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Archive for the ‘Politicians’ Category

An updated variation of the infamous Mike Edmonson Amendment has made its way into the 2017 legislative session in an effort to help yet another public official scratch out a little more money from the public fisc.*

*fisc (fisk) noun: The public treasury of Rome.

It’s really amazing how these legislators can work so diligently on behalf of certain connected individuals while ignoring much larger problems facing the state.

As much as LouisianaVoice criticized Bobby Jindal during his eight years of misrule, it was the legislature that allowed him to do what he did. It was the legislature that brought about the state’s fiscal problems by refusing to stand up to his ill-advised “reforms,” and it’s the legislature that has steadfastly refused to address those problems with anything approaching realistic solutions.

But when there’s a chance to help one of their own: stand back, there’s work to be done.

Rep. Gary Carter (D-New Orleans) has introduced House Bill 207 aimed specifically at benefiting U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy.

Louisiana, it seems, has this pesky little dual office holding/dual employment law that might otherwise prove a hindrance to Cassidy’s ability to moonlight by teaching at the LSU Health Science Center while serving in the U.S. Senate.

Carter wants to remedy and if you don’t think this bill was written specifically for Cassidy, here’s the particulars of the bill:

“To enact R.S. 42:66(E), relative to dual officeholding and dual employment; to allow a healthcare provider who is a member of the faculty or staff of a public higher education institution to also hold elective office in the government of the United States…”

The bill would provide an exception to the current law which prohibits “certain specific combinations of public office and employment, including a prohibition against a person holding at the same time an elective or appointive office or employment in state government and an elective office, appointive office, or employment in the U.S. government.”

We could be wrong, but it just seems to us that serving in the U.S. Senate is a full-time job that demands the full attention of whomever happens to be representing Louisiana in that august body.

It was just such an amendment in 2014 that helped prove the eventual undoing of Edmonson’s career and his political aspirations. The word was that Edmonson planned to seek the state’s second-highest office in 2015—and was considered a fairly viable candidate.

LouisianaVoice broke the story of State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and his tacking an amendment onto an otherwise benign bill that would have given Edmonson between $50,000 and $100,000 per year in additional retirement income. Because of the resulting furor over that amendment, State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) successfully sued to block the increase in Baton Rouge district court.

A veteran political observer recently told us, “If you hadn’t broken that story, Mike Edmonson would be lieutenant governor today.” (We don’t know about that but at least he’d be better than what we now have in that office.)

Remember in the 2014 senatorial race between then-incumbent Mary Landrieu and challenger U.S. Rep. Cassidy when Landrieu claimed Cassidy was paid for time lecturing classes not supported by his time sheets?

Jason Berry, publisher of The American Zombie Web blog said that on no fewer than 21 occasions over a 30-month span, U.S. Rep. Cassidy billed LSU Health Science Center for work supposedly performed on the same days that Congress was in session and voting on major legislation and holding crucial committee hearings on energy and the Affordable Care Act.

“On at least 17 different occasions,” Berry wrote, “he (Cassidy) spent multiple hours in LSU-HSC’s clinics on the same days in which he also participated in committee hearings and roll call votes.”

Landrieu said at the time of the revelations that Cassidy, while claiming to serve the poor, was in fact, “serving himself an extra paycheck. That’s not right. It could be illegal and it looks very much like payroll fraud.”

The arrangement apparently also troubled then-Earl K. Long Hospital Business Manager William Livings who said in an email to Internal Medicine Department Head George Karam, “We are going to really have to spell out exactly what it is he does for us for his remuneration from us. Believe me, this scenario will be a very auditable item and I feel they will really hone in on this situation to make sure we are meeting all federal and state regulations.”

In addition to Cassidy’s salary, Berry said, LSU also paid for his medical malpractice insurance, his continuing education and his licensing fees, “expenses that can easily total in the thousands.”

And now Carter wants to make it all nice and legal—but only for Cassidy. All other state employees who would like to do a little double-dipping to supplement their income can just fuggedaboutit.

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Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal’s travails (largely of his own making) continue with the filing of yet another in a series of legal actions, this one a federal LAWSUIT filed by a former female deputy.

