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Washington attorney/political fundraiser Charlie Spies wants to make it even easier for those with the financial resources to continue to buy elections in Louisiana to the increasing detriment of the rest of us.

So what else is new?

Spies, chairman of The Fund for Louisiana’s Future (FLF), the Super Pac created earlier this year, says Louisiana should voluntarily remove the $100,000 limit on contributions to political action committees.

As if it weren’t difficult enough already for the average voter to make his voice heard in our legislative halls.

Spies, it should be noted, also served as chairman for the Restore Our Future PAC for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its 2010 Citizens United decision that third-party groups may spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns, Louisiana still has a maximum cap on individual contributions to PACs of $100,000 per election cycle.

Spies, with an eye to bankrolling the 2015 governor’s race on behalf of an as-yet unnamed candidate (but most probably U.S. Sen. David Vitter),  has written a letter to the Louisiana Board of Ethics asking the state to conform with what he calls “clear constitutional precedent.”

To quote our friend and Livingston Parish Poet Laureate Billy Wayne Shakespeare, “A skunk by any other name stinks just as bad.”

What Spies and all those PACs that have proliferated since the 2010 Citizens United decision really want is the unfettered ability to buy future elections in Louisiana on a scale unprecedented in the state’s history. That would include not only the governor’s election but in all likelihood other statewide races and key legislative contests as well.

In his letter to the ethics board, Spies said that such limits on political committees that make independent expenditures run afoul of the First Amendment “are unconstitutional on their face and should no longer be enforced by the board.”

He said FLF could suffer “irreparable harm” if the issue is litigated and courts subsequently find that the limits infringe on constitutional rights. He said FLF and others’ political speech is being “burdened and chilled.”

What he doesn’t seem to realize is that in Louisiana, raising the limit isn’t really necessary: Louisiana politicians have historically sold out on the cheap.

In his otherwise persuasive argument (lawyers love to wax eloquent and I like saying that), Spies conveniently ignored how ordinary citizens have their political speech “burdened and chilled” by the ability of super PACs to drown out the voices of the electorate.

A person who gives his hard-earned $50 contribution to a candidate should be heard just as easily as the big donor after the election. But when that person’s interests clash with those of a super PAC that poured $100,000 into the candidate’s campaign, who do you think will get the ear of that elected official?

It’s not as if the $100,000 cap is really enforced in Louisiana. Nor for that matter is the $5,000 on individual contributions particularly sacred. Take Lee Mallett of Iowa, Louisiana, for example. Mallett, a member of the LSU Board of Stuporvisors, has contributed nearly $160,000 to Gov. Bobby Jindal through personal contributions and those of seven of his corporations. And both he and his son each have made four contributions between them, each for the maximum allowable amount of $30,800 to the Republican National Committee. Other LSU board members contribute personally and through spouses, children and their companies to easily circumvent the $5,000 contribution limit.

FLF has already raised more than $700,000, thanks in large part to separate $100,000 contributions by the Chouest family-owned Galliano Marine Services and the Van Meter family-controlled GMAA, LLC. Both families were major contributors to Jindal campaigns.

Here are a few examples of contributions to Gov. Bobby Jindal by the Chouest family and corporations of Galliano since 2003:

  • Chouest Offshore: $5,000;
  • Carol Chouest: $5,000;
  • Damon Chouest: $5,000;
  • Ross Chouest: $7,500;
  • Andrea Chouest: $5,000;
  • Casey Chouest: $5,000;
  • Dionne Chouest: $5,000;
  • Dino Chouest: $5,000;
  • Joan Chouest: $5,000;
  • Carolyn Chouest: $5,000;
  • Gary Chouest: $5,000;
  • Chouest Offshore Services: $5,000;
  • Gary Chouest: $5,000;
  • C-Port: $5,000;
  • C-Port 2: $5,000;
  • Offshore Support Services: $5,000;
  • Martin Holdings: $5,000;
  • Martin Energy Offshore: $5,000;
  • Galliano Marine Services: $5,000;
  • Alpha Marine Service: $5,000;
  • Beta Marine Services: $5,000;
  • Vessel Management: $10,000.

