Saturday, February 16, 2008

'Gold Standard' = Double Standard

Posted By on Sat, Feb 16, 2008 at 8:52 PM

This week's revelation that Bobby Jindal's chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, razooed 3 tickets to the Hannah Montana concert for his brother — while everybody else either had to tell their daughters and granddaughters "sorry, dear, they're just too expensive" or fork over hundreds of dollars to some online broker — is only the latest example of the "gold standard" that our new governor is delivering on the "ethics" front.

There's more news to come, my sources say.

Among the news that emanated from the Capitol on Friday was word that several state leges also scored Hannah Montana tickets, allegedly on a "first come, first served" basis, thanks to the Jindal Administration. The tickets reportedly were for seats in the Governor's Suite in the New Orleans Arena.

The leges who got 4 tickets each included: House Speaker Jim Tucker of Algiers, a top Jindal legislative ally; Rep. Jeff Arnold of Algiers, a top ally of Tucker; Sen. John Alario of Westwego, whom Team Jindal is courting because he is a master of legislative procedure and commands a lot of respect on budget and tax issues; and Rep. Austin Badon of eastern New Orleans, one of the few members of the Legislative Black Caucus willing to vote with Jindal. In addition, Superdome Commission member Julio Malera — who works for Jindal campaign treasurer Rolfe McCollister at the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report (a bi-weekly biz pub) — also scored 4 tickets. (McCollister is the guy who recently offered to pay Jindal's anticipated $2,5,00 ethics fine for the late reporting of $118,000 in "in-kind" contributions from the state Republican Party, which Teepell "forgot" to tell the campaign about last summer. This is a tight circle, folks.)

This news raises several questions:

Exactly what basis was used for doling out the tickets — was it really first-come, first-served, or were the tickets tied to legislative support for some or all of the Jindal agenda? (Looking at the list of those who got tickets, I find it strange that the "first" leges to ask for tickets just happen to be FOBs — Friends of Bobby.)

Were any leges turned down? If so, who? (Another hint as to whether the tickets went only to FOBs.)

What other events at the Superdome and Arena did Mr. Teepell and/or other FOBs score free tickets to via the Governor's Suite?

Who paid for the catering services (food, beverage, bar tenders, etc.) in the Suite during any events that were attended by Team Jindal members and FOBs? (Did any lobbyists, for example, foot any of those bills?)

Have any visiting dignitaries or business leaders been invited to the Suite for special events, games or concerts — possibly in an attempt to actually use the Suite to build Louisiana's economy or boost its image? Or, is it just a perk for the governor and his favorite FOBs? (This raises a very interesting collateral issue, and please pardon the digression: Remember when then-Gov.-elect Jindal made a big deal about how he was going to watch the BCS game, featuring LSU, at home with his family, and how he righteously eschewed the trappings of Gov. Blanco's Superdome Suite, to which he was expressly invited? Not only does that "symbolic" rejection of the trappings of power ring hollow now, but also Gov. Jindal missed a golden opportunity to use the suite for its intended purpose — business recruitment, networking, etc. Does anyone think that there weren't a ton of CEOs across the country who would have relished the opportunity to watch the national collegiate championship game in a private suite with Louisiana's new governor? Why didn't our new governor, who supposedly is keenly attuned to improving our business climate, seize upon this "golden" opportunity to meet-and-greet some of the nation's leading business folks and industrialists — or even to use the occasion to thank those who keep their businesses here?)

KUDOS to WAFB-TV, Channel 9 in Baton Rouge, for breaking the story about the Hannah Montana tickets and Mr. Teepell!

But wait ... there's more.

How about tickets to the Hornets games and the NBA All-Star game and events?

My sources tell me that high-ranking members of the Jindal Administration and other FOBs have regularly scored tickets to watch the Hornets play since Gov. Jindal was inaugurated. I have two season tickets to the Hornets myself — have had 'em since the first season — but I pay the going rate (very expensive) and I'm glad to do so as part of helping the team and the city, etc. But why do 90-day wonders in the Jindal Administration — who jawbone us about their so-called "gold standard" of ethics — get to watch the Hornets, Hannah and God-knows-who-else for free ... and THEN claim they are so ethically pure?

Here's Gov. Jindal's response to The Times-Picayune's questions about the obvious hypocrisy of Mr. Teepell and the Hannah Montana tickets: "We're going to follow the law."

Ah, the majesty of the law.

Currently, state law allows such trappings — but isn't that what Gov. Jindal is trying to change? This raises another interesting question: Is it merely the law, and not people's unethical or hypocritical behavior, that he seeks to change?

When T-P Capitol reporter Robert Travis Scott asked Jindal what the law should say about this subject, Jindal's reply was instructive: "We're going to follow the law. The Legislature should follow the law, and the law says they should not receive free tickets from lobbyists and 'prohibited sources.'" [emphasis mine]

Notice that Gov. Jindal says that the Legislature should follow the law — those crooked leges, not the governor's "honorable" friends and Team members. He also references getting free tickets from lobbyists and prohibited sources.