As is usually the case, no matter how the trial (or settlement, which is more likely) eventually turns out, the real winners will be the attorneys who will have managed to drag out legal proceedings for a minimum of 18 months, barring any further delays in the trial tentatively set for June 4, 2018.

If the case follows the all-too-common trend, however, there is almost certain to be unforeseen delays and continuances that will push that date back even further as attorneys (and there is a gaggle of those) continue to rack up billable hours.

Candace Rayburn, a deputy sheriff for more than five years, claims she was unceremoniously and summarily terminated after she spoke up in the defense of a female co-worker filed an EEOC sexual harassment charge against a male deputy.

Rayburn’s is another in a string of lawsuits filed against Ackal, who was recently acquitted in Shreveport federal court of criminal charges of abusing black prisoners of his jail. Those charges included beatings of prisoners and turning a police dog on a helpless prisoner, a gruesome scene that was captured on video and posted by LouisianaVoice earlier.

Ackal is also being sued for wrongful termination by another former deputy and by the family of a prisoner who died of a gunshot wound while handcuffed and in the custody of Iberia Parish Sheriff’s deputies. The official coroner’s ruling was that the prisoner, Victor White, died of a self-inflicted wound.

The sheriff is also indirectly involved in the manslaughter arrest of a man instrumental in starting a recall of Ackal over the White shooting. https://louisianavoice.com/2017/03/21/man-indicted-for-manslaughter-after-he-is-rear-ended-by-man-later-killed-in-separate-accident-his-sin-was-recall-of-sheriff/

Rayburn initially named both Ackal and the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office as defendants but recently amended her petition to include Ackal as the only defendant.

Ackal, who paid premium fees in his criminal defense, in a classic case of fiscal overkill, has opened up the parish bank in hiring not one, not two, not three, not four, but five defense attorneys, all from the same law firm.

That’s right. Because he’s being sued in his official capacity as sheriff, Iberia Parish taxpayers will pick up the tab for his legal bills—all of them.

Rayburn, who was employed as a Sheriff’s Deputy for IPSO from July 21, 2008 to November

15, 2013, says she received “overwhelmingly positive reviews from her Supervisors” and was even named “Employee of the Year” in 2012.

But when Deputy Laura Segura filed a sexual harassment complaint against Chief Deputy Bert Berry, she voiced her support of Segura. Within two weeks, she says, she was brought before the department’s disciplinary board which recommended a one-year probationary period and that she be offered remedial training. Instead, she claims in her suit, Ackal fired her for “multiple (uncited) policy violations,” actions she claims were committed “with malice.”

Rayburn is claiming loss of pay, loss of benefits, loss of earning capacity, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

She is seeking reinstatement, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

To say Ackal has lawyered up would be an understatement. He has retained half the Lafayette law firm of Borne, Wilkes & Rabalais: Allison McDade Ackal, Homer Edward Barousse, III, Kyle Nicholas Choate, Joy C Rabalais, and Taylor Reppond Stover.

Rayburn is represented by Justin Roy Mueller, also of Lafayette.

The calendar, rules, and SCHEDULE set forth by the court are simply mind-boggling and serve to illustrate why our courts are so backed up—and why justice is only for those who can afford it.

The court, invoking something called Rule 30(a)(2)(A), placed a limit of 10 on the number of depositions that may be taken in the case, limiting each to one seven-hour day—absent written stipulation of parties to the suit or of a court order.

Should the parties participate in the maximum 10 depositions with each one running the full seven hours allowed, that’s 70 hours of legal fees for which the parish must stand good.

Applying an arbitrary rate of $200 per hour (which most likely is considerably less than the hourly rate the parish paid his attorney in his criminal trial), that comes to $14,000—and that doesn’t count the costs of court reporters, expert fees, filing fees and countless other hours the five attorneys will be billing the parish for, or the Segura settlement which reportedly cost the parish in the ballpark of $400,000.

All in all, with all the legal expenses incurred by Ackal and his deputies in all the lawsuits and criminal charges, the folks in Iberia Parish must be asking themselves about now if they can really afford to keep such a financial liability in office.

