” but that he “will” repeal Obamacare, he “will” cut spending, he “will” stop illegal immigration, and he “will” eliminate terrorism.

Those are pretty big promises, folks, and unless he’s Clark Kent in disguise, we just can’t see how one freshman tea party congressman can impose his will on 434 other members of the House and 100 senators, not all of whom are tea partiers.

And while we are on the subject of political rhetoric, there has been much said about U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s ownership of an $800,000 home in Washington, D.C. while not owning a home outright in Louisiana (though she is part owner, along with her siblings, of her parents’ home in New Orleans).

But not a peep has been said about Graves’ 2005 purchase of a home at 210 11th Street SE in Washington, also appraised at more than $800,000. Nothing on his federal financial disclosure statement for Jan. 1, 2013 through July 15, 2014, indicates ownership of a home in Louisiana—not even part ownership of his father’s home—although he does list ownership of property in Gulf Shores, Alabama. And Graves has never been elected to any office, let alone one that demands his presence in Washington.

He apparently purchased the home during his tenure in Washington. He worked as a policy adviser to former U.S. Sen. John Breaux and U.S. Congressman Billy Tauzin and worked for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He also served as staff director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Climate Change and Impacts. http://www.epa.gov/gcertf/bios/graves.html

Apparently he liked Washington well enough to plan on returning because he did not sell the home when he grabbed onto Gov. Bobby Jindal’s coattails in 2008 to head up CPRA at $135,000 per year through 2012. His salary was bumped up to $147,300 in 2013, according to his financial disclosure records.

Even though he left the state’s employ on February 28, his financial statement indicates he still received $52,961 in salary from the state this year and another $31,346 from Evans-Graves Engineers, the firm owned by his father, John Graves.

Graves flew pretty much under the radar until he became a high-profile opponent of the lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil and gas companies for damage to the state’s wetlands while at the same time carping at the U.S. Coast Guard for its failure to force BP to be more responsive to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. http://theadvocate.com/home/8290180-125/graves-to-step-down-from

His opposition to the lawsuit seeking to hold big oil responsible for the damage it has done to the state’s coastline for the past century notwithstanding, the real story of Garrett Graves is the awarding of more than $130 million in government contracts to his father’s engineering firm while he was head of CPRA, which oversees such contracts.

That figure represented an 1800 percent increase over contracts awarded to Evans-Graves for all years prior to Garrett Graves’ tenure at CPRA.

Some might call this old news, given the fact that Jeremy Alford first reported on this as far back as 2008. http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20080203/news/659908125

But the practice went unabated for years after his story and even more curious, when an ethics opinion was sought as to the propriety of the contracts, it was not the Louisiana Board of Ethics that was consulted, but attorney Jimmy Faircloth.

Faircloth, who was Jindal’s first executive counsel before running unsuccessfully for the Louisiana Supreme Court, has done extensive legal work for the administration, collecting fees in excess of $1 million defending losing positions that Jindal has championed.

But his issuing an ethics opinion in the case of Evans-Graves Engineering appears to have been a conflict in itself: Faircloth at the time was the legal counsel for Evans-Graves.

“As we discussed, Governor Jindal has asked that we disclose and commit to avoiding even the appearance of conflict,” Faircloth said in his opinion. “Thus, as we agreed, out of an abundance of caution, the appropriate solution is that your father’s company not pursue an interest in or receive any state contract that involves coastal restoration, levees or hurricane protection while you serve in the administration. This would explicitly include such contracts overseen by DOTD (Department of Transportation and Development) and DNR (Department of Natural Resources).”

Even though Garrett Graves in February of 2008 agreed to cease pursuing projects that could cause a conflict of interest, Evans-Graves kept receiving lucrative contracts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, CPRA’s primary partner. And while Garrett Graves did not actually sign the contracts, his agency did set priorities for the state on corps-related work.

“I said from the beginning there was a potential conflict of interest, and apparently that fell on deaf ears,” said John Graves when the issue first arose more than six years ago. Jindal’s office professed to know nothing of the potential conflict.

And even though Garrett Graves was working for the state and his father’s company was receiving millions of dollars in contracts with the Corps of Engineers through Garrett Graves’ agency, Garrett Graves was given a Toyota Tundra truck by the elder graves in 2009, a clear violation of state ethics rules against state employees accepting gifts from vendors.

