quid pro quo
ˌkwid ˌprō ˈkwō/
A favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something.
Unless decisive action it taken over the next few days, our theory that nothing gets done about official chicanery, shady dealings and outright corruption will have been validated at the highest levels of state government.
And lest there are those who think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, let me assure them that I will keep pounding the keyboard as long as I am physically and mentally able to put the glare of the spotlight on them and their deeds.
At one point in 2015, someone said to me, “Once Bobby Jindal leaves office, you won’t have anything to write about.”
Not a chance.
Unfortunately, as long as politicians are intoxicated by money and power, there will be plenty to write about. And, as Johnny Mathis sang his song The Twelfth of Never, “that’s a long, long time.”
Take Kristy Nichols, for example. Someone, please. (Sorry, Henny Youngman.)
Or, just for fun, compare the strikingly similar cases of Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Kristy, as LouisianaVoice reported last September, jumped the Jindal ship to join Ochsner Health System as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs (read: lobbyist).
The only problem with that was that as Commissioner of Administration for Jindal, she presided over virtually every facet of state government except the legislative and judicial branches, but worked closely with those as well. State law prohibited her from lobbying the administrative and legislative branches but apparently there was nothing to prevent her from lobbying local governmental entities.
On November 5, 2015, less than two months following our story, Kimberly L. Robinson, an attorney with the Jones Walker law firm, acting on behalf of Ochsner, requested an advisory opinion on the question of whether or not Kristy could legally lobby the state.
A month later, Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards named Robinson as the new Secretary of the Department of Revenue, prompting her resignation from Jones Walker.
Robinson was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Kristy.
Sexton was an obvious choice, given his years as Chief Administrator for the Louisiana Board of Ethics. His knowledge of the system was so keen that in 2007, he pulled his own end-run when he resigned and the board immediately rehired him in a new capacity which allowed him to skirt a requirement under a newly-passed ethics law that he disclose clients in his private law practice (how’s that for irony?).
But back to Kristy’s dilemma.
On December 16, Sexton submitted a request to the ethics board to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion. Then, on January 22, 2016, Sexton submitted an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Kristy. That was followed by a request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion on March 31. The board granted the request to withdraw at its April 15 meeting.
The chronology was provided to LouisianaVoice in an e-mail Tuesday (Aug. 2) from Deborah S. Grier, Executive Secretary for the Board of Ethics. Here is that email:
——– Original message ——–
From: Deborah Grier <Deborah.Grier@LA.GOV>
Date: 8/2/16 9:14 AM (GMT-06:00)
Subject: RE: Opinion on Kristy Nichols: Public Records Requests
Good morning, Mr. Aswell:
Pursuant to your public records request of July 29, 2016 regarding an opinion issued by the Board with respect to former Commission of Administration Kristy Nichols’ employment as a lobbyist by Ochsner Health System, please be advised of the following:
A request for an advisory opinion dated November 5, 2015 was submitted by Kimberly L. Robinson with the Jones Walker law firm on behalf of Ochsner Health System and Kristy Nichols. Ms. Robinson subsequently left the private practice of law and was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Ms. Nichols as indicated in correspondence to our office from Mr. Sexton dated December 11, 2015. On December 16, 2015, a request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion was submitted to our office. The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion at its December 18, 2015 meeting.
Mr. Sexton, by correspondence dated January 22, 2016, submitted to the Board an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Ms. Nichols. A request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion was received by this office on March 31, 2016. The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion at its April 15, 2016 meeting.
No opinion has been rendered by the Board with respect to this issue.
Should you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Deborah S. Grier
Louisiana Board of Ethics
So, what does all that mean?
Could it be that Ochsner and Kristy have decided to let sleeping dogs lie? After all, if she proceeds with lobbying efforts and no one files an official complaint, then it’s no harm, no foul, right? That would certainly run true to form for Jindal’s Gold Standard of Ethics.
A quick check by LouisianaVoice, however, revealed that Kristy is not registered among any of Ochsner Health System’s 10 lobbyists. Sexton told LouisianaVoice today that Ochsner had apparently decided not to pursue the matter and it was his understanding that the company was pursuing “other plans” for Nichols. “Ochsner has a number of other lobbyists,” he said.
So if she is not a registered lobbyist, then just what is it that she does to earn her keep as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs?
Or was her employment simply some form of payback as we initially suggested in light of the $31 million Ochsner received in takeover of the Leonard Chabert Medical Center by Southern Regional Medical Corp. and Ochsner as part of Jindal’s haphazard state hospital privatization plan?
We’d no sooner received Ms. Grier’s email on Tuesday than the Baton Rouge Advocate posted a couple of stories, also on Tuesday, that caught our eye.
The first involved a claim by Gonzales City Council candidate Wayne Lawson that Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot attempted to bribe him not to seek a city council seat against incumbent Neal Bourque.
The Pelican Post news website first published the report that Matassa and Berthelot had offered Lawson $1,200 and a parish job if he would withdraw from the race. The deadline to withdraw was last Friday (July 29) at noon. Lawson, after posing for a photograph with the cash, a parish job application form and candidate withdrawal forms, returned the money and documents to Berthelot’s office without completing either of the forms.
Ricky Babin, District Attorney for the 23rd Judicial District, said his office would investigate Lawson’s claims. He said the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office are also investigating the allegations.
The Attorney General’s Office may be in something of a quandary as it embarks on that investigation, however.
The second Baton Rouge Advocate story, by reporter Gordon Russell, conjured up the ethics complained filed against Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.
In his story, Russell said that Landry, after trailing incumbent Buddy Caldwell by two percentage points in the primary election for Attorney General last October, received the endorsement of third place finisher Geri Broussard Baloney of Garyville in St. John the Baptist Parish, who had polled 18 percent.
With her endorsement in his back pocket, Landry, a former U.S. Representative, easily won the November runoff over Caldwell (who can forget Caldwell’s concession speech?). Soon thereafter, Baloney’s daughter, Quendi Baloney, was given a $53,000-a-year job by Landry.
At the time of her hire, all would-be employees of the AG’s office were required to sign a form agreeing to background checks and were also asked, in writing, if they had any criminal record.
In her case, she did. In 1999, she was charged with 11 felony counts of credit card fraud and theft, eventually pleading guilty to three counts, according to court records from Henrico County, Virginia. She was sentenced to six years in prison, all of it suspended.
Her new job? Well, it’s in the AG’s fraud section. More irony.
But in the end, her background is of less interest, given that her conviction was 17 years ago, than the fact that she was given her job as apparent payback for her mom’s endorsement of Landry following the first primary election in October.
A spokesperson for the AG’s office, Russell wrote, did not respond to questions about whether other candidates had applied for Quendi Baloney’s job or whether Landry had hired any other convicted felons.
For her part, Quendi Baloney told The Advocate that her arrest and conviction were “devastating,” but had made her a “stronger, harder-working ethical adult…”
She forwarded to The Advocate a link to the state’s new “Ban the Box” law which prevents state agencies from asking applicants about their criminal records. That law, however, did not take effect until after she was hired.
It’s going to be more than a little interesting to see how Landry’s investigation of Matassa and Berthelot unfolds in light of the same day’s revelations about his own actions.
But we’re willing to wager that when the dust settles on the issues of Matassa, Berthelot, Nichols, Ackal (the state ethics complaint, not the federal indictment) and Baloney, we’ll still be able to say:
Nothing gets done.