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Archive for the ‘PACs’ Category

In case you’ve ever taken the time to wonder why our legislature has been unable—or unwilling—to effective address the looming fiscal crisis for the state, here’s a quick lesson in civics that may help you understand the real priorities of our elected officials and the forces that motivate them.

Members of Congress are advised to spend four hours per day FUNDRAISING, or on “call time.” That’s time to be spent on the telephone raising campaign contributions—if they want to be re-elected.

They are also told they should spend one to two hours on “constituent visits,” which often translates to meeting with lobbyists and campaign contributors. That leaves two hours for committee meetings and floor attendance, one hour for something called “strategic outreach,” or breakfasts, meet and greets, press interviews (read: Sen. John Kennedy), and one hour “recharge time.”

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that we’re paying big salaries for these guys to actually work only about two hours per day for only part of the year.

Another way of putting it is we’re paying big bucks for them to spend twice as much time raising campaign contributions as actually doing the work of the people who, in theory at least, elected them.

That’s in theory only, of course. The truth is special interests such as banks, hedge funds, big oil, big pharma, the military-industrial complex, the NRA, and other major corporate interests—especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—turn the gears of democracy while letting the American middle class delude itself into thinking we actually affect the outcome of elections.

Now, take that image and move it down to the state level and you have a microcosm of Congress.

The numbers are smaller, of course, given the smaller House and Senate districts from which candidates run but the model is the same.

And that is precisely the reason nothing gets done in regard to resolving the financial plight of the state.

Corporate tax breaks, tax exemptions, and tax credits have eroded the state budget until the onus now falls on the individual taxpayers while companies like Walmart enjoy Enterprise Zone tax credits for locating stores in upscale communities across the state.

Petro-chemical plans along the Mississippi River and in the southwestern part of the state enjoy millions of dollars in tax breaks for construction projects that produce few, if any, new permanent jobs.

And who is front and center in protecting the interests of these corporations?

That would be the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), first created with the intent of breaking the stranglehold of organized labor back in the 1970s and now focused on maintaining lucrative tax incentives for its membership.

LABI has four primary political action committees: East PAC, West PAC, North PAC, and South PAC.

LouisianaVoice has pulled the contributions of LABI, its four PACs.

For lagniappe, we’ve also thrown in contributions from pharmaceutical and oil and gas interests. The latter list offers a clear-cut explanation of why efforts to hold oil and gas companies accountable for damage to Louisiana’s coastal marshland have died early deaths.

You will notice in reviewing the reports that LABI, while making individual contributions, pours most of its money into its four PACs, which then make the direct contributions to the candidates.

Enjoy.

LABI CONTRIBUTIONS

EAST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

WEST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

NORTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

SOUTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

PHARMA CONTRIBUTIONS

OIL AND GAS CONTRIBUTIONS

 

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It was Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War SIMON CAMERON who is credited with having defined an honest politician as one “who, when bought, stays bought.”

And it was Louisiana’s own Sen. JOHN BREAUX who told a reporter in 1981, “My vote can’t be bought, but it can be rented.”

Whether bought or rented, contributions to legislators by nursing home interests appear to have been sound investments when it shelled out a total of $27,250 to six state senators, members all of the Health and Welfare Committee, who obligingly voted down a BILL by fellow Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie that would have given more home health services to the elderly as an alternative to nursing homes. Make that $35,250 if you count contributions to committee chairman Fred Mills who did not vote on the bill because of a conflict. He owns an interest in a Breaux Bridge nursing home and received $8,000 in contributions from the Louisiana Nursing Home PAC.

But the two members who voted in favor of Appel’s Senate Bill 357, Sens. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) and Ed Price (D-Gonzales) apparently didn’t stay bought—or rented—despite their having received $5,500 between them from the Louisiana Nursing Home PAC. They probably won’t be receiving any further contributions from the nursing home interests.

Appel may also be crossed off their list since he sponsored the bill despite having received $3,500 from the same PAC.

Mind you, the contributions looked up hurriedly by LouisianaVoice by no means constitute the total dished out by nursing home interests, particularly individual nursing homes and their operators. The only contributions searched were from the Louisiana Nursing Home PAC and Elton Beebe of Ridgeland, Mississippi, who operates a string of nursing homes in Louisiana.

The committee voted 6-2 to kill the bill despite the support of AARP lobbyist Andrew Muhl who apparently was no match for the Louisiana Nursing Home Association, which represents about 250 nursing homes in Louisiana—or its money.

