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Archive for the ‘Lobbyist’ Category

Quickly. What do these 27 Louisianans have in common, other than having been elected to political office?

  • Paul Hollis
  • John Alario
  • Jack Donahue
  • Gerald Long
  • Fred Mills
  • Barrow Peacock
  • John Smith
  • Steve Carter
  • Greg Cromer
  • Cameron Henry
  • Dorothy Hill
  • Valarie Hodges
  • Sam Jones
  • Dee Richard
  • Alan Seabaugh
  • Scott Simon
  • John Schroder
  • Kirk Talbot
  • Conrad Appel
  • Barry Milligan
  • Jeff Landry
  • John Kennedy
  • Bill Cassidy
  • Clay Higgins
  • Steve Scalise
  • Ralph Abraham
  • Mike Johnson

Give up?

Well, to make it more interesting, I’ll throw in these names:

  • Jeff Sessions
  • Tommy Tuberville
  • Tom Cotton
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Devin Nunes
  • Kevin McCarthy
  • Marco Rubio
  • Matt Gaetz
  • Ron Desantis
  • Rick Scott
  • Doug Collins
  • David Perdue
  • Brian Kemp
  • Mitch McConnell
  • Rand Paul
  • Cindy Hyde-Smith
  • Michael Guest
  • Tate Reeves
  • Roy Blunt
  • Ben Sasse
  • Christopher Sununu
  • Chris Christie
  • Chris Collins
  • Jim Jordan
  • Rick Santorum
  • Pat Toomey
  • Lindsey Graham
  • Tim Scott
  • Kristi Noem
  • Lamar Alexander
  • John Cornyn
  • Ted Cruz
  • Mitt Romney
  • Liz Cheney

Each of the aforementioned is among the 172 members of the U.S. House of Representative, 48 U.S. senators 12 governors and 27 Louisianans who signed Grover Norquist’s no-new-tax pledge, which reads simply enough:

I, ______, pledge to the taxpayers of the ______ district of the state of ______ and to the American people that I will: One, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and Two, to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates

Of the 20 Louisiana legislators who signed the pledge, seven are still in office. They are Hollis, Mills, Peacock, Henry, Hodges, Seabaugh and Schroder. Schroder is no longer in the legislature, having moved up to State Treasurer.

Landry, a former member of the U.S. House, is now Louisiana’s attorney general with an eye on the governor’s office just up the street. Kennedy and Cassidy, of course are Louisiana’s two U.S. senators while Higgins, Scalise, Abraham and Johnson are in the House. Abraham, an unsuccessful candidate for governor last year, is a lame duck and will exit Congress next Jan. 20.

Norquist, who founded the organization Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) wears his capitalist idealism on his sleeve. He’s been widely quoted saying thing like:

“Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.”

He advocates standing on one’s own two feet:

“We want to reduce the number of people depending on government so there is more autonomy and more free citizens.”

Norquist feels that such reliance on government weakens one’s character:

“The welfare state creates its own victim/client constituency. By making individuals free and independent, we reduce the need for ‘charity’ to those truly needy citizens what we can certainly afford to help through real charity.”

Moreover, he is convinced that government spending, fueled by entitlements, is harmful to the U.S. economy:

“What’s hurting the U.S. economy is total government spending. The deficit is an indicator that the government is spending so much money that it can’t even get around to stealing all of the money that it wants to spend.”

The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown unquestionably crippled the US—the world—economy, necessitating Congress to pass a $350 billion paycheck protection bill to bail out companies with forgivable SBA loans of up to $10 million which, of course, caused Norquist to pitch a hissy fit even before another $330 billion was added to the relief package. He wrote a letter urging lawmakers not to approve a second stimulus bill, saying:

“Government spending is inhibiting the fast recovery we want in jobs and incomes, not stimulating it.”

But what Norquist neglected to point out is his Americans for Tax Reform had just received up to $350,000 in stimulus money from the first bill. In other words, he got his and now he doesn’t want anyone else to get theirs because it’s wasteful government spending, it kills incentive, creating victimhood.

Oops. Maybe all those members of congress, legislators, and governors listed above might like to reconsider signing off on Norquist’s “Don’t do as I do, do as I say do” pledge..