Some might even call him high maintenance.

Others might call him a genuine physical threat.

By anyone’s definition, though, he is a loose cannon.

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Bobby Jindal and former Director of the Louisiana Office of Workers Compensation (OWC) Wes Hataway are gone but a court decision late last month could represent a legal smack down of the way workers’ compensation claims have been handled since July 13, 2011, Jindal’s third year in the governor’s office.

The ruling by 19th Judicial District Judge Don Johnson takes direct aim at a law pushed through the Louisiana Legislature and which set up new medical treatment guidelines for injured workers which plaintiffs said violated the due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions.

In his WRITTEN REASONS FOR JUDGMENT, Judge Johnson struck down provisions which:

  • Stipulated that when a carrier/self-insured employer fails to return LWC forms within the five business days it is deemed to have denied such request for authorization;
  • Provided an automatic “tacit denial” of medical treatment;
  • Allowed OWC to enforce variances from medical treatment guidelines;
  • Denied treatment not covered by medical treatment guidelines;
  • Allowed the OWC a workers compensation carrier to arbitrarily submit—and the OWC medical director to accept—any information it desires without notifying the injured worker of the “evidence.”

The suit was brought against the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) in 2013 by attorney Janice Hebert Barber and several physicians and injured workers who were denied benefits under the new law. Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith III represented each of the plaintiffs. Also named as defendants were LWC Secretary Curt Eysink, Hataway, and former OWC Medical Director Dr. Christopher Rich.

Barber said the regulations also discriminate against injured workers in that:

  • Medical benefits were denied to injured workers because their physicians could not return calls from Rich’s staff as quickly as they liked;
  • One request for medical treatment was denied because the injured worker’s attorney submitted too many pages of records to Rich;
  • Another request for treatment was denied because the case itself was 12 years old;
  • Numerous requests for treatment were denied because Rich claimed they were submitted by “bad doctors” who were “bad” only because they were too favorable to their patients, in Rich’s opinion;
  • Requests for medical procedures were denied on the basis of who owned the medical equipment which would be utilized for the procedure;
  • As of December 2012, Medical Director Rich had approved only 14 percent of all requests for medical treatment of injured workers in cases where compensability had already been determined;
  • Rich had denied requests for medical treatment in cases in which he never even spoke to the claimants;
  • Hataway repeatedly engaged in ex parte communications with attorneys and others representing workers compensation insurance carriers and self-insured employers;
  • Hataway and his staff repeatedly expressed the Jindal administration’s “positions” on issues to be litigated by workers compensation judges to the judges themselves.

Barber said in her lawsuit that the new regulations had “enriched workers’ compensation insurance carriers and has harmed injured workers in Louisiana.” She claimed that under the new regulations, the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corporation (LWCC), the state’s largest workers’ compensation carrier, more than doubled premium dividend payments to Louisiana employers than were paid the year before the new law went into effect.

When Jindal named his four nominees to the University Medical Center Management Corp. Board back in March of 2010, he not only was looking after some of his more generous campaign contributors, but he also placed one of them in a position of potential conflict of interest.

At the time of his appointment as medical director, Dr. Christopher Rich of Alexandria currently held three separate contracts with the state totaling more than $3.3 million and he had already run into ethical problems with one of those contracts.

Rich also was named by Jindal as one of four nominees for the proposed billion-dollar University Medical Center that was to serve as a replacement for the 70-year-old facility that was closed after its basement was flooded during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Like many of Jindal’s high-profile appointees, Rich, his wife Vickie and business partner Dr. Mark Dodson, also of Alexandria, combined to contribute $9,500 to Jindal’s campaigns in 2007, 2010 and 2011.

Rich had a $516,646 contract to serve as Medical Director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC) Administration that called on him to approve or disapprove medical treatments and procedures for the Office of Workers’ Compensation.

That contract is actually to Chrickie Investments, a company owned by him and his wife.

In 2009, the Louisiana Legislature passed a law which changed the process for determining whether or not medical treatment was “medically necessary.” If a workers’ comp insurance company denies a treatment request, the denial is referred to the OWC medical director, in this case, Rich.