Mills, while not voting, did not let his nursing home ownership deter him from speaking against Appel’s bill, calling managed care “too risky.”

Senators voting against the bill and their contributions from nursing home interests included:

  • Yvonne Dorsey Colomb (D-Baton Rouge): $6,000;
  • Norbert “Norby” Chabert (R-Houma): $6,250;
  • Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge): $5,000;
  • Gerald Boudreaux (D-Lafayette): $5,000;
  • Dale Erdy (R-Livingston): $4,000;
  • Jay Luneau (D-Alexandria): $1,000.

Voting no and their contributions:

  • Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge): $4,000;
  • Ed Price (D-Gonzales): $1,500.

Perhaps we misunderstood John Kennedy’s intent when he said, “Louisiana doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.”

Click on the link to see a partial list of NURSING HOME CONTRIBUTIONS to Louisiana’s elected officials since Jan. 1, 2011. Remember, this is just a partial list.

 

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Perhaps I’m a prime candidate for self-flagellation but I would rather stand by what I believe in the face of ridicule and scorn—even from those I once considered friends—than surrender my self-respect for the sake of being liked by those who would turn on you in a heartbeat.

And I know no one would ever mistake me for Tom Petty but as he said in that great song, I won’t back down.

So go ahead, pile on the criticism and outrage at what I’m about to say but know this: If and when that awful day comes when some deranged individual bursts into a school, armed with an AR-15 somewhere in Louisiana, you’d better pray to God he doesn’t gun down your child or grandchild.

And make no mistake, it can happen here.

You might want to remember that, Sen. Bill Cassidy ($2.8 million), Sen. John Kennedy ($9,900) Rep. Garrett Graves ($6,000), Rep. Clay Higgins ($3,500), Rep. James Johnson ($1,000) or Rep. Ralph Abraham ($1,000), and—of all people—Rep. Steve Scalise ($23,850) before you accept any future campaign contributions from the NRA.

A further breakdown of contributions for just the 2016 election cycle can be viewed HERE. Rep. Charles Boustany, Kennedy, and Scalise each received $4,950 from the most powerful lobby in the universe.

Here is a partial listing of some of the recipients of the more generous NRA direct and indirect contributions These include contributions in support of these candidates and contributions in opposition to their challengers. They may cover several election cycles:

As for the latest slaughter, this one in Parkland, Florida (where, incidentally, a Denham Springs resident had two grandchildren enrolled—fortunately, they were unhurt), we can count on our members of Congress who, lacking the backbone to stand up to the NRA, will utter these same two worn-out clichés:

“Our thoughts and prayers (shortened to TAP) are with the families of the victims.”

“Now is not the time” to talk about legislation to curtail access to automatic weapons.

And, of course, mouthpieces for the NRA will continue to spew the garbage that the best deterrent against bad people with guns is good people with guns. Just what we need, a shootout between teachers with a pistol and a maniac with an AR-15—with school kids caught in the crossfire. Brilliant strategy.

The chorus of protest certain to arise from this post will consist of criticism of any advocacy of additional laws to control ready access to automatic weapons. That, I will admit, is a valid criticism: Those laws should have been enacted long ago but for the collective cowardice of Congress.

Some will say there are already laws on the books if we would just enforce them but there are gaping loopholes LOOPHOLES in the law that addresses access to automatic weapons like the AR-15, which seems to be the COMMON DENOMINATOR in these mass shootings. In fact, there is a package of BILLS—backed by the NRA—that would actually make it easier to purchase silencers like the one used in the Las Vegas attack that killed 59 people. Here’s another link to the AR-15 popularity.

The only people with real courage in this oft-repeated scenario are the ones like the teacher at Sandy Hook or the COACH at Parkland yesterday who shielded students from their attackers and took a fatal bullet in the process. Or the teacher at Parkland who had the presence of mind to herd 19 students into a CLOSET during the rampage.

Those are the heroes. Too bad we can look in vain for any member of Congress who would do as much. They would rather offer TAP and continue to take NRA money.

Sen. MARCO RUBIO ($4,950), Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart ($27,450), Gus Billrakis ($16,450), Vernon Buchanan ($15,450), Bill Posey ($13,500), Dennis Ross ($11,000), Charles Crist Jr. ($9,900), Daniel Webster ($7,950), Carlos Curbelo ($7,450), Brian Mast ($4,950), Theodore Yoho ($4,000), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen ($2,000), Tom Rooney and Neal Dunn ($2,000 each), and Alcee Hastings, Matt Gaetz, and John Rutherford ($1,000 each) may also wish to justify their NRA contributions to their Florida constituents.

