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Two months ago, when the Federal Communications Commission allotted $8 million to expand broadband Internet access in rural Louisiana areas, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu was quick to praise, perhaps a bit prematurely, the “investment” while Gov. Bobby Jindal remained uncharacteristically silent.

Despite Landrieu’s laudatory claim that the funds would “upgrade the digital infrastructure in rural communities,” the $8 million represented only 10 percent of an $80 million grant for Louisiana that was rescinded in October of 2011 because of Jindal’s aversion to what then Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater deemed a “top-down, government-heavy approach that would compete with and undermine, rather than partner with the private sector…”

What Rainwater—and through him, his boss, Jindal—did not acknowledge is that the Jindal administration’s obsession with protecting the private sector at the expense of broadband Internet service to customers in the rural areas of the central and northeastern parts of the state was part of the 12-year-old official position staked out by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in August of 2002. http://alecexposed.org/w/images/6/6f/9A15-Municipal_Telecommunications_Private_Industry_Safeguards_Act_Exposed.pdf

Also ignored by the Jindal administration—and ALEC—is that broadband service in the U.S. is woefully inadequate when compared with countries like South Korea, Japan and even Portugal and Italy. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/competition-and-the-internet/

And it’s even worse in the country’s rural areas. http://deltafarmpress.com/blog/broadband-service-rural-areas-promise-still-exceeds-reality

No doubt you’ve seen those cute AT&T commercials featuring the man sitting at a table with children. He asks a question and gets feedback from the kids and the commercial ends with, “It’s not complicated.”

Indeed it is not. In 2008, Jindal’s very first year as governor, he signed SB-807 into law as Act 433 over the objections of the Louisiana Municipal and State Police Jury associations. The bill, the Consumer Choice for Television Act, was authored by then-Sen. Ann Duplessis (D-New Orleans). It passed the Senate by a 34-1 vote with only Dale Erdy (R-Livingston) voting no. Absent and not voting were Sens. Robert Adley (R-Benton), Jody Amedee (R-Gonzales) and Sheri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville).

AT&T, which contributed $10,000 to Jindal’s campaign since 2007, supported the bill. AT&T also contributed $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children.

It’s not complicated.

It also passed overwhelmingly in the House by a 94-9 vote. The only members casting no-votes were Reps. James Armes (D-Leesville), Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport), Greg Cromer (R-Slidell), Jean Doerge (D-Minden), Ricky Hardy (D-Lafayette), Lowell Hazel (R-Pineville), Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), Sam Jones (D-Franklin), and Chris Roy (D-Alexandria). Rep. James Morris (R-Oil City) was absent and did not vote.

The only ALEC member to go against the official doctrine was Carmody. He attended ALEC’s 2010 annual meeting in San Diego at which the organization’s Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force passed an official resolution in potential opposition to private telephone and cable companies by public bodies such as city councils and parish governments. https://louisianavoice.com/2012/05/09/could-loss-of-that-80-6-million-broadband-internet-federal-grant-last-fall-have-been-deliberately-orchestrated-by-alec/

Other members of the Louisiana Legislature who attended that meeting included Reps. John LaBruzzo (R-Metairie), Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), Tim Burns (R-Mandeville), State Chairman Joe Harrison (R-Gray), Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte) and Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge).

Act 433 well may even have been written by AT&T, which is a member of ALEC and a member of ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force. AT&T chipped in $50,000 to the ALEC cause in 2010 and was a member of the Louisiana Host Committee for ALEC’s 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans. Jindal was the recipient of ALEC’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award at that 2012 meeting. http://www.alec.org/hundreds-of-state-legislators/

It’s not complicated.

And lest one think that Louisiana’s loss of the $80 million broadband grant in 2011 was the exception, consider this:

  • Early this year, the Kansas Legislature undertook Campaign Stop Google Fiber—and any cities that may wish to invest in broadband network technologies. Included in legislation introduced in the legislature were stipulations that except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not themselves offer to provide or lease, construct, maintain or operate any facility for the purpose of allowing a private entity to offer, provide, carry or deliver video, telecommunications or broadband service. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/01/30/1273848/-Kansas-moves-to-Stop-Broadband-Internet-to-residents?detail=email
  • In February of 2011, the Minnesota Cable Communications Association (MCCA) initiated a public battle with National Public Broadband (NPB) by inundating Lake County with a flurry of public records request designed to slow NPB’s efforts to bring broadband Internet to rural areas of Lake County.