Perhaps Norquist should “funnel” that guvmint money to the CHOCTAW INDIANS of Mississippi, the tribe he helped Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed and JACK ABRAMOFF funnel more than $1 million away from the Choctaw back in 1999.

Of course, when it came time to put up or shut up, Norquist chose to shut up by REFUSING TO TESTIFY before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee’s hearing on lobbying abuses.

But perhaps the best illustration with the fewest words to describe Norquist’s role in the sordid affairs with Abramoff, DeLay, Reed, and Rove can be seen HERE. If all this doesn’t leave you needing a shower, I just don’t know what could.

Unless it’s this:

Others that received PPP funding included the Ayn Rand Institute (between $350,000 and $1 million), Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller ($350,000 to $1 million), Newsmax, the conservative TV network owned by Trump ally Christopher Ruddy ($2 million to $5 million), and (wait for it), the shipping business owned by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s family ($350 to $1 million). Chao just happens to be the wife of (ahem) Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. They’re all right HERE.

(Ayn Rand, for those who may not know, was a Russian émigré who fled the communist revolution, became an actress in the US and who wrote The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Atlas Shrugged has become something of a capitalism bible to her followers.)

To borrow from Charles Dickens, we seem to have the ghosts of capitalism past and the ghosts of capitalism present in one tidy little story. I can’t wait for the ghost of capitalism future to make its appearance.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t include one last Norquist quote because it’s really a gem:

“Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”

 

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If you should peek into the fiscal cortex of a Republican legislator’s brain, you’d see a mish-mash of conflicting ideas that’re reflective of the disastrous Jindal years, more than four years after he left office.

Apparently, the disciples of Grover Norquist learned little of the economic misrule that was emblematic of the Jindal years of consecutive budgetary shortfalls brought about by the eight-year orgy of tax cuts and tax exemptions granted for Walmarts and Family Dollar stores across the length and breadth of Louisiana.

Jindal repeatedly used one-time money to fund recurring expenses—until, that is, he was halfway out the door when it suddenly occurred to the so-called legislative “fiscal hawks” to do what they should’ve done years before—impose limits on how governors could use that one-time money to plug gaping holes in the state budget.

I suggest that they’ve learned little because, believe it or not, they’re at it again.

Exhibit A: Those fiscal hawks, taking full advantage of the drop in state revenue caused by the coronavirus shutdown, are attempting to cut spending for such luxuries as teacher pay, police protection, health care for the poor and housing state inmates. Read Tyler Bridges’s story about that HERE.

Exhibit B: Reps. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge) and Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette) have submitted a couple of house concurrent resolutions that would grant an additional $1.1 billion in tax breaks to the oil and gas industry and corporate franchisees.

Edmonds’s HCR 43 would suspend the corporate franchise tax until 2021 at a cost of $413.6 million to the state.  To see the legislative fiscal notes to HCR 43, go HERE.

Exhibit C: Sen. Mark Abraham has introduced SB 272 which calls for a constitutional amendment to allow industrial corporations to establish the amount they pay in local property taxes through private negotiations.

Bishop’s HCR 65 would suspend severance taxes levied on oil, natural gas, distillate and condensate “from the date of adoption of the resolution through the 60th day following final adjournment of the 2021 legislative session” and would cost the state $693.8 million, according to the FISCAL NOTES.

How’s that for fiscal responsibility? In the face of shrinking revenues, we’re going to give huge breaks to the corporations—just like always—while popping it to the middle class.

And we wonder why we continue to wallow in the mud at the bottom of all the good economic indicators while other states stroll past on the nice, dry sidewalk. We in Louisiana are the ragged street urchins of a Dickens novel and the legislature is our Uriah Heep.

Ask yourself, local butcher shop proprietor, do you get the opportunity to “negotiate” your tax rate? Ms. dress shop owner, have you been granted any tax breaks lately?

Ms. dress shop owner, have your taxes been suspended?

Mr. and Mrs. Bakery owners, have you been exempted from paying your annual business license fee?

I’m going out on a limb and venturing the answers to those three questions are no, no and no.