Full disclosure: I own a .22 rifle and a .38 revolver. Does that make me a hypocrite? Perhaps. But I do not own an AR-15 nor are either of my guns equipped with a silencer. I’m not a hunter but if I were, I fail to see why I need an automatic weapon to bring down Bambi. If I’m not good enough to do it in one or two shots, maybe it’s time to take my checkerboard to the park and hobnob with some other equally inept old geezer. And why would I need a bump stock to go squirrel hunting anyway?

Moreover, while I readily acknowledge the rights of non-felon mentally sane Americans under the Second Amendment, there’s this thought, for what it’s worth:

The universal expression in invoking the Second Amendment is the protection it gives us in preventing the “guvmint” from swooping in and confiscating all our weapons.

Well, to those folks, I say you might want to take a look around you.

Local police departments—even college and university police departments—are stocking up with heavy-duty MILITARY ARMAMENTS even as I write this. These are weapons designed for massive destructive force. Lethal would be a good word to describe them.

Why would a small-town police department need an armored urban assault vehicle? Why would it need a military helicopter?

And if the “guvmint” ever decided to swoop in and confiscate your weapons, what effect might your deer rifle have in preventing that? Against those kinds of weapons, even an AR-15 would be the equivalent of a bb gun against a grizzly bear.

So, go ahead. Take your best shot. I stand by my outrage at the silence and inaction of our political leaders in the face of such obviously escalating CARNAGE.

I don’t profess to have the answers. But I do know this: TAP and saying now isn’t the time ain’t the solution; it’s a weak-kneed cop-out. TAP aren’t going to stop a bullet and now most certainly IS the time to talk about it.

 

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By Morgan Statt, Guest Columnist

It’s 2005, and the National All Schedules Prescription Reporting Act (HR 1132) is on President George W. Bush’s desk ready to sign. With one fell swoop he signs the bill into law, and it grants all states $100 million in funding to aid prescription drug monitoring services. Shortly after, former Louisiana representative Billy Tauzin abandons his post in the House of Representatives and accepts a job as President and CEO of PhRMA, a major lobbying group for pharmaceutical companies. Instead of celebrating the bill being signed into law, Tauzin finds a way to dismantle the allocation of funding.

Now, let’s bring it back to present day. Today, there is an almost daily snippet of news on America’s opioid epidemic, one that has ravaged nearly every area of the country. In 2016, more than 63,600 opioid overdose deaths were reported, the highest number ever, and new reports show that the crisis is lowering the average American life expectancy.

What’s being done to combat the crisis that either directly or indirectly affects millions of Americans?

For one, states are strengthening their prescription monitoring programs, the very thing Rep. Tauzin dismantled funding for in 2005. Although these programs have been in place for a number of years, only a limited number of providers have taken advantage of their ability to detect and deter abuse. Additionally, cities and states across the country have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the crisis.

And Louisiana is one of them.

In September 2017, the Louisiana Department of Health filed a lawsuit against 16 drug manufacturers, among them OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, at the 19th Judicial Court in Baton Rouge. The suit claims that the named companies used aggressive marketing tactics and encouraged physicians to prescribe opioids under the guise that they were not addictive.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has said that “Louisiana is one of eight states that has more opioid prescriptions than residents.” Despite the fact that Big Pharma played a role in the opioid epidemic, will these lawsuits actually make a difference? Even if there was an astronomical payout, will these lawsuits help to end the crisis and prevent future epidemics?

The short answer is: no.

Big Pharma is like that rich, popular kid in high school we all knew. They used their money and status to manipulate peers and played off students’ desires to be a part of their inner circle.

Similarly, Big Pharma uses status and influence to get what it wants. Its targets for manipulation span multiple areas of the industry, which include the current regulations in place and clinical trials.

Before we can even have a sliver of hope that a hefty payout will change its ways, we have to tackle the pharmaceutical industry’s influence head-on to see any real impact on its actions. We can start by addressing these two areas of influence.

Drug companies have the ability to fund clinical trials.

Imagine you come out of surgery and are placed on a blood thinner to prevent any clotting from happening once you’re off the operating table. You’ve been told of the internal bleeding side effects, but there just so happens to be no known antidote on the market yet to serve as treatment if such complications arise.