If you look closely at how the governor is working the Legislature during the current session, he proposes to bar lobbyists from buying them lunches, but he regularly hosts them at the Governor's Mansion. (See, C.B. Forgotston's excellent rant about this, which he emailed but has not yet posted to his excellent blog, so I am adding it to the bottom of this post with credit to C.B.)

But wait! There's even more to come...

My sources tell me that a very high-ranking member of the Jindal Administration managed, miraculously, to get several of his kids into the LSU Lab School, which is the Baton Rouge equivalent of Lusher and Ben Franklin all rolled into one. It's easily the best public school in Red Stick and very, very difficult to get into — more difficult even than a Hannah Montana concert — because supposedly you cannot even buy your way in.

But, as Mike Huckabee recently observed, this is Louisiana. Other parents, whose kids are merely qualified to attend the LSU Lab School, have to sit on waiting lists for years to get their kids admitted — and many deserving kids don't ever get in. Yet, somehow, this high-ranking Jindal mullah got his kids in.

I'm not naming him yet because I want to triple-confirm this — but leges and other Capitol denizens were buzzing about it over the weekend as yet another example of the "double standard" of this "gold standard" administration.

Publicly, the "double standard" is already apparent in the administration's public positions with regard to exempting itself from many of the "ethics reforms" it is foisting on everybody else. Examples include the scope of public records and open meetings laws, the governor's proposed new (and much tighter) financial disclosure laws, and the tougher proposed conflict of interest laws, to name just a few. In committee meeting after committee meeting, ranking members of Team Jindal argue for exempting the executive branch from the very reforms that Gov. Jindal is pushing.

It finally came home to roost on the Senate floor late Friday, when a majority of our state senators said "Enough!" and amended Jindal’s proposed conflict-of-interest ban (barring legislators and their immediate family members from getting publicly bid state contracts) so that the ban also applies to the governor's Cabinet members and executive staff, as well as members of many high-profile boards and commissions (all appointed by the governor). The bill as originally proposed is but one example of Team Jindal reforming everybody else, but keeping the "gold" for itself.

Look for leges to continue pushing back this week as they actually start reading the bills that the administration is pushing. What's becoming obvious is that Governor Jindal, who promised us a "gold standard," actually wants to give us a "double standard" — one for himself and his cronies, and another for everybody else.

All of this reminds me of a piece of wisdom I got years ago from my old friend Jim Carvin, the dean of Louisiana political media consultants, who said, "In Louisiana, 'reform' means cutting out somebody else's piece of the pie." How true.

By that measure, Gov. Jindal truly has achieved the "gold standard." He and his pals get to keep all the gold to themselves. As for the rest, beatings will continue until morale improves.

And finally, as promised, here is C.B. Forgotston's excellent rant about Jindal and free meals for leges (sent Friday, Feb. 15):

Governor Jindal has made a strong case in favor of requiring lobbyists to disclose the amount of money spent wining and dining leges. Apparently, knowing how much is spent on lunch or dinner is important to keeping the law-making process transparent and honest.

Today we read in the Daily Monopoly that Gov. Jindal regularly hosts members of the lege for lunch at the Governor's Mansion "to discuss his agenda." (emphasis mine)

Unlike restaurants where lobbyists entertain, the Governor's Mansion is not open to just any member of the public (or the media) to observe the meetings.

Circumventing the law

Additionally, Jindal circumvents the Public Meeting Law by inviting fewer than a majority of each house of the lege to these meetings. I repeat. JINDAL CIRCUMVENTS THE PUBLIC MEETING LAW.

Is that transparency?

Is that good government?

Is that better than the status quo?

Disclosure

As I understand the current and proposed lobbying laws, there is no required disclosure of the cost to the taxpayers for the lunches for Jindal "to discuss his agenda." That is, assuming no registered lobbyist is paying for the meals.

If the amount of spending by private individuals (lobbyists and employers of lobbyists) on meals for leges is important to having a transparent and honest law-making process, shouldn't we also know how much the governor and his staff spend of our hard-earned tax dollars on influencing leges?

In some cases, the governor may actually be working against the interest of the taxpayers. For example when a governor lobbies leges to impose a tax or fee on the people.

Influencing the process

If we follow the logic of Gov. Jindal's argument for disclosure of spending by lobbyists on meals purchased for leges, shouldn't Jindal disclose the amount he spends on influencing leges?

Does a steak at the Governor's Mansion have less influence than at steak at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse? To the contrary, I suggest that a lunch with the governor is more influencing on a lege than having lunch with a private citizen who may happen to be representing someone else.

Shouldn't Jindal disclose the cost of wining and dining leges to pass "his agenda"?

Can we get an amendment for the sake of transparency?

— C.B. Forgotston

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