Though the law was passed in 2009, problems with implementing the rules to enforce the new law delayed the actual enactment date of the law until July 13, 2011.

Rich testified before the House Labor Committee that he was “denying 80 percent” of all treatment requested.

At the same time he was contracted to be the sole determiner of all medical treatment for Louisiana’s injured workers, he and Dodson were partners in Louisiana Ortho Services which held a $2.3 million contract to provide orthopedic services for the state, specifically Huey P. Long Medical Center.

Huey P. Long Medical Center (HLMC) at the time was one of 10 state hospitals that made up the LSU Health Care System which is administered by the LSU Board of Supervisors which also oversees the University Medical Center Management Board on which Rich sits. HLMC was subsequently shut down by the Jindal administration.

Because he also owned an interest in Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital which also provided medical treatment to injured workers, the question of his eligibility to make decisions on medical treatment which could financially impact the hospital as well as Mid-State came before the Louisiana Board of Governmental Ethics on separate occasions.

In March 2011, the ethics board ruled that Rich was prohibited, in his capacity as Medical Director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation, from participation in any matter involving Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital.

In January 2012, however, a second opinion said there was no conflict since he had terminated his relationship with Mid-State—only six months since the state had awarded Louisiana Ortho, that $2.3 million contract. Though he no longer is affiliated with Mid-State, he remains a partner in Louisiana Ortho with Dodson who in turn remains as a partner with Mid-State. The timing and the connections, to say the least, are curious.

Rich and Dodson also were partners in a company called ACTIVEMED, Inc., which held a $523,000 contract to provide orthopedic medical services to Northwestern State University student athletes.

Activemed also provided secondary insurance, also known as a preferred provider network (PPN) for two Louisiana university college sports teams and athletes. Basically, the athletes’ primary health insurance is the first payor for sports-related injuries. Then, if the student treats with an Activemed provider and they are enrolled with Activemed, then Activemed picks up the tab for the remainder of the treatment.

This means that Drs. Rich and Dodson had direct control over which doctors Activemed refers injured students to and if those same doctors happen to treat any Louisiana workers’ compensation patients, there existed a potential conflict of interest for Rich.

Activemed’s internet web page contains no list of medical providers, nor is Activemed listed under the Louisiana Department of Insurance either as an insurance company, a third party administrator (TPA), or an adjusting company.

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Here’s a story no one saw coming:

There’s political chicanery afoot in Baton Rouge.

Who’d-a-thunk it?

Okay all that was said tongue-in-cheek.

Unfortunately.

The truth is, we’ve become so inured to political sleaze in Louisiana politics that it’s become difficult to be either surprised or outraged, leaving only indifference as our emotion of choice.

All the ingredients are in place for graft, corruption, and exploitation and there are plenty of those more than willing to take advantage of the opportunity:

  • A contract to manage Louisiana’s flood recovery program worth anywhere from 16 percent to 22 percent of $1.6 billion in federal funds;
  • A former state senator, Larry Bankston, convicted two decades ago on two counts of racketeering who now advises the State Contractor Licensing Board that has managed to insert itself into the debate over the proposed contract;
  • Claims of bid irregularities by a losing bidder;
  • Support of that claim by Bankston who neglected to mention that his son worked for one of the losing bidders;
  • Cancellation by the state of the $250,000 contract so that it may be re-advertised;
  • A potential 2019 gubernatorial candidate questioning the propriety of Bankston’s employment by that state board;
  • Up to 150,000 homes and nearly half-a-million residents affected by Louisiana floods in 2016, many of whom are still waiting for the political inertia called Restore Louisiana to start things moving so they can get back into their flooded homes.

Anytime there’s big money involved, especially federal money, the potential always exists for political and legal jockeying and manipulation. The temptation can be overwhelming.

Stephen Winham recently wrote a column for LouisianaVoice on this very subject: https://louisianavoice.com/2017/03/18/forget-blaming-fema-guest-columnist-area-reporters-correctly-place-fault-with-state-for-flood-recovery-failures/

The fact that the plight of the state’s flood victims has been obscured, seemingly forgotten, in the process of too-long delayed recovery only makes the state of affairs all the more shameful and disgusting. But when you have no voice, you are quickly forgotten in the scramble for big bucks.