This was the case for the anticoagulant Pradaxa. In 2010, the medication was met with FDA approval and put on the market without an antidote. But then severe internal bleeding incidents took place, and over 1,000 people died as a result of being prescribed the medication. Since then, manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim has had a slew of Pradaxa lawsuits filed against it for its role in patient harm.

I bring up Pradaxa as an example because it points to issues with the clinical trial process that exist today. In a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, clinical trial funding that has been traditionally provided by the National Institute of Health has fallen dramatically over the years. To supplement the lack of funding, pharmaceutical companies sponsor the trials. But, this presents the opportunity for companies with financial interest in the trial outcomes to favor positive results over any negative side effects that could occur.

In the case of Pradaxa, its industry-funded clinical trial RE-LY was met with criticism from drug safety groups for generalizing the medication’s potential population and failing to be carried out as a double-blind study. Skewed trial results led to hasty FDA approval and ultimately the creation of a $650 million settlement fund in 2014 that Boehringer Ingelheim used to settle over 4,000 claims.

Laws & regulations favor Big Pharma.

Despite legislators’ best attempts to protect consumers, certain laws & regulations currently in place often aid pharmaceutical companies’ business ventures, rather than prioritizing patient safety. One such law that has faced criticism in recent years is the 21st Century Cures Act, which loosened regulations on the drug and medical device approval process.

Although put in place to encourage innovation and quicken the ability for life-saving drugs to get to market, critics argue that the real winners of the bill were the drug companies. As part of the “loosening” of regulations, Big Pharma can now get away with using only “data summaries” instead of conducting full clinical trials to get drug approval. They’re also now able to promote off-label uses for their medications, enabling them to expand their markets – and their profits.

Ironically enough, drug companies aggressively promoted the off-label use of opioids and contributed to the rise in addictions across the country. Look no further than Insys Therapeutics’ push for non-cancer patients to take Subsys, a “powerful, fentanyl-based liquid” originally marketed for cancer patients with pain that couldn’t be treated with any other option.

As much as we’d like to pretend that lawsuits against Big Pharma can play a role in solving the opioid crisis, this isn’t the case. Drug companies’ influence stretches far and wide, and it may be time to strip that influence away little by little.

Let’s scrutinize the laws and regulations in place that give Big Pharma the upper hand. Let’s consider alternative funding sources for clinical trials that would allow little room for bias. But most importantly, let’s find a way to ensure that lawmakers, lobbyists, and other government officials are committed to doing what’s best for the American public rather than chasing that dollar sign.

(Morgan Statt is a Health & Safety Investigator for Consumersafety.org, a consumer information organization which strives to provide information about recalls and safety-related news about drugs, medical devices, food, and consumer products.)

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New Orleans native Donna Brazile has created quite a stir over her new book Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House. But her description of the infighting in the national Democratic Party is mirrored at least in part on a local scale by what has been transpiring in the Louisiana Democratic Party since State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson ousted Buddy Leach as State Chairman in 2012.

Brazile, in her book, described how candidate Hillary Clinton took over the Democratic National Committee’s funding during the primary season while still competing with Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination for President. By gaining control of the party’s finances, Brazile said, Clinton effectively rigged the process to kill whatever chance Sanders may have had to win the nomination.

But paralleling the infighting that developed between followers of Hillary and Sanders, the Louisiana Democratic Party appears to have fallen into its own state of considerable disarray on Peterson’s watch. And its problems, like that of the DNC, can be traced back to money and power.

Back room deals, endorsements, and questionable expenditures in the recent campaign for state treasurer have raised a number of questions. For example:

  • Is State Sen. Neil Riser truly a Republican?
  • If so, why did he lavish money on traditionally Democratic organizations like the Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD), THE New Orleans East Leadership PAC, New Orleans East Leadership PAC, Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors, Algiers PAC, Jefferson United, and Treme Improvement Political Society in his campaign for state treasurer?
  • Are the aforementioned actually Democratic organizations or are they simply a means to raising money in exchange for the endorsement of the highest bidder?
  • If they are Democratic organizations, why didn’t they endorse Democrat Derrick Edwards in the first primary instead of waiting until Riser lost—he finished dead last among the four major candidates—to direct their support to Edwards?

BOLD’s open bidding policy pre-dates Peterson. In 2003, the organization endorsed Bobby Jindal over Kathleen Blanco for governor. Of course, that was after Jindal paid BOLD $10,000 for “consulting and printing.”

