The State Integrity Investigation report by the Public Administration Review that details states’ corruption risks, accountability practices and related laws puts Louisiana at the top of the list of states for public corruption.
The report, released on Monday (June 9), also shows that states with higher levels of corruption are able to shape budget allocations and which have a propensity to spend more money on capital outlay projects than for health and education.
Construction projects provide greater opportunity for the misappropriation of public funds for personal gain, than expenditures on health, education and welfare, the study says.
The report provides an in-depth review of how some states showed progress while others remain behind the curve in mitigating corruption. Louisiana, with 384 public corruption convictions between 2001 and 2010, is far ahead of the pack both in terms of convictions per 100,000 population (8.5), and convictions per 10,000 public employees (10.5).
By contrast, Oregon (1.2) and Kansas (1.3) had the lowest rates of convictions per 10,000 public employees.
And though Pennsylvania and New Jersey had more convictions (542 and 429, respectively), their rate of corruption convictions per 10,000 public employees was less than Louisiana (7.1 for Pennsylvania and 6.7 for New Jersey). Neither Pennsylvania nor New Jersey appeared among the worst 10 states for the number of convictions per 100,000 population, the report shows.
Louisiana’s 384 total convictions during the 10-year period ranked behind Texas (697), California (679), Florida (674), New York (589), Pennsylvania (542), Ohio (495) and New Jersey (429), but with a considerable smaller population base than those states, Louisiana’s conviction rate was much higher.
According to Governing.com “If levels of convictions are high, that’s a sample of the climate of the state, said Indiana University’s John Mikesell, who co-authored the report with Cheol Liu of the University of Hong Kong. “The convictions are just the ones who got caught. If there’re a lot of convictions, there’re probably a bunch that haven’t been caught.”
Among the higher profile convictions in Louisiana during the first decade of this century were former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, former Sen. William Jefferson, former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, and Mandeville Mayor Eddie Price.
Additionally, U.S. Sen. David Vitter dropped out of the 2003 gubernatorial race after reports surfaced of a relationship with a prostitute. He was elected to the Senate two years later but in 2007, his number appeared on telephone records belonging to Deborah Jeane Palfrey who was convicted in 2008 for running a high-end prostitution ring. He is an announced candidate for governor in the 2015 race.
And then there is Mr. Clean himself, Gov. Bobby Jindal, who attracted huge monetary contributions for a foundation run by his wife, Supriya Jindal, many of those from oil and gas companies. Those investments—and make no mistake, political campaign contributions are just that: investments—paid off in spades last week when Jindal signed SB 469, pushed by another recipient of mega-contributions from oil and gas interests, Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton). SB 469 killed a lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) that sought to force 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies to restore the damage they inflicted on Louisiana’s wetlands through decades of abuse to the Louisiana coastal lands.
“Legal corruption” is even greater, according to Chuck Thies, a Washington, D.C., political consultant who said the “wink, wink, nod, nod” culture of campaign finance often runs right up to the line of bribery.
Thies said an example of that would be a contractor who is lobbying a politician for approval of his project. The politician, who is running for reelection, approaches the contractor to ask for a campaign contribution.
“It’s that simple,” Thies said. “It happens all the time. The savvy person knows not to say, ‘If I do my ($5,000), will you authorize my (contract)?’ But (both) know exactly that’s what just transpired.”
When one follows the money into the campaign coffers of Louisiana’s most powerful politicians, it becomes a simple matter to understand in unmistakable terms just how much money runs—indeed, corrupts—the political process. The $10 and $25 contributor has little chance in being heard over the roar of the $5 million that oil and gas companies poured into the campaigns of the state’s 144 legislators and another $1 million that was funneled to Jindal.
Easily available campaign contributions allow legislators to enjoy the perks of eating at the finest restaurants, buy gasoline for personal vehicles, hiring family members as campaign “workers,” and purchasing luxury boxes at LSU, Saints, and Pelicans games, ostensibly for “entertaining” constituents.
So when those contributors come calling, as they most surely will, what legislator—or governor—is going to stand up to the special interests?
When lobbyists outnumber legislators by a 5-1 ratio, it becomes difficult for John Q. Citizen to squeeze his way into the conversation.
It all comes down to who our elected officials really represent, and the answer is obvious—and not pretty.
Louisiana fits the profile perfectly in that it killed Medicaid expansion that would have provided expanded health care access to the state’s indigent citizens while the legislature passed a $5.6 billion construction budget that includes sports complexes, golf courses, local road projects, fish hatcheries, and non-government agencies—all at a time when the state is in dire financial straits.
The classic shakedown can also encourage the culture of corruption while discouraging those who attempt to play by the rules.
A north Louisiana contractor has a lawsuit pending against the State of Louisiana and the Department of Transportation and Development for just such an alleged shakedown attempt by state employees that he said ultimately put him out of business because he refused to go along with the efforts to extract payoffs from him.
And there’s no incentive in spending time and money on a bid when the winning bidder has already bought political sufficient influence to “win” the contract or when the bid specifications have been written in such a way as to qualify a single bidder.
Several years ago in north Louisiana, a parish police jury wanted to purchase a used bulldozer. But not just any used bulldozer; police jury members had already spotted the one they wanted. The answer? The police jury advertised for bids in its legal journal, the local newspaper. Included in the bid specifications along with the make, year and horsepower was….the serial number.
It’s all part of the process that we call Louisiana politics.