And the bigger the bucks, the more greed manifests itself. And the more the greed, the less focus there is on the victims. That’s the way it’s always been and apparently that’s the way it will always be.

And hardly addressed is the issue of just what the deliverables on such a contract would be. Here we have companies crawling all over each other in order to obtain a contract which represents 20 percent of the total allocation for flood recovery.

And those companies won’t put up the first piece of drywall or sheetrock. They won’t perform any plumbing or electrical work. They won’t install any flooring or apply the first coat of paint, nor will they hammer the first nail. In short, they will do nothing meaningful toward flood recovery other than to approve payments to those who do the actual work.

But they will collect up to 20 percent of the recovery money—likely more if they can succeed at the usual practice of coming back for a contract amendment a few months down the road.

This story has received fairly significant play in the Baton Rouge area but if you’ve not kept up with The Advocate’s coverage, here’s essentially what has transpired:

A team led by IEM, a North Carolina company affiliated with several Baton Rouge engineering and consulting firms, easily had the best score—by at least 16 points—among the five teams submitting proposals and also quoted the lowest price—$250 million.

But PDRM, led by CSRS of Baton Rouge, whose bid was $65 million higher, filed an official complaint with the State Licensing Board for Contractors, pointing out that IEM did not possess a commercial contractor’s license at the time of its bid.

The Request for Proposals issued by the state, however, said only that bidding companies had to possess a license or be able to obtain one. IEM did, in fact, obtain a license prior to the time bids were opened. Ironically, PDRM, the company which blew the whistle on IEM, did not possess a contractor’s license at the time it submitted its bid either.

Bankston, legal counsel for the licensing board, opined that eligible bidders needed a contractor’s license at the time of bid submissions—and the licensing board agreed. The following day, March 17, the state decided to CANCEL IEM’s contract and re-bid the project.

By offering the opinion that he did, apparently disqualifying both IEM and PDRM in the process, the winning bid would have then gone to the third lowest bidder had not the administration decided to pull the plug on the whole thing and start over.

That third company whose bid was $350 million, $100 million higher than IEM, was Rebuild Louisiana Now and was led by a Texas firm called SLS. SLS also owns a company called DRC Emergency Services. Bankston’s son, Benjamin Bankston, works as regional manager for DRC. Larry Bankston said he was unaware his son’s firm had any relationship to any of the bidding companies when he wrote his opinion.

DRC had its own legal problems back in 2012 over payments and gratuities the company was accused of giving former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle after the firm received two CONTRACTS from the then-sheriff totaling more than $3 million.

In March 2002, the Louisiana Supreme Court REVOKED Bankston’s law license after his conviction on two counts of racketeering in 1997 in connection with then-State Sen. Bankston’s sham rental of his Gulf Shores condo to video poker operator Fred Goodson for $1,555 per week.

Bankston’s conviction was UPHELD by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in July 1999.

Contracting board Chairman Lee Mallett of Iowa, said he retains “full confidence” in Bankston.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry DISAGREES. But Landry’s desire to run for governor against John Bel Edwards in 2019 is the worst-kept secret in Baton Rouge, so he’s going to do and say anything he can to embarrass the governor.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, also being mentioned as a potential opponent for Edwards in two years and who was instrumental in obtaining federal flood recover money for Louisiana, also takes issue with the decision to cancel the IEM contract and to start the bid process all over.

“This is very disappointing news,” Graves said, adding that the decision will only serve to further delay needed flood relief funds. “It is impossible to explain to flood victims why $1.6 billion in recovery dollars are stuck in the bureaucracy while homes remain gutted, molded and uninsulated.”

Graves said obtaining the federal money “wasn’t easy and now every time we talk to the Appropriations Committee and leadership folks, they cite the fact that we haven’t spent what we already received. It’s a concern absolutely.”