And while Evans-Graves was receiving millions of dollars in CPRA-approved contracts with the Corps of Engineers, Evans-Graves was subcontracting nearly $66.5 million in work to 18 construction and contract companies, compared to only $3.5 million prior to Garrett Graves’ appointment. Those 18 subcontractors have combined to contribute more than $250,000 to Graves’ congressional campaign.

Additionally, 11 of those 18 companies, along with corporate officers and family members, have combined to contribute nearly $316,000 to various political campaigns of Jindal.

Here is the list of subcontractors and the amounts they and/or their corporate officers and families contributed to Jindal:

  • Daybrook Fisheries—$1,000;
  • Industrial Specialty Contractors—$29,500;
  • Bollinger Shipyards—$65,850;
  • Major Equipment and Remediation—$50,000;
  • Arkel Constructors—$4,500;
  • Delta Launch Services—$11,000;
  • Cajun Constructors—$52,000;
  • Coastal Environments—$30,500;
  • Performance Contractors—$41,500;
  • H. Fenstermaker & Associates—$20,500;

JNB Operating—$5,000.

And now Garrett Graves just wants to move back into his $800,000 home in D.C.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal, with the signing of House Bill 799, has continued his assault on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E), underscoring the importance and power of special interest money over the welfare of the state.

HB 799, authored by Rep. Stuart J. Bishop (R-Lafayette), bars the Louisiana attorney general from hiring plaintiff attorneys on a contingency-fee basis to pursue litigation against corporations like Chinese dry wall manufacturers responsible for millions of dollars in damages to new homes in Louisiana, pharmaceutical companies accused of price fraud at the wholesale level and of selling pharmaceutical products not approved by the federal government, companies found to be improperly handling underground storage tanks, or tobacco companies whose seven top executives (to evermore be known as the “seven dwarves”) lied under oath to Congress in saying nicotine was not addictive.

Bishop cited fees of $51.4 million paid state-contracted attorneys in a case against the pharmaceutical industry that resulted in a $285 million verdict. That computes to a fee of about 18 percent as compared to the 30 percent norm usually charged by attorneys hired on contingency.

A $235.7 million settlement of another pharmaceutical case resulted in attorney fees of $46.6 million, or 19.7 percent. The Coalition for Common Sense, a group describing itself as committed to a fair legal climate said another portion of that settlement went to repay two-thirds of the state’s Medicaid expenses. The coalition said that bumped the legal fees up to 34.2 percent, but without further clarification, it seems difficult to equate Medicaid fees to legal fees. That would seem to come under the purview of Jindal’s continued mismanagement of the state’s Medicaid program.

In yet another case, attorneys, including Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s campaign treasurer and other contributors, received $4 million in fees, or 9.4 percent, of a $42.5 million case.

Granted, it doesn’t look good for Caldwell’s campaign treasurer to receive a contract but the obvious question is how is that any different than Jindal’s former executive counsel Jimmy Faircloth getting contracts to represent the state in one losing case after another—at fees which now exceed $1 million?

Jindal’s penchant for protecting the oil companies, who have contributed more than $1 million to his various campaigns, is by now well-known. His largesse has even extended to BP which may have negated pending claims against the company for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill that killed 11 men and pumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

The fact that the governor’s brother works for BP, of course, had nothing to do with Jindal’s decision to sign Senate Bill 469 by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) which killed the SLFPA-E lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for damages inflicted to Louisiana’s coastline and marshlands. SB 469 also made the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was nipped in the bud.

(Allain, by the way, was the one who slipped that $2 million appropriation into the 2013 Capital Outlay Bill to renovate the third floor of an old elementary school in Franklin for conversion to a museum to house the archives of former Gov. Mike Foster who will now become the only governor in Louisiana history to have his archives housed in something other than a university library.)

Jindal, in signing SB 469 into law, said the law would stop “unnecessary frivolous lawsuits.”

Allain, also invoking the “frivolous lawsuit” catch phrase, also said if allowed to stand, it would “hurt jobs.”

Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton), who lobbied for the bill and who has been the beneficiary of more than $600,000 in oil and gas campaign contributions, said, “This bill keeps a rogue agency from misrepresenting this state and trying to raise money through illegal actions.”

Perhaps Sen. Adley should take a long inward look at misrepresenting the state and raising campaign money through legal but questionable means.

Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs called Jindal’s signing of the bill “a huge victory for the oil and gas industry.”

You think?

What all three men seem to have overlooked is that when companies that traditionally reap billions in quarterly profits each year walk away from their responsibilities to repair damage they inflict on the environment in their non-stop quest for even more profits, then sometimes those “greedy lawyers” need to step up and hold these companies accountable.

And of course there was SB 667 which neutered the so-called “legacy lawsuits” over environmental damage from oil and gas companies’ tendency to walk away from well sites on private property without bothering to restore the property to its original condition.

And let’s never forget that a priority of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is to oppose environmental protections, be they EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases or legacy lawsuits. At the top of ALEC’s membership list in leading the fight against environmental laws, and the rights to hold corporations legally accountable are such familiar corporations as Exxon/Mobil, BP, Chevron, Shell and, of course, Koch Industries.

At least two of those legacy lawsuits succeeded before SB 667 was signed into law by Jindal.

  • The first, a $76 million award, was litigated by Lake Charles attorney J. Michael Veron on behalf of family members whose property was heavily polluted—and subsequently abandoned—by Shell Oil. Veron authored a book entitled Shell Game about the litigation. In the book, he describes in detail how he was called into then-Gov. Foster’s office and lectured to like a misbehaving schoolboy. Despite the heavy pressure from Foster, Veron persisted and eventually won.

Foster, of course, is the one responsible for our present predicament: he discovered Jindal—“the smartest man I ever met,” he said—and appointed him head of the Department of Health and Hospitals at the tender age of 24.

  • The second case was that of Bill Doré, retired chairman of Global Industries of Sulphur. Doré made a fortune from the Southwest Louisiana oil patch but when he purchased Cameron Meadows in Cameron Parish with the intent of constructing a hunting lodge, he discovered the land had been polluted by oil companies to such an extent that alligator, fish and other wildlife populations had dwindled significantly and that wherever he stepped on the property, oil and brine would ooze to the surface. He sued Exxon/Mobil whose executives promptly summoned him to Houston for a come to Jesus meeting at which they informed him that if he continued on his quixotic quest, he would lose valuable Exxon/Mobil business. He more or less told the Exxon/Mobil suits what they could do with their business, which amounted to some $37 million over the years. He reminded them that because Exxon, the richest company on earth, insisted on such rigid contract firms by forcing vendors to accept smaller margins as the cost of doing volume business with them, Global had actually lost $7 million on its Exxon/Mobil business. Represented by New Orleans attorney Gladstone Jones, the same attorney representing SLPFA-E, Doré won a $57 million judgment against the giant oil company.

In an interesting side bar to the story, a small Cameron café catered the meals for both sides and the jurors during the protracted Doré trial. Attorneys for both sides agreed to split the cost of having meals for both sides. Following the two-week trial and after each side had paid its share of the costs, Doré’s legal team gave the café’s staff a $1,000 tip. The tip from attorneys for Exxon/Mobil was $20—almost as if the café’s staff was responsible for the adverse verdict.

So now, it comes full circle.

The SLPFA-E board, stacked with Jindal appointees after he replaced rebel John Barry, the leading proponent of the litigation, voted 4-4 last week on a motion to withdraw the suit. While a majority was required for passage, it appears to be academic. Jindal’s signing of SB 469 would seem to ring the death knell for any future legal action.

So now, the state is virtually powerless to seek remediation for damages done to our coastline such as that depicted in this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaW1DomWRk4

Greedy lawyers? Frivolous lawsuits?

So, where does all that special interest money we alluded to in the first paragraph come in?

Well, LouisianaVoice has already provided an itemized list of oil and gas industry contributions to each of the state’s 144 legislators that totals more than $5.2 million and we earlier cited contributions to Jindal in excess of $1 million from the same industry.

But how did the contributions break out on the House and Senate votes on the infamous SB 469?

We’re glad you asked. We’ve done the math for you.

In the senate, the 25 senators who voted in favor of the bill killing the SLPFA-E litigation received $1.99 million from oil and gas interests, or an average of $79,664 each.

The 11 who voted against killing the lawsuit combined to receive $591,000, or $53,769 each—a difference of nearly $26,000 each.

Now let’s stroll across the Capitol Rotunda to the House side where vote-buying is a little less expensive, more economical if you will.