Grand total: $117,500.

Things were only slightly less obscene for the Bollinger family of Lockport and its corporations:

  • Chris Bollinger: $5,000;
  • Bollinger Algiers: $10,000;
  • Bollinger Gretna: $5,000;
  • Bollinger Shipyards: $9,850;
  • Bollinger Calcasieu: $5,000;
  • Charlotte Bollinger: $12,000;
  • Bollinger Fourchon: $5,000;
  • Bollinger LaRose: $6,000;
  • Bollinger Morgan City: $6,000;
  • Donald Bollinger: $1,500;
  • Andrea Bollinger: $1,500;
  • Southern Selections: $1,000;
  • Gulf Crane Services: $4,000;
  • Ocean Marine Contractors: $500.

Grand total: $73,350.

And that doesn’t even include money contributed to Jindal’s wife’s foundation, the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children or to Jindal’s Believe in Louisiana nonprofit organization which in reality is a PAC that exists solely for political fundraising.

Nor does it include any other candidates, legislative or congressional, to whom these families—the Malletts, the Chouests and the Bollingers—and their corporate entities may have contributed.

What does all this mean to the average voter?

Quite simply, it means he cannot compete with that kind of money. Period. He does not enjoy the luxury of voting for the candidate of his choice—because he doesn’t have a choice. He really never did.

It is the rare candidate today who can eschew PAC money and win.

The glut of money being poured into PACs is used to buy slick mailers and expensive TV time which tend to drown out the voices of the lesser-financed candidates. Catch the disclaimer at the end of those TV ads or read those mailers closely to see pays for them. The billionaire Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, for example, pays for all those Mary Landrieu-bashing ads you see on TV these days. Landrieu’s performance, good or bad, is not really the issue; it’s repetition of negativity that counts and only money can buy that.

Even though you may think you are an informed voter, you are so inundated with propaganda from PAC money that your will to resist political rhetoric is beaten down and you end up believing in their candidate because you saw more TV ads saying he was the one who is best qualified to lead the state or nation.

The PAC money drowns out the other candidate who may have great ideas for solving political problems but who can never be heard above the white noise enabled by Citizens United because his campaign war chest is dwarfed by that of the Super PAC.

But it doesn’t matter if he is the better candidate because the money says it doesn’t. PACs long ago purchased the candidates and have since purchased Congress and now Spies and his ilk want to purchase Louisiana (and yes, we know that may be redundant).

To put it in simple mathematical terms that are easy to comprehend, let us say a Super PAC dumps $100,000 into to a candidate’s campaign on behalf of say, the credit card special interests. You happen to like that same candidate so you stretch your financial resources to give him $50.

Long after the election and well after the congressman is ensconced in office, a bill comes up that prohibits credit card companies from charging monthly fees on gift cards, thereby diminishing the value of the cards. As it happens, you received a $100 gift card for your birthday but didn’t get around to using it for a few months. Remember your surprise when you learned it no longer had a value of $100 because of the monthly fees you were charged unbeknownst to you?

Irate, you write your congressman, urging him to support the bill that favors consumers. You may even remind him of your $50 contribution.

But congressmen are busy people. Under the present system, they’re already running for re-election the moment they begin their terms. That Super PAC, remember, gave him $100,000 on behalf of the credit card company. Who do you think gets his ear on this? In this case, the odds are 2,000-1 in favor of Visa.

And that’s the goal of Charlie Spies and The Fund for Louisiana’s Future.

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Something’s not quite right over at the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC).

Conflicting dates of employment of an unclassified employee, the awarding of a contract to a vendor whose bid was nearly twice that of two competitors, and appearances on behalf of a state contractor at a Florida convention by a state legislator have flown under the radar until now.