But then, unlike the oil and gas companies, you probably didn’t pour thousands of dollars into legislative political campaigns or hire a team of lobbyists to protect your interests at the State Capitol. And the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) doesn’t speak for you because it’s too busy taking care of the big boys.

Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, pretty well summed it up when he said, “Louisiana is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, and we all need to do our part. But instead of looking out for front-line workers and their families, the Legislature is proposing more than $1 billion in new tax breaks for corporations. These tax breaks would come at the expense of students, families and workers who need Louisiana’s help now more than ever.

“The Legislature’s first priority should be to help those who’ve been hurt most by this pandemic – not the state’s largest corporations. Please join us in calling on the House Ways and Means Committee to reject these ill-considered giveaways,” he added.

To which we can only add, “Amen.”

 

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Once upon a time, there were 10 ventilators in a building on East Airport Drive in Baton Rouge that could have been used to treat COVID-19 patients.

Once upon a time, that 22,000-square-foot-building on East Airport Drive also contained four operating rooms, two recovery rooms, a CT scanner, an MRI scanner, oxygen, a lab and sterilization facilities.

No more. Not since 2016 when state authorities raided the offices of Dr. Arnold Feldman at the behest of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners which decided it would come down hard on Dr. Feldman for offenses that have never been fully explained.

They pulled his license as his punishment. But then, the board has since offered to reinstate him—provided he pays nearly half-a-million dollars in extortion fees.

Why would I call it extortion? Consider this: His fine was $5,000 but the “cost” of the proceeding [court costs, if you will] was a cool $456,980.60. Anyone from the board care to explain that in a way that makes sense?

Didn’t think so.

Could it have been coincidental that Dr. Feldman was considered to be competition for Dr. J. Michael Burdine, who was founder of and a PARTNER in The Spine Diagnostic Promotional Clinic on Flanders Drive?

Could it also have been mere coincidence that Burdine was serving as president of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners at the time Feldman was shut down?

An added note of interest is that Burdine is an officer in the LOUISIANA SOCIETY OF INTERVENTIONAL PAIN. A fellow officer in the organization is lobbyist Alton Ashy.

Ashy is a power player of some renown around the Louisiana State Capitol. Among his long list clients is the Spine Diagnostic Center of Baton Rouge.

So Burdine, in his capacity as president of the State Board of Medical Examiners, took out one of the main competitors of his Spine Diagnostic Center which is represented before the legislature and the governor by lobbyist Alton Ashy who sits on the board of the Louisiana Society of Interventional Pain with Burdine.

You’d be surprised what small circles some people move in in Baton Rouge. Tight little circles like that are difficult to penetrate and like tightly-formed hurricanes, pack considerable clout.

Meanwhile, 10 ventilators and an assortment of other critical medical equipment are no longer available. They were sold by Dr. Feldman, who now resides in a motor home in Florida when he could be in Baton Rouge treating coronavirus patients.

Only in Louisiana…

 

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Hey, folks, you want to see how your government really works for you? Read on.

In May 2018, House Concurrent Resolution 47 by State Rep. Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge) was approved unanimously by both the Louisiana HOUSE and SENATE.

The RESOLUTION called on the Louisiana Department of Insurance to “assemble a task force to address the high automobile insurance rates and (to) submit a report with findings and recommendations to the Senate and House committees on insurance by March 1, 2019.”

An 11-person task force was chosen on July 31 and Talbot, who received $19,000 in campaign contributions from insurance interests in 2019, was named chairman and Sen. John Smith (R-Leesville) was named vice-chairman. Also named from the legislature was State Sen. Wesley Bishop. [Smith was term-limited and unable to seek re-election in 2019 and Bishop in January pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.]

Other than those three, the committee was pretty much top-heavy with members from the insurance industry. Six members represented:

  • The Property Casualty Insurers Association;
  • The American Insurance Association;
  • The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies;
  • The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of Louisiana;
  • The Professional Insurance Agents of Louisiana;
  • The Louisiana Department of Insurance.

One of those is Kevin Ainsworth, a registered lobbyist who lists Progressive Insurance among clients he represents before the legislature. He also is an attorney with the politically-connected firm Jones Walker, which has contributed more than $300,000 to political candidates since 2015.