That politicians, lawyers and contractors would put their own interests ahead of those of people who have been forced out of their homes—some for a year now—only serves to drive home the point that while there has been a change of administrations in Louisiana, nothing really has changed.

Yep, there’s political chicanery afoot in Baton Rouge.

Who’d-a-thunk it?

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A question for Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis:

How much is enough?

And that’s not a rhetorical question. We really want to know what your limits are.

According to Francis, a wealthy man in his own right, he should be entitled to a free lunch.

Literally.

You see, the political campaigns of Public Service Commission (PSC) members, the Louisiana Insurance Commissioner and judges at every level are financed in large part by the very ones they regulate or do business with on a daily basis.

But apparently that association is not cozy enough for Francis, who wants to remove all restrictions on accepting free meals from representatives of utilities, motor carriers, and others regulated by the PSC.

Granted, the PSC purports to hold itself to a higher standard than actual ethics rules allow. Legally, elected officials are allowed to accept up to $60 per day in food and beverage under the guise of “business” lunches or dinners. But, as Baton Rouge Advocate columnist and resident curmudgeon JAMES GILL writes, the PSC, at the urging of members Foster Campbell and Lambert Boissiere, rammed through a rule barring all freeloading.

That didn’t sit well with Francis, who is financially solvent enough to daily feed the entire commission out of his petty cash account.

Saying he wanted the commission to be run like a business, he sniffed that a working lunch is “pretty standard procedure in the real work world.”

Our question to Francis then is this: since when is government run like a business? Businesses are run to make a profit; government is run to provide services for its citizens. The two concepts are like the rails on a railroad track: they never cross though they often do appear to converge.

And then there is our follow up question to Mr. Francis: isn’t it enough that you manage to extract huge sums of money from the industries you regulate in the form of campaign contributions? Why would you need a free lunch on top of that?

After all, your campaign finance reports indicate you received $5,000 from AT&T, $5,000 from ENPAC (Entergy’s political action committee), $5,000 from Atmos Energy Corp. PAC, $2,500 from the Louisiana Rural Electric Cooperative, $2,500 from Dynamic Environmental Services, $2,500 from ADR Electric, $2,500 from carbon producing company Rain CII, $2,500 from Davis Oil principal William Mills, III, $2,500 each from Jones Walker and the Long law firms, each of whom represents oil and energy interests. There are plenty others but those are the primary purchasers of the Francis Free Lunch.

LouisianaVoice would like to offer a substitute motion to the Francis Free Lunch proposal. It will never be approved, but here goes:

Let’s enact a law, strictly enforced, that will prohibit campaign contributions from any entity that is governed, regulated, or otherwise overseen by those elected to the Public Service Commission, the Louisiana Insurance Commission, judgeships at all levels, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner.

  • No electric or gas companies, oil and gas transmission companies, or trucking and bus companies or rail companies could give a dime to Public Service Commission candidates.
  • Lawyers would be prohibited from contributing to candidates for judge or Attorney General.
  • Insurance companies would not be allowed to make contributions to candidates for Insurance Commissioner.
  • Likewise, companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF, who control 75% of the world pesticides market, and Factory farms like Tyson and Cargill, which account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide, could no longer attempt to influence legislation through contributions to candidates for Agriculture Commissioner.
  • Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) could no longer accept contributions from individuals or companies affiliated in any way, shape or form with education.

While we’re at it, the Lieutenant Governor’s office oversees tourism in the state. In fact, that’s about all that office does. So why should we allow candidates for Lieutenant Governor to accept campaign contributions from hotels, convention centers, and the like?

This concept could be taken even further to bar contributions from special interests to legislators who sit on committee that consider bills that affect those interests. Education Committee members, like BESE members, could not accept funds from Bill Gates or from any charter, voucher or online school operators, for example.

Like we said, it’ll never happen. That would be meaningful campaign reform. This is Louisiana. And never the twain shall meet. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would see to that.

But wouldn’t it be fun to watch candidates scramble for campaign funds if such restrictions were to be implemented?

We might even see a return of the campaign sound trucks of the Earl Long era rolling up and down the main streets of our cities and towns after all the TV advertising money dries up.

Ah, nostalgia.

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