The 59 members who voted in favor of SB 469 combined to rake in $1.885 million, or just a tad under $32,000 each while the 39 nay votes took in $889,281 between them, or an average take of $23,402, a difference of about $9,600 each.

Moreover, during debate on SB 469, the State Capitol was swarming with lobbyists from BP, which stood to benefit mightily from passage of the bill.

So, you see, it’s really pretty evident that money—lots of it—tends to flow freely in the Capitol and its influence is completely out of kilter with the intent of a democratic republic. We no longer have a representative government for the people but a representative government for those who can wave the most money under the noses of our elected officials.

As one legislator who, for obvious reasons, shall remain anonymous as to his name, the area of the state he represents and even the chamber in which he sits, said in a recent email to a constituent:

“When a fella has the oil and gas lobbyists, the LABI lobbyists, and the governor’s office all on the same team and wanting you to be on the same team, well, it was a challenging last few days of the session.  I thought then, and I still hold the belief, that this is a bad bill (now a law since Gov. Jindal has now signed it) and sets a horrible precedent.  Again, this administration has assured another legal challenge to a law it supported and I expect a lawsuit to be filed before long.

“I appreciate your taking time to send me your email.  When I was down there surrounded by many who were interested in me only for the vote of the moment, expressions such as yours remind me of my commitment to the good people of the district I serve and confirms that, in the face of all those present in the Capitol during the session, I was sent there to represent those who can’t be there.”

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Another survey is out that ranks Louisiana as number one in the nation but it’s not very likely that the results will appear on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s feel-good blog and perhaps not on the web page of his biggest cheerleader, the Baton Rouge Business Report.

Liz Farmer and Kevin Tidmarsh, writing for Governing magazine penned an eye-opening story which we apparently failed to properly attribute. Though we did make a point of including the link to their article, which we felt made it abundantly clear that we were not claiming the work as our own and were citing them—through inclusion of the link to their story—as our source, they nonetheless felt we should have done more to identify them as the authors. By simply including the link to Governing, we apparently did not go far enough in proper attribution and for that we apologize because they did a superb job in identifying the problem of money and politics.

In their story, they cited a report by the Public Administration Review that details states’ corruption risks, accountability practices and related laws puts Louisiana at the top of the list of states for public corruption. http://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/state-public-corruption-convictions-data.html

The report, released on Monday (June 9), also shows that states with higher levels of corruption are able to shape budget allocations and that they have a propensity to spend more money on capital outlay projects than for health and education.

Construction projects provide greater opportunity for the misappropriation of public funds for personal gain than expenditures on health, education and welfare, the study says.

The report provides an in-depth review of how some states showed progress while others remain behind the curve in mitigating corruption. Louisiana, with 384 public corruption convictions between 2001 and 2010, is far ahead of the pack both in terms of convictions per 100,000 population (8.5), and convictions per 10,000 public employees (10.5).

By contrast, Oregon (1.2) and Kansas (1.3) had the lowest rates of convictions per 10,000 public employees.

And though Pennsylvania and New Jersey had more convictions (542 and 429, respectively), their rate of corruption convictions per 10,000 public employees was less than Louisiana (7.1 for Pennsylvania and 6.7 for New Jersey). Neither Pennsylvania nor New Jersey appeared among the worst 10 states for the number of convictions per 100,000 population, the report shows.

Louisiana’s 384 total convictions during the 10-year period ranked behind Texas (697), California (679), Florida (674), New York (589), Pennsylvania (542), Ohio (495) and New Jersey (429), but with a considerably smaller population base than those states, Louisiana’s conviction rate was much higher.

“If levels of convictions are high, that’s a sample of the climate of the state, said Indiana University’s John Mikesell, who co-authored the report with Cheol Liu of the University of Hong Kong. “The convictions are just the ones who got caught. If there’re a lot of convictions, there’re probably a bunch that haven’t been caught.”

Among the higher profile convictions in Louisiana during the first decade of this century were former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, former Sen. William Jefferson, former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, and Mandeville Mayor Eddie Price.

In what should have been of particular embarrassment to the state, in December of 2010, the U.S. Senate closed out the decade by convicting Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of Federal District Court in Louisiana on four articles of impeachment and removed him from the bench, the first time the Senate has ousted a federal judge in more than two decades. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/09/us/politics/09judge.html?_r=0

 Judge Porteous, the eighth federal judge to be removed from office in this manner, was impeached by the House in March on four articles stemming from charges that he received cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, used a false name to elude creditors and intentionally misled the Senate during his confirmation proceedings.