While MCCA correctly asserts that Lake County should act transparently, the barrage of requests submitted by the association makes its intent to protect its own financial interests over those of rural residents of the county is quite apparent. Its monopoly is, after all, being threatened and those cable services that are overpriced and which provide as little speed as possible are fighting back.

Certainly it’s only coincidental that AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Excel Communications, Fair Point Communications, Sprint Nextel, Verizon, and Cox Communications are members of ALEC. All but Excel and Fair Point serve on ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ALEC_Corporations.

It’s not complicated.

So, given Jindal’s cozy relationship with ALEC and given ALEC’s opposition to public participation in expanding broadband Internet service to rural areas in competition with ALEC members, it’s perfectly understandable why Jindal eschewed that “top-down” management of the $80 million grant.

It’s not complicated.

And it is equally apparent that the monopolistic advantage enjoyed by private sector providers be protected at all cost—even at the cost of creating some 900 miles of cable over 21 rural parishes that would support several Louisiana universities with expanded optical fiber networking capacity.

It’s not complicated.

Top-down management apparently is good only when it originates from the fourth floor of the State Capitol. Just ask any legislator, former state employee, or board or commission member who has dared to contradict him on any issue.

It’s not complicated.

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The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may have suffered a mass exodus of sorts in the wake of its Stand Your Ground mantra that led to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, but ALEC is far too strong to let a few defections stand in the way of its political agenda in such areas as public education (even to borrowing from John White’s playbook), weakening workers’ rights, diluting environmental protections, healthcare and now even in the way U.S. senators are nominated and elected.

For that reason alone, the upcoming legislative session which begins at noon on March 10—less than two months from now—will bear close watching for any bills that might appear to have originated at ALEC’s States & Nation Policy Summit last month in Washington, D.C.

ALEC, while striving to change laws to meld with its agenda, nevertheless denies that it is a lobbying organization. That way, corporations and individuals who underwrite ALEC financially are able to claim robust tax write-offs for funding ALEC and its companion organization, the State Policy Network (SPN).

ALEC has a strong presence in Louisiana. Former legislator Noble Ellington, now a deputy commissioner in the Louisiana Department of Insurance, is a former national president of the organization and Gov. Bobby Jindal was recipient of its Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award a couple of years ago when ALEC held its national conference in New Orleans.

Current Louisiana legislators who are members of ALEC are:

House of Representatives:

  • Rep. John Anders (D-Vidalia), Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force;
  • Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans),      attended 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting;
  • Rep. Timothy G. Burns (R-Mandeville), Civil Justice Task Force Alternate;
  • Rep. George “Greg” Cromer (R-Slidell), State Chairman, Civil Justice Task Force (announced he was resigning from ALEC and from his position as Alec state chairman of Louisiana on April 17, 2012);
  • Rep. James R. Fannin (R-Jonesboro), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Franklin J. Foil (R-Baton Rouge), Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Rep. Brett F. Geymann (R-Lake Charles), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Rep. Johnny Guinn (R-Jennings);
  • Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray), State Chairman, member of Education Task Force; (solicited funds for “ALEC Louisiana      Scholarship Fund” on state stationery July 2, 2012);
  • Rep. Cameron Henry, Jr. (R-Metairie), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Bob Hensgens (R-Abbeville);
  • Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R-West Monroe), ALEC Education Task Force;
  • Rep. Girod Jackson (D-Marrero), (resigned last August after being charged with fraud);
  • Rep. Harvey LeBas (D-Ville Platte),  ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force;
  • Rep. Walter Leger, III (D-New Orleans), ALEC Education Task Force;
  • Rep. Joe Lopinto (R-Metairie), (attended 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting where he spoke on “Saving Dollars and Protecting Communities: State Successes in Corrections Policy”);
  • Rep. Nicholas J. Lorusso (R-New Orleans), ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force;
  • Rep. Erich Ponti (R-Baton Rouge;
  • Rep. John M. Schroder, Sr. (R-Covington), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport);
  • Rep. Scott M. Simon (R-Abita Springs), ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force;
  • Rep. Thomas Willmott (R-Kenner), ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force;