Only two of the 11 members (other than the three legislators) could be considered consumer advocates and one of those has questionable credentials as a former appointee of Bobby Jindal:

  • A representative from the Louisiana Association for Justice, an organization comprised mostly of lawyers who, for the most part, represent consumer plaintiffs in civil lawsuits, and
  • A representative (Chance McNeely) of the Louisiana Motor Transport Association.

McNeely, you may recall, is the son-in-law of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco who was APPOINTED by Jindal as Assistant Secretary, Office of Environmental Compliance at the Department of Environmental Quality at $102,000 even as the Jindal administration was laying off employees by the hundreds. He didn’t miss a beat when John Bel Edwards became governor, moving seamlessly over to the job as Assistant Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development at $99,000.

Given Chance’s track record on behalf of the general public at DEQ, the wisdom of his appointment to the insurance task force is questionable at best.

The task force met exactly three times— on Sept. 13, Oct. 18 and Nov. 14—for approximately 90 minutes per session to discuss the complex problem of Louisiana’s high auto insurance rates. And while the meetings were recorded, they were not videoed.

An actuarial subcommittee was appointed and was comprised exclusively of representatives of the insurance industry. The task force never investigated the findings of the actuarial subcommittee.

Moreover, the task force’s actuary report is not posted on any public website nor is it posed in the legislative archives, or the Department of Insurance Archives.

So much for transparency.

The March 1, 2019 deadline for the submission of recommendations to the Senate and House committees on insurance came and went with no recommendations being submitted.

Talbot on March 29, 2019, filed HB 372 entitled “The Omnibus Premium Reduction Act,” named for his task force and consisting of four parts which did little to actually lower insurance premiums.

Not only was there no report released by the task force, but the report has never been made public and no further action, meetings or inquiries have been made by the task force or any of its members to the actuarial subcommittee even though the actuary subcommittee has indicated that the four reform components of the Kirk Talbot bill would not lower rates.

No matter. Talbot and the insurance industry, through radio interviews, social media and numerous newspaper editorials, trumpeted the “drastically lower premiums” HB 372 would produce. Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport), though not a member of the task force and though he never attended any of the committee’s three meetings, testified on the House floor that the task force bill had been thoroughly vetted

Even though the task force did not, in fact, “thoroughly vet” or investigate in any other manner the findings of the actuarial subcommittee, and upon information and belief by some observers that the task force was caught off-guard by the results of the actuarial subcommittee, it chose to run with the bill anyway because of political pressure from the insurance industry.

An army of lobbyists was engaged to pushing the bill through the legislature. It did pass the House by a vote of 69-30 but never made it to the Senate floor.

“It is clear…that the bill, heavily marketed by the insurance industry, was designed to increase rates under the subterfuge of reducing rates,” one opponent said of HB 372.

That’s not surprising. Several years ago, I had a legislator introduce a bill that would’ve mandated a 10% premium reduction for anyone who voluntarily took a defensive driving class, the idea being if a person volunteered for a defensive driving class, s/he would become a better driver, thus reducing the accident rate and, in the process, lower the cost of insurance claims. You’d think the insurance industry would welcome such a bill but instead, their lobbyist came out with guns blazing and shot the bill down in committee.

So now, it’s 2020 and as we are set to open a new session on Monday, no fewer than 59 bills dealing with some form of insurance have been pre-filed, 11 of which deal with auto insurance rates. Most of those 11 are redundant, with only about four separate issues actually being addressed.

And good luck getting any of those passed.

All of which goes back to my oft-repeated rhetorical question: Who do our elected officials really represent?

 

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Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III, has been named president of a new political action committee (PAC) founded in an attempt to stem the growing trend of economic, religious, gender, racial and healthcare discrimination against American employees.

Stand Up for Workers (SU4W) “was established by people who care about the basic rights of the American worker. We seek to protect the right to a fair and livable wage and benefits; to receive fair and humane treatment in the workplace, including work with dignity; and to have full access to justice, including the right to trial by jury,” according to its web page.

A little background is in order here.

