(Every Friday afternoon, The Gambit will be posting a story from the upcoming weeks newspaper as a Web extra early edition for our Internet readers. This week it's our cover story, and it's the first in an ongoing series on the finances of Gov. Bobby Jindal.)
By Jeremy Alford
It was almost a threat, but he delivered it with a down-home country smile, the kind that hints of mischief and promises all kinds of hell. Sen. Ben Nevers, with a twang that's distinctly Washington Parish, told members of the Senate and Government Affairs Committee he was going to have his staff produce a list of political appointees and how much money each had contributed to the elected officials responsible for their appointments.
? ?Like a Cajun doing a two-step, Nevers danced around the issue for a while, but his true intentions eventually became clear. His target was Gov. Bobby Jindal, a fellow Republican who had brought lawmakers together for a special session on ethics reform. It was almost a year ago, on Feb. 15, 2008, when Nevers spoke the truth to power: "I think many people in this state think you get a board or commission seat by buying it. I want to get rid of that perception."
? ?In the House, Rep. Sam Jones of Franklin, a balding and boisterous Democrat who worked under former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, was aiming high as well. He made a principled stand and pushed similar legislation through the House's committee process. But, like Nevers, his bill lost traction when it reached the floor.
??In hindsight, Jones says he should have realized the concept of buying appointments to key boards and commissions was rooted too deeply in the ethos of Louisiana's executive and legislative branches. "These boards and commissions have been for sale for more than 100 years," Jones says. "That's why I filed that bill. I thought there was going to be enough will to change things. I thought, for whatever reason, that we were actually holding a special session just for ethics reforms. I was wrong."
??As for Nevers, his list never materialized, although it would have come in handy for Rep. Neil Abramson of New Orleans. The Democratic freshman pushed the issue a few months later during the 2008 regular session. Abramson's bill would have forced elected officials to publicly report the names of campaign contributors they subsequently hire or appoint.
??During those early days of Jindal's new administration his political honeymoon many assumed the governor would support Abramson's bill. Key administration officials kept in contact with him over a five-month period and helped draft the language. Both the House and Senate passed the measure handily.
? ?Jindal vetoed the bill, however, on July 10, 2008, when the regular session ended. Abramson still remembers it as a "dark day for our efforts at true ethics reform."
??Jindal, meanwhile, was just beginning to build his own stable of political appointees. As his brand took hold nationally, Jindal made the rounds of TV networks, appearing on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and as a talking head on cable news shows preaching the gospel of a "new day" in Louisiana. During these heady times, he appointed one campaign contributor after another to the state's most influential boards and commissions.
??Just like so many of his predecessors.
? ?Today, the Jindal list contains the names of more than 200 campaign donors, based on a review of the 1,738 appointments he has announced since taking office in January 2008. To say he has placed those appointments on a fast track would be an understatement: Jindal appointed more people 1,478 individuals to public positions during his first year in office than Blanco did after two legislative sessions in 2004 and 2005.
??Moreover, the donors Jindal appointed to key positions can be traced back to more than $784,000 in contributions to the governor's campaign kitty in 2007 and 2008, according to financial records on file with the state Ethics Board.
Read it all and download the list of Jindal's major political appointees/donors at The Gambit's Web site.