Senate:

  • Sen. John A. Alario, Jr.(R-Westwego), ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force;
  • Sen. Jack L. Donahue, Jr. (R-Mandeville), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force member;
  • Sen. Dale Erdey (R-Livingston); Health and Human Services Task Force;
  • Sen. Daniel R. Martiny (R-Metairie); Public Safety and Elections Task Force;
  • Sen. Fred H. Mills, Jr. (R-New Iberia), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force member;
  • Sen. Ben Nevers, Sr. (D-Bogalusa), ALEC Education Task Force member;
  • Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Sen. Gary L. Smith, Jr. (R-Norco), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi)
  • Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, Jr. (R-Central), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force.

All ALEC meetings are held under tight security behind closed doors. During one recent conference, a reporter was not only barred from attending the meeting, but was actually not allowed into the hotel where the event was being held.

Apparently, there is good reason for that. It is at these conferences that ALEC members meet with state legislators to draft “model” laws for legislators to take back to their states for introduction and, hopefully, passage. Some of the bills being considered for 2014 are particularly noteworthy.

We won’t know which proposals were ultimately approved at that December meeting in Washington, however, because of the secrecy in which the meetings are held. We will know only if and when they are introduced as bills in the upcoming legislative session. But they should be easy to recognize.

One which will be easy to recognize is ALEC’s push for implementation of Louisiana’s Course Choice Program in other states. Course Choice, overseen by our old friend Lefty Lefkowith, is a “mini-voucher” program which lets high school students take free online classes if their regular schools do not offer it or if their schools have been rated a C, D or F by the state.

Course Choice has been beset by problems in Louisiana since its inception first when companies offering classes under the program began canvassing neighborhoods to recruit students and then signing them up without their knowledge or permission. Vendors offering the courses were to be paid half the tuition up front and the balance upon students’ graduation, making it a win-win for the vendors in that it didn’t really matter if students completed the courses for the companies to be guaranteed half the tuition. Moreover, there was no oversight built into the program that would ensure students actually completed the courses, thus making it easy for companies to ease students through the courses whether or not they actually performed the work necessary to obtain a grade. The Louisiana Supreme Court, however ruled the funding mechanism for Course Choice from the state’s Minimum Foundation Program unconstitutional.

Three other education proposals by ALEC appear to also borrow from the states of Utah. The first, the Early Intervention Program Act, is based on Utah’s 2012 law which has profited ALEC member Imagine Learning by diverting some $2 million in tax money from public schools to private corporations. But Imagine Learning did not offer test scores for the beginning and ending of the use of its software, little is known of what, if any, benefits students might have received. The Student Achievement Backpack Act and the Technology-Based Reading Intervention for English Learners Act also appear to be based on Utah’s education reform laws.

The former provides access to student data in a “cloud-based” electronic portal format and was inspired by Digital Learning Now, a project of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education when he was Florida’s governor.

Not all of ALEC’s proposals address public education.

For example, do you like to know the country of origin of the food you place on your table? More than 90 percent of American consumers want labels telling them where their meat, fruits, vegetables and fish are from, according to polling data. ALEC, though, is resisting implementation of what it calls “additional regulations and requirements for our meat producers and processors,” including those that would label countries of origin.

ALEC’s “Punitive Damages Standards Act” and the accompanying “Noneconomic Damage Awards Act” would make it more difficult to hold corporations accountable or liable when their products or practices result in serious harm or injury.

The organization’s “Medicaid Block Grant Act” seeks federal authorization to fund state Medicaid programs through a block grant or similar funding, a move that would cut Medicaid funding by as much as 75 percent. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has pushed similar block grant systems for Medicaid in several of his budget proposals.