Wes Hataway is Director of the Office of Workers Compensation Administration but the question is just when did he join LWC?

Department of Civil Service records and minutes of the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council simply do not match up.

Civil Service records indicate that Hataway was hired as an unclassified Assistant Attorney General on Jan. 25, 2010 at $93,600 per year and 13 months later, on Feb. 21, 2011, moved over to LWC as an unclassified Assistant Secretary to then advisory council Chairman Chris Broadwater at an annual salary of $105,000.

Here is what we received from the Department of Civil Service:

“See information below on Wes Hataway. Let me know if you have any questions or need more information.”

Begin Date End Date Agency Job Title Annual Pay Rate
1/25/2010 2/20/2011 Office of the Attorney   General Unclassified Asst Attorney   General 90,000.04 (begin)93,600.26 (end)
2/21/2011 Present LWC-Workforce Support &   Training Unclassified Assistant   Secretary 104,998.40

And indeed, there is a paper trail that appears to support that time frame. A two-page score sheet that evaluated proposals for a fraud detection contract with LWC dated June 22, 2010, includes the signature of Hataway and identifies him as one of the four-member team that evaluated and made recommendations for the contract. It also identifies him as representing the Attorney General’s Office—six months after he was ostensibly named as legal council for the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC).

(To enlarge, left click on image):

PTDC0124

PTDC0125

But another document dated Jan. 28, 2010, casts doubts as to Hataway’s status at LWC.

Minutes of the Jan. 28, 2010, meeting of the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council contain an entry on the fourth and final page which says, “Director Broadwater introduces newly hired AG attorney, Wes Hataway. Wes will serve as General Counsel, and also work on the prosecution of fraud cases.”

MinutesAdvisoryCouncilJan2810

Hataway has since replaced Broadwater as Director of OWC but he regularly consults with Broadwater on pending matters coming before him, according to court documents, according to legal documents.

Broadwater, a Republican from Hammond, was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 2011 but continues to represent workers’ comp insurance companies before the Office of Workers’ Compensation, the agency he once ran.

Broadwater also appeared in a four-minute video at an SAS Institute conference in Orlando, Florida. In that video, he praised the work of the company, which won that 2010 contract with a high bid of nearly $4.3 million.  http://www.allanalytics.com/video.asp?section_id=3427&doc_id=269491#msgs

The three-year contract, which was officially approved on Oct. 7, 2010 retroactive to Aug. 31, 2010, ended last Aug. 30.

The SAS bid was nearly double the bids of IBM and Ultix, each of whom had bids of $2.2 million.

Broadwater, Vice Chairman of the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, said in a letter to LouisianaVoice, “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.”

And while claiming that he is prohibited from receiving compensation “from a source other than the legislature for performing my public duties,” he admitted in a legal deposition that he represented insurance clients before OWC and he even admitted that he discussed with Hataway the pending appointment of his former law partner and that he has discussed with Hataway on several occasions matters pending before OWC.

Broadwater also related that Hataway had sought his advice on whether or not he (Hataway) had the authority as director to issue a stay of pending cases without involving the judges to whom the cases were assigned. Broad said in his deposition that he was of the opinion that Hataway did have such power.

Broadwater and Hataway are friends of long standing but that does little to explain why Broadwater would introduce him to council members as a new hire a full year before Civil Service Records and the RFP evaluation and recommendation form reflect any change from his employment status at the Attorney General’s office.

Calling the conflicting dates a clerical error doesn’t fly but then again, it could be just another aspect of the current administration that defies explanation.

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From time to time at LouisianaVoice, someone will ask us how we get the information we use for our stories.

The answer is quite simple, really.

Instead of listening to what elected officials, political appointees and attorneys are saying, we listen to what they’re not saying.

And then we find out where the appropriate public records are and we go get them, sometimes finding it necessary to take legal action to obtain what rightfully belongs to the citizens of Louisiana. Our driving obsession is that public records are not the exclusive domain of whomever happens to be holding office at any given time.