During his campaign, Riser’s expenditures included $15,000 to BOLD for printing (BOLD, which Peterson’s dad, Ken Carter, co-founded, subsequently listed Riser at the top of its sample ballots), $14.500 in two contributions to New Orleans East Leadership PAC, a $10,000 contribution to the Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors, $6,000 to Algiers PAC for printing, $5,000 to Jefferson United for undetermined expenses, $5,000 to Treme Improvement Political Society.

But the treasurer’s race is merely symptomatic of a far greater problem within the State Democratic Party.

One of Peterson’s first acts as the new State Chairperson in 2012 was to nullify all parish executive committee appointments made during Leach’s tenure. And it’s been downhill ever since.

In an organization that is perpetually financially strapped, the Executive Committee, once stacked with her appointees, awarded her an annual stipend of $36,000 plus expenses. This was done without the approval of the Democratic State Central Committee, most of whom were unaware of the stipend. She has continued taking the money in her second term, again without approval.

Stephen Handwerk, Executive Director of the State Democratic Party, pulls down nearly $100,000 in salary but he has been reluctant to make use of an available database to identify and engage Democratic voters, claiming he has insufficient staff to do so. Yet, he found the time to take a second salaried job with the Democratic National Committee, according to DNC expense reports.

Peterson also has made it a point to take care of family in her role as chairperson. Her sister, Eileen Carter, of Houma, was paid $13,000 during October and November 2015 for “organizational/grassroots consultation,” according to figures provided by the Louisiana Ethics Commission.

Other payments made by the Louisiana Democratic Party under Peterson include:

  • Twelve payments of $600 each to the Chicken Shack of Baton Rouge for party card distribution and catering. Chicken Shack is a business owned by former State Sen. Joe Delpit of Baton Rouge.
  • Four separate payments of $900 each to J&M Transportation of Slidell for state party card distribution. J&M is a limousine service.

Peterson denies being among the three prominent Democrats (including then-Sen. Mary Landrieu) who met with then-State. Rep. John Bel Edwards at New Orleans International Airport in 2015 and tried to convince him to withdraw from the governor’s race so that a moderate Republican might be elected. Landrieu has since apologized for her part in that effort but Peterson has not.

Peterson also threw up roadblocks to the State Democratic Party’s official endorsement of Derrick Edwards (no relation to Gov. John Bel Edwards) for treasurer until after the first primary, in which Edwards led all candidates as the only Democrat in the race.

According to the State Democratic Party’s by-laws, “The Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC) shall conduct such activities, as it deems appropriate to elect Democratic candidates in national, state and local elections.”

Yet, there was Republican Riser’s name at the top of BOLD’s sample ballots which most likely accounts for Peterson’s reluctance to endorse Edwards at the outset.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, despite Peterson’s attempt to get him to drop out of the gubernatorial race, has been loath to support a replacement for her for fear of alienating the Legislative Black Caucus.

But the biggest concern to several Democratic Parish Executive Committee (DPEC) members is the lack of membership on no fewer than 29 parish executive committees, a condition critics attribute to Peterson’s lack of timely appointments.

“There are 29 parishes which have five or fewer members on their committee,” one DPEC member said. “There should be at least 15 members of each parish executive committee. That’s nearly half the state that has non-existent or non-functioning DPECs. Livingston Parish has only seven of 15 seats filled. One member of the Livingston DPEC has been working since February to get the seats filled but that still hasn’t been done even though names have been submitted.”

And nearly two years into Peterson’s second term as state chairperson, there are 33 DSCC vacancies. “If she fills positions at all, it’s usually with her minions,” one DSCC member said.

Parishes with one or more vacancies in DSCC representation include Caddo, Bossier, DeSoto, Sabine, Lincoln, Union, Ouachita, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana, Caldwell, Catahoula, Franklin, LaSalle, Tensas, Concordia, East Carroll, Madison, Tensas, Rapides, Lafayette, Vermilion, Calcasieu, Acadia, Iberia, St. Martin, East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Tangipahoa, Washington, St. Tammany, and Jefferson.

Meanwhile, Peterson in March of this year managed to get herself elected to the DNC as Vice Chair of Civic Engagement and Voter Participation. “How ironic is that?” the DSCC member asked.

“Karen Carter Peterson is an ambitious politician of questionable loyalties who has used her chairmanship of DSCC to build a fiefdom and to launch a national career, all at the expense of the organization she was elected to build and serve,” the DSCC member said.

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