In what has to qualify as a “WTF” proposal, ALEC for the second straight year is seeking approval of a bill to end licensing, certification and specialty certification for doctors and other medical professionals as requirements to practice medicine in the respective states and to prohibit states from funding the Federation of State Medical Boards.

Then there is the “Equal State’s Enfranchisement Act,” which is considered an assault of sorts on the 17th Amendment. For more than a century, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures, a practice which often led to deadlocks and stalemates, leaving Senate seats open for months on end. But 101 years ago, in 1913, the 17th Amendment was ratified, changing the method of choosing senators to popular vote by the citizenry.

While ALEC’s proposal doesn’t mean full repeal of the 17th Amendment, it does mean that in addition to other candidates, legislatures would be able to add their own candidates’ names to ballots for senate seats. ALEC, apparently, is oblivious or unconcerned with a national poll that shows 71 percent of voters prefer electing senators by popular vote.

To keep track of these and other ALEC bills introduced in the upcoming session, just keep an eye on the member legislators and the bills they file.

And keep reading LouisianaVoice.

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Apparently Arkansas has ethics laws that are a bit stronger than those in Louisiana.

Lt. Gov. Mark Darr announced last week that he will resign, effective Feb. 1, in a move to avoid impeachment by the Arkansas House of Representatives after he was fined for 11 separate counts that included his personal use of more than $30,000 in campaign funds.

Earlier this year, Democratic State Sen. Paul Bookout also resigned after he was fined $8,000 by the State Ethics Commission for using thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal purchases.

In that case, reports totaling more than 35 pages revealed that Bookout spent more than $5,000 alone on clothes and accessories at a Jonesboro, Ark., clothing store.

And then there is Martha Shoffner, the Democratic State Treasurer who resigned last May under pressure from both Democrats and Republicans and who was arrested the following month on 14 counts, including receipt of a bribe and extortion—not quite the same thing as using campaign funds for personal purposes, though we do have a legislator who awarded a $4 million contract to a firm when he was head of a state agency only to resign and go to work for the firm within weeks of signing off on the contract. He apparently continues to represent the company even while now serving in the legislature.

The personal use of campaign funds, while a common practice among Louisiana politicians, is apparently frowned upon in Arkansas to such an extent that even Darr’s fellow Republicans urged him to resign in the wake of his ethics problems.

Darr signed a letter on Dec. 30 in which he agreed to pay the Ethics Commission $11,000 in fines and to reimburse the state for findings in a legislative audit, which said he improperly spent $3,500 on his state credit card and then filed for an equal amount in travel reimbursements.

Remember back on Feb. 10, 2008, when Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Senate Bill 1 into law which, among other things, banned legislators and other state officials from contracting with the state?

SB-1, which became Act 2 with Jindal’s signature, was the centerpiece of the new governor’s agenda (he had been in office little more than a month at the time). “Today, we take the first step towards building a better Louisiana where our ethics laws are the gold standard,” he boasted as he signed the bill.

Well, not so much, it turns out.

Jindal’s “gold standard” removed enforcement from the State Ethics Board and gave it to some creature called the Ethics Adjudicatory Board whereby ethics cases are now heard by administrative law judges. Enforcement became such a joke that 10 ethics board members, including its chairman and vice-chairman resigned in disgust.

Today, we have a Teach for America (TFA) director serving on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) which administers funding for TFA, the BESE president voting on charter school matters while his sister serves as director of the state charter school association, another BESE member whose company has a multi-million contract with another state agency; a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors voting to turn over operations of the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Hospital in Monroe to a foundation which he serves as CEO.

And worse, no one in a position to take appropriate action appears to want to step up to the plate.

Apparently, that “gold standard” in Louisiana means whoever has the gold sets the standard.

Campaign funds in Louisiana appear to serve as a handy slush fund for legislators who use the money for any purpose they wish—even, in one case, to pay a legislator’s federal income taxes not once, but for four straight years.