The public’s right to know should be uppermost in any government—unless that government or a particular politician or bureaucrat has something to hide and we feel that having something to hide is the only reason for not releasing public records, deliberative process be damned.

And so, we choose to ask one more question. We know the politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers are going to put the best possible spin on any issue, so we must ask one more question and if we’re not satisfied with the answer, there are always the public records.

That’s the beautiful thing about a democracy; there’s always a paper trail when the politicians and their lawyers quit talking—or when they talk and we hear what they don’t say loud and clear.

And so it was when Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson fired off that six-page letter to State Treasurer John Kennedy in which she chose to attack Kennedy for his political aspirations as much as to defend her client, State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge), that we listened.

Dorsey, in 2007, pushed through the legislature a $300,000 appropriation for the Colomb Foundation in Lafayette which Kennedy in July of this year listed as one of three dozen non-government organizations (NGOs) that owed the state some $4.5 million for non-compliance in reporting on how their grant money was spent.

The Colomb Foundation received its funding to design and build a community center in Lafayette Parish.

The Colomb Foundation is run by Sterling Colomb who is married to Sen. Dorsey.

Pierson, however, went for Kennedy’s jugular when she dropped her bombshell in her letter: Dorsey and Colomb were not married until 2010, three years after the issuance of the grant, she said.

It was one of those “aha” moments that attorneys love. A “gotcha,” as it were, the implication being that there could be no conflict if Dorsey was not married to Colomb at the time.

Advantage, Dorsey.

But wait.

There was something in Pierson’s declaration about their marriage date that was not said—like how long had they known each other or how long had they been in a relationship? Could Dorsey have used her position to funnel $300,000 in state funds to her future husband?

We listened but all we could hear was crickets chirping. So, we embarked on a little paper chase that took only a few minutes and a couple of clicks of a computer mouse. And what do you suppose we found?

On Jan. 5, 2007, one Sterling Colomb contributed $1,000 to the campaign of Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, according to records obtained from the Louisiana Ethics Commission. And while the $300,000 grant to the Colomb Foundation was indeed approved three years before their marriage, the campaign contribution from her future husband came approximately four months before the opening of the 2007 legislative session during which the grant to his foundation was approved—a little more than three years prior to their marriage.

Aha.

Your move, counsellor.

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The heretofore one-person debate over state funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has been ramped up a notch with Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson’s six-page letter to State Treasurer John Kennedy that challenged Kennedy’s contentions that the Colomb Foundation owes a refund in lieu of an additional accounting of how it spent a $300,000 grant awarded the foundation in 2007.

The Colomb Foundation in Lafayette, run by Sterling Colomb, received its “public purpose” grant to “design and build a much needed community center that will house social services activities and programs that will be directed toward improving the quality of life through advocacy in crime prevention, distribution of health information and in an effort to decrease mortality rates among the at-risk population, and enhancing youth education through reading,” Pierson quoted from the foundation’s grant application.

Colomb is the husband of State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton rouge) but Pierson noted the two were not married until 2010, three years after the issuance of the grant.

The Colomb Foundation is one of three dozen NGOs that Kennedy said in July owed the state more than $4.5 million because of non-compliance in reporting how grant money is spent.

Several of the recipient NGOs no longer exist and the whereabouts of many of the NGO officers and representatives are unknown.