The formation of the new PAC is realistically challenged with overcoming nearly a 50-year head start by big business and business-backed Republican elected officials who, indebted to corporate PACs, have given their tacit approval to the more subtle means of employee discrimination. At the same time, open endorsement has been given the so-called Powell Memorandum of 1971 by then-corporate attorney Lewis Powell, Jr., who shortly after writing his memo, was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Nixon.

The MEMORANDUM, written specifically for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was entitled “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System” and served as a master plan for conservative business interests to retake America from the so-called New Deal era. It was supposed to have been confidential, but was discovered an published by columnist Jack Anderson following Powell’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

Powell, who had served as corporate attorney and director on the board of Phillip Morris until his appointment to the Supreme Court, was an unabashed champion of the tobacco industry during his term on the court as well as an opponent of reforms to the automobile industry prompted by Ralph Nader’s expose’ Unsafe at Any Speed, which revealed the auto industry’s higher priority on profits than on safety. Powell called Nader the chief antagonist of American business.

The memo, which foreshadowed several of the Powell court’s opinions served as the blueprint for the rise of the American conservative movement and the formation of a spate of right-wing think tanks like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and lobbying organizations and also inspired the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to become more active in the political arena.

Conversely, as the chamber’s and other conservative organization’s influence gained strength in Washington, the political clout of organized labor weakened, further silencing the voice of American workers.

Following is the full press release announcing the formation of SU4W, as well as a link to the organization’s web page:

 

A group of worker advocates from across the nation has announced founding of a specialized political action committee, “Stand Up for Workers” (SU4W), dedicated specifically to the needs and concerns of American workers.  https://standupforworkers.org/    SU4W is a hybrid PAC, comprising both a traditional PAC and a super PAC.

“Despite recent promises of improvements in work life conditions for working Americans, the plight of middle and lower income workers has, if anything, become more dire,” said Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur “Art” Smith, III, President of SU4W.

Mr. Smith is a 47 year veteran employee-side litigator in Louisiana. He has litigated numerous trials and appeals in labor and employment on behalf of both employees and unions. He is a fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, and has served in numerous positions with the Louisiana Association for Justice, including membership on the Board of Governors, and chair of both its employment and civil rights committees.

SU4W Vice President James Kaster, a Minneapolis, MN attorney, is an experienced trial lawyer who concentrates on representing plaintiffs in employment cases. He is one of only a few plaintiffs’ lawyers who is a member of both the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers and the American College of Trial Lawyers, a group limited to one percent of America’s trial attorneys.  Mr. Kaster has also been a frequent lecturer at continuing legal education seminars and has been active in bar activities, including serving as President of the National Employment Lawyers Association.

“Until now there has been no group specifically dedicated to supporting political candidates committed to sponsoring and voting for legislation aimed at concrete measures that will produce better conditions for the American workers whose labor has formed the backbone of our country’s prosperity,” Mr. Smith said. SU4W will support candidates for all federal offices and will engage in other activities in support of working Americans, such as providing accurate information about candidates, proposed legislation and policies.

Most lower- and middle-income American workers have seen stagnant wages for decades, while executive and professional income has risen astronomically, Smith noted. Efforts to better the lives of workers through measures such as affordable health insurance have been consistently attacked and undermined by the current administration in Washington.

SU4W focuses on three goals:

  • more equitable pay for workers;
  • fair and humane treatment in the workplace, and
  • full access to justice, including trial by jury. Trial rights have been substantially eroded by the advent of arbitration agreements extracted from workers through the threat of not being hired.

SU4W will solicit applications for support from candidates, and will engage in a careful vetting process to ensure that the candidates selected satisfy a clear set of criteria showing they will include support for workers among their top priorities.  SU4W will study recent election returns to identify districts where pro-worker candidates will have the best chance of success.

The need for advocacy on behalf of workers extends beyond the issues of income and access to affordable health care, Smith noted. Incidents of degrading treatment at work, including racial, religious and sexual discrimination, are on the rise, and many employers have failed to prevent  abuse or act against it.

Founding members of SU4W are from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas.  Among its leadership are some of the country’s most prominent attorneys whose legal practices are committed to enforcing employee rights.

For more information about SU4W, to make a donation, or find out how to apply for support, visit the website at https://standupforworkers.org/

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