Take for example the Louisiana Election Code (Title 18:1505.2-I, paragraph 36 on page 36): “No candidate, political committee, person required to file reports under this chapter, nor any other person shall use a contribution, loan, or transfer of funds to pay a fine, fee or penalty imposed (by the State Ethics Board.)”

Yet The Louisiana Board of Ethics web page lists dozens of individual occasions in which ethics fines were paid with campaign funds. Some of these were paid by political action committees (The Alliance for Good Government paid $1,600 from its campaign funds and the Better Government Political Action Committee paid $5,000 from its campaign funds), some by lobbyists and these, by current or former legislators:

  • Rep. James Armes, III (D-Leesville)—$2,600 (two fines);
  • Rep. Roy Burrell (D-Shreveport)—$2,000;
  • Former House Speaker Charles DeWitt (D-Alexandria)—$5,000;
  • Former Rep. Tom McVea (R-St. Francisville)—$720;
  • Former Sen. Walter Boasso (D-Chalmette)—$1,000;
  • Former Rep. Irma Muse Dixon (D-New Orleans)—$600;
  • Former Rep. Dale Sittig (D-Eunice)—$800;
  • Former Sen. Joel Chaisson, II (D-Destrehan)—$5,000 (two fines);
  • Sen. Richard Gallot (D-Ruston)—$1,000.

But the real eye-opener is the list of more than 50 legislators and former legislators who had expenditures for LSU athletic season and individual game tickets, New Orleans Saints, Sugar Bowl, Jazz/Pelican and NCAA event tickets and in some cases, vehicle leases (including Senate President John Alario, who leased a Jaguar for his use) and gasoline purchases and even federal income tax payments. Here are a few examples of current members of the House and Senate who have dipped into campaign funds to pay for athletic event tickets that total more than $500,000 (car leases, gasoline, travel, parking and other personal expenditures are in parenthesis):

  • Rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans)—$12,200 in 2009, 2011 and 2012 (Abramson also spent an additional $13,563 on legislative travel, airline tickets, Washington, D.C., Mardi Gras events and hotel fees in New York);
  • Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego)—$88,441 in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 on athletic and Jazz Fest tickets, $62,365 in auto lease payments from 2009 through 2012 (Jaguar), another $12,000 for fuel, more than $16,000 in meals during that same time frame, more than $10,000 on entertainment, $13,840 in rent for his Pentagon Barracks apartment in Baton Rouge; $1,200 for cable TV for his Pentagon Barracks apartment;
  • Rep. John Anders (D-Vidalia)—$9,142 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. James Armes, III (D-Leesville)—$11,688 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans)—$3,000 in 2011;
  • Rep. John Berthelot (R-Gonzales)—$7,770, all in 2011;
  • Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville)—$10,798 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Thomas Carmody, Jr. (R-Shreveport)—$11,556 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans)—$3,738 in 2009 and 2010;
  • Sen. Norbert Chabert (R-Houma)—$3,015 in 2010;
  • Rep. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero)—$25,026 (Connick also paid $5,073 in lease payments for an Infiniti automobile in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and also paid $2,107 for lodging at the Baton Rouge Hilton Hotel;
  • Rep. George Cromer (R-Slidell)—$14,228 in 2008 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 (Cromer also paid $1,709 to the Sandestin Hilton on Aug. 3, 2008, for a Louisiana Forestry Association meeting and eight days later paid himself $1,500 for “expenses Hilton Hotel—hotel $969, mileage $285 and food and drink $250” and he paid $1,254 to the Hilton Washington for expenses for the Washington Mardi Gras in January of 2009. He also paid two New Orleans hotels a combined $1,141 for lodging for a legislative retreat and for a freshman retreat. He also paid himself a $500 cash advance for that 2009 Washington Mardi Gras;
  • Rep. Herbert Dixon (D-Alexandria)—$2,750 in 2011 (Dixon also paid $1,593.26 out of his campaign funds for hotel bills in Phoenix, Arizona, and Chicago.);
  • Rep. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles)—$1,500 in 2008 (he paid another $10,500 in rent for a Pentagon Barracks apartment in Baton Rouge);
  • Rep. Hunter Greene (R-Baton Rouge)—$6,394 in 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe)—$11,106 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
  • House Speaker Charles Kleckley (R-Lake Charles)—$17,492 in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte)—$11,316 in 2009, 2020 and 2011;
  • Sen. Dan Martiny (R-Metairie)—$69,529 from 2002 through 2012 (Martiny also spent $12,351 on travel and another $12,976 for rent and furniture for his Pentagon Barracks apartment in Baton Rouge);
  • Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans)—$8,043 in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. James Morris (R-Oil City)—$2,735 in 2009;
  • Sen. Dan Morrish (R-Jennings)—$2,978 in 2009;
  • Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell)—$20,660;
  • Sen. Jonathan Perry (R-Kaplan)—$16,653 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Stephen Pugh (R-Ponchatoula)—$5,900, all in 2011;
  • Rep. Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux)—$2,678 in 2009;
  • Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia)—$2,000 (Riser spent an additional $8,138.84 in 2012 for his personal vehicle, another $6,656.86 for fuel for the vehicle, $1,013.67 to Riser & Son Funeral home—his business—in Columbia for reimbursement for purchase of an I-Pad, and $1,005.72 for insurance coverage on his truck;
  • Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette)—$19,756 in 2004, 2005, 2006 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012;
  • Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington)—$1,708 in 2009;
  • Sen. Gary Smith (R-Gonzales)—$14,952 in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge)—$5,238 in 2008 and 2009;
  • Rep. Roy Burrell (D-Shreveport)—$6,100 in 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero)—$8,448 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
  • Rep. Mike Danahay (D-Sulphur)—$11,386 in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012;
  • Sen Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie)—$7,466 in 2007, 2009 and 2011;
  • Rep. Jack Montoucet (D-Crowley)—1,010 in 2010;
  • Sen. Kevin Pearson (R-Sulphur)—$3.010, all in 2010;
  • Rep. Harold Ritchie (D-Bogalusa)—$810 in 2005;
  • Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport)—$8,075 in 2011 and 2012 (Seabaugh also spent $1,309.74 for a hotel stay for an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Baton Rouge in 2011;
  • Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi)—$11,958 in 2009, 2010 and 2011(Thompson also paid $3,456 for hotel rooms on three trips to Sandestin Beach Golf Resort in 2009, 2010 and 2012, ;$11,958 in gasoline and auto insurance for those same years and $2,725 in dues to the Delhi Country Club and the Black Bear Golf Course. Even more curious, he $11,367 from his campaign funds for his federal income taxes for the years 2008 through 2011;
  • Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe)—$1,785;
  • Sen. Bodi White (R-Central)—$5,858 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 (White also spent $2,543 on hotel stays in Destin, Fla., and in Washington, D.C. and another $1,398 on air travel to Phoenix and Atlanta;

Former Rep. Noble Ellington who spent $32,380 of his campaign funds since 2007 on athletic event tickets, more than $8,000 of which was spent in 2011 when he did not seek re-election. He spent another $40,755 in rent payments for his Pentagon Barracks apartment and another $2,400 attending meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), of which served as national president during his last year in office.

Ellington, within weeks of leaving office, was named the second in command at the Louisiana Department of Insurance at $150,000 per year, a position which will greatly enhance his retirement benefits at the same time Gov. Jindal is asking state employees to work longer, pay more in employee contributions and accept fewer benefits.

Other former legislators who found no problem soliciting campaign contributions from supporters and to use the money for LSU athletic tickets and other personal expenditures included:

  • Former Rep. Bobby Badon (D-Carencro)—$8,448 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
  • Former Rep. Damon Baldone (R-Houma)—$8,865 in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011;
  • Former Sen. Nick Gautreaux (D-Meaux)—$3,060 in 2010;
  • Former Rep. Walker Hines (R-New Orleans)—$5,688 in 2010;
  • Former Sen. Mike Michot (R-Lafayette)—$14,797 in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Former Sen. Rob Marionneaux (D-Maringouin)—$6,075 in 2010 and 2011;
  • Former Rep. Billy Montgomery (R-Bossier City)—$4,075 in 2011 (Montgomery has not served in the legislature since 2008.);
  • Former Rep. Ricky Templet (R-Gretna)—$8,638 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
  • Former Rep. Ernest Wooton (R-Belle Chasse)—$4,755 in 2009 and 2011;
  • Former Rep. Troy Hebert (D-Jeanerette)—$10,425 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 (Hebert also $1,505.70 for lodging at a Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., and $691.80 on an airline flight to Washington in 2010, and  $500 at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, which he listed as a “donation” in 2011;
  • Former Rep. Nickie Monica (R-Metairie)—$9.670 in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;

Some of the current and former legislators listed their expenditures as “donations,” but the “donations” often were in multiples of $1,010: $1,010, $2,020 and $3,030, which correspond to the price of LSU tickets. Interestingly, other legislators listed identical amounts, but their reports said the expenditures were to purchase LSU tickets which would seem to make the donations claim appear somewhat duplicitous.

And apparently there is no inclination—or desire—on the part of the legislature to enact appropriate legislation to keep such rampant abuses in check.

Rank indeed has its privileges.

And what Louisiana’s legislators get away with is pretty damned rank.

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While the Alabama Crimson Tide was beating LSU 21-0 in the BCS national championship game in the Mercedes Benz Superdome on Jan. 9, 2012, U.S. Sen. David Vitter was entertaining a number of guests in one of the Superdome’s 152 luxury suites—at a hefty cost, LouisianaVoice has learned.

Vitter, who apparently gained access to the suite through corporate largesse, took full advantage of the occasion to charge guests $4,000 per seat, according to one person who was there.

Ticket scalping laws vary from state to state and in Louisiana:

  • Tickets cannot be sold at more than their face value price except on the Internet;
  • Tickets for university sporting events cannot be sold online by Louisiana legislators or university students;
  • Tickets can be resold online at greater than their face value price if approved by both the event operator (NCAA) and the venue operator (the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District).

The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED), the governing board of the Superdome, owns one of the suites and the remaining 151 are owned not by the State of Louisiana, but by the New Orleans Saints (a windfall of some $10 million to the Saints) and leased for annual lease fees ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 per year, a LSED spokesperson told LouisianaVoice. All 151 suites are under lease to private entities, according to information obtained from the Saints office.

Sixty-four suites are located on the 400 level of the Superdome and offer a range of 22 to 40 seats per suite. The remaining 88 suites are located on the 300 level and offer 16 to 20 seats per suite, according to the stadium’s web page.

Vitter failed to respond to three email inquiries from LouisianaVoice that asked:

  • Who (corporate entity or individual) provided you access to a luxury box for that game?
  • What was the seating capacity for that luxury box at that game?
  • How many guests did you entertain in that luxury box for that game?

He also was asked to identify those in attendance as his guests in the suite for the game.

Depending on the number of seats available and allowing that all seats except for those for Vitter and his family were sold, he could have netted between $50,000 and $150,000 for that event.

Federal election laws place a cap on individual political contributions. That cap varies but in 2012, it was $2,500. Federal laws also prohibit direct contributions to federal candidates from corporations. The $4,000 price would have exceeded the maximum allowable contribution.

While Vitter’s campaign contributions for the time period encompassing the LSU-Alabama game list no individual contributions that would appear to be connected to the sale of seats, corporations may make unlimited contributions to the so-called Super PACs.

Vitter’s Super Pac, the Fund for Louisiana’s Future, raised $1.5 million last year, according to Washington, D.C., fundraiser Charlie Spies.

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“My service as vice chair of the Labor & Industrial Relations Committee in no manner alters my duties or the constraints placed upon me under the Code of Governmental Ethics.”

—State Rep. Chris Broadwater (R-Hammond), in an email letter to LouisianaVoice last year. Broadwater, former Director of the Louisiana Office of Workers Compensation (OWC), took a job in 2010 with a company that was awarded a $4.2 million contract by OWC only weeks before his resignation.

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