Business Wire, an online business news publication and part of Warren Buffett’s vast Berkshire Hathaway Company, posted an interesting story on Tuesday (July 12) that, thanks to our friend and sometimes contributing writer Stephen Winham, prompted LouisianaVoice to dive into our ubiquitous resource of public records.
What we found was of considerable interest.
It seems that our former governor was/is not above accepting generous campaign contributions from those doing business with the State of Louisiana.
But we knew that already as evidenced by the scores of stories we’ve posted on this site about his cozy financial relationship with vendors.
But then on Tuesday, Business Wire posted a story from Katy, Texas, announcing that Cotton Holdings, Inc. “is pleased to announce that it has added Bobby Jindal, the 55th Governor of the State of Louisiana, to the Board of Directors.”
Okay, so what’s the big deal? Lots of politicians retire from office only to (a) join some lobbyist firm at an enormous salary, (b) join the public speaking circuit at incredibly high fees, or (c) join some corporate board of directors at an obscenely huge salary.
Former presidents George Bush the Elder and Bill Clinton capitalized in a big way on the speaking tour, pocketing millions of dollars. Former President Gerald Ford accepted high-paying positions on the boards of 20th Century-Fox, Primerica, and American Express. Gen. Douglas MacArthur joined the Rand Corp. board after being fired by President Truman.
Truman, on the other hand, refused to play the game. He consistently rejected offers to make commercial endorsements, to engage in lobbying, or to accept “consulting fees.” Offered a position on a corporate board, he is said to have tersely replied, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the president, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.”
The accuracy of that quote has never been verified, but he did write in his 1960 book, Mr. Citizen: “I turned down all of those offers. I knew that they were not interested in hiring Harry Truman, the person, but what they wanted to hire was the former President of the United States. I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and the dignity of the office of the Presidency.”
Not so, apparently, with “Mr. Ethics,” the man who claims to have given Louisiana the “gold standard” of good government.
Here’s what Pete Bell, founder and CEO of Cotton Holdings, had to say about his firm’s newest director:
“Having known and worked with Bobby (first name basis, wouldn’t you know?) over the past several years, I am very pleased to now have him join the board as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the company…I am confident that Bobby’s vast expertise and depth of knowledge of government, coupled with his extensive commercial experience (what!!!???), will add tremendous value to the company and, ultimately, our shareholders.”
Jindal’s “extensive commercial experience” consists of approximately 11 months’ employment with McKinsey & Co. It’s the only time he has worked in the private sector in his entire life. Bobby must have crammed a lot of his “extensive commercial experience” into those 11 months.
Cotton Holdings Board Chairman Naveen Bhatia added, “We are excited to expand the board of Cotton with another world-class director with specific domain expertise and who will continue to drive the growth of our various businesses. Whether it is his experience in attracting $60 billion of private capital to Louisiana, including the petrochemical industry which is a growth engine for Cotton, or his operational expertise across our business lines, our board and management are looking forward to having a problem solver (snicker, chortle, guffaw) of Bobby’s caliber joining the team and assisting in our continued goal of maximizing shareholder value.”
Headquartered in Katy, Cotton Holdings is an infrastructure support services firm which provides property restoration and recovery construction, roofing, consulting, temporary workforce staffing and housing and culinary services to public and private entities throughout the U.S. in support of disaster events and complex work environments of the petrochemical and oil and gas industries, the Business Wire news release says.
So, how is it that Cotton founder Pete Bell has “known and worked with Bobby over the past several years”?
That’s what we at LouisianaVoice wanted to know and rule number one is to always follow the money. Rule two: see rule one.
Well, it turns out that Cotton had a couple of pretty nice CONTRACTS with the State of Louisiana. Together, the two contracts totaled more than $2.2 million.
The larger of the two contracts was for $1.965 million but we were unable to check the dates of that expired contract since the state’s Web page for state contracts would not allow access to the details of that contract. The smaller contract, however, for $295,453, did allow access and revealed that the contract was for just 22 days in 2006. It called for mold remediation in a building at Delgado Community College in New Orleans.
In checking campaign finance records, we also find that four Cotton BOARD OFFICERS’ campaign contributions to Jindal’s state political campaigns totaled more than $29,500 between January 2007 and October 2012—after the smaller of the two contracts was awarded, it should be noted. But even though Jindal had no hand in awarding at least one of the contracts, classified employees are prohibited by the State Ethics Commission from accepting the smallest of gifts from vendors, so why should that same rule not apply to elected officials?
Records reveal that Bell contributed $5,000 on Oct. 8, 2009. CFO Bryan Michalsky and COO Randall Thompson gave $5,000 each the following day. Two weeks later Bhatia chipped in $5,000 to go with the $4,000 he gave on Sept. 5, 2007; the $3,000 contributed in cash and an additional $1,594.28 in in-kind contributions (food for a campaign event) on Oct. 25, 2012, and $1,000 on Jan. 31, 2007.
Because we are unable to access the larger contract to determine the beginning and end dates, it is impossible to determine whether that contract or the campaign contributions came first.
The campaign contributions aside, has Jindal hung a “For Sale” sign on the governor’s office as he did several state agencies during his tenure? Apparently so.
Unlike Truman, he has shown no reluctance in capitalizing on and profiting from his eight disastrous years as governor. Even as the bankrupt state struggles to overcome his wholesale carnage and to provide needed services to its citizens, this self-anointed paragon of virtue finds ways to reap financial rewards for himself. We submitted a request to Cotton for his salary as the company’s newest board member but to no one’s surprise, there was no response. Funny how eager Cotton was to get the announcement out on Bobby’s appointment but is suddenly silent on his compensation package.
How many other board positions has Jindal accepted since leaving office? How many others will he accept in the future? Who knows? We’ve already seen that he is a shameless opportunist. Cotton may well be not the only corporate entity eager to bring Jindal on board to prostitute the office of governor; it may just be the only one to make a public announcement.
We will probably never see another congressman like former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, who holds the record for the longest tenure as House Speaker (17 years), started out in the Texas Legislature. He was a member of the Steger, Thurmond and Rayburn Law Firm at the time and while serving, he refused to accept fees from clients with interests before the legislature because he said was a servant of the people of Fannin County. Later, as a member of Congress, a wealthy oil man delivered an expensive horse to Rayburn’s farm in Bonham, Texas. Though only the two men and a Rayburn staff member knew about it, Rayburn promptly returned the horse. He always paid his own travel expenses—even on a trip to the Panama Canal when his committee was considering legislation concerning the canal.
When he died in 1961, his entire estate was valued at just under $300,000, most of which was land he owned. The amount of cash that he had in various checking accounts was just over $26,000. Compare that to Jindal, who became a multi-millionaire during his brief, three-year stint in Congress and who owns home in a gated Baton Rouge community valued at almost a million dollars.
All of which should make each of us sit back and wonder whatever became of the idealistic, patriotic concept of public service? Why do our elected officials—Billy Tauzin, Bennett Johnston, Bob Livingston, Richard Baker, John Breaux (to name only former Louisiana politicians)—use their positions of public trust as a springboard to greater wealth and power as professional lobbyists whose duty it seems to be to work for the enrichment of their corporate clients as opposed to the benefit of their former constituents?
Worse yet, why do we as the taxpaying citizens allow it? Why is it there has been no groundswell of public sentiment for strict, binding laws prohibiting the seamless transition from congressman to paid corporate whore?
We didn’t create the monster but we certainly allowed our representatives to worship at the altar of greed and influence and to grow into the destructive agents they have become.
And now you can add your knight in tarnished armor, Piyush Jindal, to that ever-growing list of non-official hogs at the public trough.