The state Capital Outlay Bill (Act 24) is peppered with local NGO projects that consume tens of millions of dollars of state taxpayer funds at a time when the state faces repeated annual budgetary shortfalls and while the number and amounts of NGO funding projects has diminished, their presence is still felt. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=858547&n=HB2 Act

Included in this year’s construction spending bill were such items as:

  • $200,000 for a sports complex in Princeton in Bossier Parish;
  • $500,000 for a water system in Bienville Parish;
  • $245,000 for planning and construction of a community and recreational center in Ascension Parish;
  • $380,000 for the purchase of the Lamar Dixon Development in Ascension Parish;
  • $450,000 for planning and construction of a multipurpose community center in Avoyelles Parish;
  • $300,000 for an airport industrial park in De Soto Parish;
  • $1 million for development of an industrial site in East Carroll Parish;
  • $500,000 for a new industrial facility in Evangeline Parish;
  • $1.3 million for an activity center in Franklin Parish;
  • $185,000 in first year expenditures for a recreational complex in Iberia Parish;
  • $3 million for a new hospital in Iberville Parish;
  • $2 million for a community center in Iberville Parish;
  • $300,000 for street lighting and security upgrades for the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority;
  • $5.2 million for recreation and achievement center in Jefferson Parish;
  • $3.5 million for construction of Parc des Familles in Jefferson Parish;
  • $735,000 for the Woodmere Community Center in Jefferson Parish;
  • $400,000 for the Avondale Booster Club and Playground upgrades in Jefferson Parish;
  • $17 million for a new hospital in St. Bernard Parish;
  • $220,000 for civic center planning and construction in St. Martin Parish;
  • $300,000 for recreational improvements at Kemper Williams Park in St. Mary Parish;
  • $125,000 for the St. Mary Parish Tourist Commission;
  • $980,000 for a community health center and livestock facility addition in St. Tammany Parish;
  • $400,000 for a multipurpose livestock and agricultural facility in Tangipahoa Parish;
  • $180,000 for a recreation complex in Vernon Parish;
  • $180,000 for improvements to rodeo arena in Vernon Parish;

Also funded were various local court houses, jails, water and sewer systems, local airports, fire districts, parish road improvements, councils on aging, and municipal projects too numerous to list here.

For a list of 2013 NGO funding requests, go here: http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/NGO/NgoSearch.aspx

A spokesperson for Sen. Dorsey has contended all along that the organization is in compliance but Pierson’s letter of Wednesday, Nov. 20, was the first time that an attorney has weighed in on the issue.

An addition to her letter which she said she was sending to news outlets (LouisianaVoice was not among those to whom she sent copies of her letter—and yes, we feel slighted—although she did include a couple of long-retired reporters in her list of 24 media contacts) “because of all the fanfare you (Kennedy) have caused and the press coverage you demanded through your press releases, Pierson attached 10 exhibits—just like a lawyer in a real trial—which contained another 61 pages of receipts, emails and letters.

Among the exhibits were receipts from retail outlets for supplies, emails from the Legislative Auditor’s office indicating that office had found no irregularities, and even emails and letters from Kennedy’s office indicating its satisfaction with documents provided by the foundation.

“I suspect that the compliance by the foundation does not fit into your apparent political agenda for re-election or, even better, a campaign for governor,” Pierson wrote.

“On behalf of the Colomb Foundation, I demand it be deemed in compliance and that this matter be closed…and a letter be sent to Mr. Colomb ‘notifying him of the closure,’” her letter said.

“Failing the closure of the matter by your office on or before noon on Dec. 2, 2013, I have advised Mr. Colomb and the Foundation that a suit for mandamus may be filed, directed to you to compel you to perform the only remaining ministerial duty of closing the file because there is no further accounting to be done for any legitimate purpose,” she said.

And of course, her letter contained the requisite threat to sue for damages: “In addition, your prior actions, performed under the color of state law, have caused substantial damage to the Foundation and Mr. Colomb, if the matter cannot be amicably resolved by that date a claim for said damages will also be filed.”

kennedy letter

kennedy letter EXHIBITS

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“This race was never about why not to vote for Neil Riser. It was about why to vote for Vance McAllister.”

—Vance McAllister (R-Monroe), Saturday night after defeating heavy favorite State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) for the 5th District congressional seat.

Nothing.

—The comment/concession from the Riser campaign. (Ouch!)

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