Additionally, Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan announced his resignation in November of 2007 after what one observer called “almost five insufferable years in office.”  His resignation ended a tenure marked by a perceived failure to prosecute violent criminals, a jury verdict ruling that he racially discriminated against white employees, a seizure of the office’s assets and disruption of his staff’s salaries—all capped off when a robbery suspect fled to Jordan’s Algiers house only to then become a suspect in the shooting of a New Orleans police officer. http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/10/sources_talks_underway_for_jor.html

U.S. Sen. David Vitter dropped out of the 2003 gubernatorial race after reports surfaced of a relationship with a prostitute. He was elected to the Senate two years later but in 2007, his number appeared on telephone records belonging to Deborah Jeane Palfrey who was convicted in 2008 for running a high-end prostitution ring. He is an announced candidate for governor in the 2015 race.

And then there is Mr. Clean himself, Gov. Bobby Jindal, who attracted huge monetary contributions for a foundation run by his wife, Supriya Jindal, many of those from oil and gas companies. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/03/us/politics/03jindal.html?pagewanted=all

Those investments—and make no mistake, political campaign  contributions are just that: investments—paid off in spades last week when Jindal signed SB 469, pushed by another recipient of mega-contributions from oil and gas interests, Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton). SB 469 killed a lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) that sought to force 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies to restore the damage they inflicted on Louisiana’s wetlands through decades of abuse to the Louisiana coastal lands.

Farmer and Tidmarsh interviewed several sources for their story that says what we all know but which too often goes unreported.

“Legal corruption” they wrote, is even greater, according to Chuck Thies, a Washington, D.C., political consultant who said the “wink, wink, nod, nod” culture of campaign finance often runs right up to the line of bribery. http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-corruption-politics-spending-study.html

Thies said an example of that would be a contractor who is lobbying a politician for approval of his project. The politician, who is running for reelection, approaches the contractor to ask for a campaign contribution.

“It’s that simple,” Thies said. “It happens all the time. The savvy person knows not to say, ‘If I do my ($5,000), will you authorize my (contract)?’ But (both) know exactly that’s what just transpired.”

When one follows the money into the campaign coffers of Louisiana’s most powerful politicians, it becomes a simple matter to understand in unmistakable terms just how much money runs—indeed, corrupts—the political process. The $10 and $25 contributor has little chance in being heard over the roar of the $5 million that oil and gas companies poured into the campaigns of the state’s 144 legislators and another $1 million that was funneled to Jindal.

Easily available campaign contributions allow legislators to enjoy the perks of eating at the finest restaurants, buy gasoline for personal vehicles, hiring family members as campaign “workers,” and purchasing luxury boxes at LSU, Saints, and Pelicans games, ostensibly for “entertaining” constituents.

So when those contributors come calling, as they most surely will, what legislator—or governor—is going to stand up to the special interests?

When lobbyists outnumber legislators by a 5-1 ratio, it becomes difficult for John Q. Citizen to squeeze his way into the conversation.

It all comes down to who our elected officials really represent, and the answer is obvious—and not pretty.

Louisiana fits the profile perfectly in that it killed Medicaid expansion that would have provided expanded health care access to the state’s indigent citizens while the legislature passed a $5.6 billion construction budget that includes sports complexes, golf courses, local road projects, fish hatcheries, and non-government agencies—all at a time when the state is in dire financial straits.

The classic shakedown can also encourage the culture of corruption while discouraging those who attempt to play by the rules.

A north Louisiana contractor has a lawsuit pending against the State of Louisiana and the Department of Transportation and Development for just such an alleged shakedown attempt by state employees that he said ultimately put him out of business because he refused to go along with the efforts to extract payoffs from him.

And there’s no incentive in spending time and money on a bid when the winning bidder has already bought political sufficient influence to “win” the contract or when the bid specifications have been written in such a way as to qualify a single bidder.

Several years ago in north Louisiana, a parish police jury wanted to purchase a used bulldozer. But not just any used bulldozer; police jury members had already spotted the one they wanted. The answer? The police jury advertised for bids in its legal journal, the local newspaper. Included in the bid specifications along with the make, year and horsepower was….the serial number.

It’s all part of the process that we call Louisiana politics.

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