When Bobby Jindal campaigned for governor in 2007, he railed against cronyism and corruption and promised to implement a new era of fair, honest, and transparent government.
His campaign produced and aired a 30-second television commercial that depicted his Democratic opponents in clown costumes in comically miniature cars, the kind you see the Shriners driving in Christmas parades, chasing one another around the state Capitol building in search of a cash bribe.
Jindal, we were told, would put an end to the circus. He’d introduce and enact a “gold standard” of ethics reform legislation, and he would ensure accountability. He liked to quote former Congressman Billy Tauzin, who once famously quipped, “Half of Louisiana is under water, and the other half is under indictment.”
Seven years after Jindal launched his second campaign for Louisiana governor (he lost to Kathleen Blanco the first time he ran), not much has changed. We’re still under water, and we’re still under indictment. The “gold standard,” we now know, was nothing more than a campaign gimmick, and as a result of Citizens United and the subsequent proliferation of Super PACs, Jindal’s promises of increasing transparency and expanding financial disclosure now seem quaint and even naive.
But still, Jindal has always had the opportunity to lead by example, and for the last seven years, he has failed abysmally. The “ethics reform” package that he promoted, for example, may have marginally altered financial disclosure rules for state legislators, but it also dramatically expanded the governor’s own authority to shield his office from a wide range of public records requests. Even state Sen. Robert Adley, a Jindal ally and a fellow Republican, once said that the Governor’s plan would “take the state of Louisiana from sunshine to moonshine.”
Adley’s observation now seems both prescient, ironic, and even hypocritical because during the most recent legislative session, Adley championed SB 469, arguably the most consequential legislation ever signed into law by Jindal.
Much has already been written about SB 469, a bill that, ostensibly, was about retroactively invalidating the Southeast Levee Protection Authority-East’s lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies for damages inflicted on the Louisiana coast. Regardless if one disagrees with the merits of the legislation or sides with the levee authority, the public has a fundamental right to know who is attempting to influence and lobby their elected officials and whether any conflicts of interests, perceived or real, may exist.
This much we know already: Adley, a man who made his career in the oil and gas industry, is the recipient of more than $600,000 in campaign contributions from that industry, and Jindal has received more than $1 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies. To some, that may seem suspicious enough to warrant questions about the ways in which oil and gas companies exerted influence in order to retroactively invalidate an otherwise legally valid lawsuit seeking billions of dollars in damages. But there are other, more troubling facts that must be considered and have yet to be properly addressed by Jindal and those elected officials who supported this controversial legislation.
Shortly before Jindal signed SB 469 into law, state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and nearly 100 of the nation’s most prominent legal scholars publicly urged him to veto the bill. Their concerns had nothing to do with the underlying merits of the levee authority lawsuit; instead, because of the overly broad and vague language of the bill, they were concerned that it could be used by oil and gas companies as a catch-all to invalidate a wide range of pending and future claims for damages. Most important, they referenced the possibility of BP using the law to mitigate or invalidate billions of dollars claims related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. According to those who were present at the state Capitol, including state Rep. John Bel Edwards and former SLFPA-E board member John Barry, no one lobbied more intensely for the bill’s passage than BP.
BP’s outsized efforts in lobbying for the bill’s passage were not reported at the time, but as troubling as that may be, it’s even more troubling that Bobby Jindal’s brother, Nikesh, works for a law firm representing BP, a fact that has never been acknowledged or disclosed by the governor and one that, given the facts, seems like an obvious conflict of interest.
The public also deserves the right to know who is donating to Jindal’s newly established, tax-exempt charity, America Next.
Members of the national media have suggested that Jindal’s charity is really just an early iteration of his 2016 campaign for president. If that is indeed the case, it’s also a convenient way for Jindal to use the tax code in order to shield himself from scrutiny and prevent the need to disclose what would ordinarily be considered campaign donations.
This should be alarming to anyone who cares about transparency in government, particularly considering that a 2010 report by The New York Times found that businesses seeking special deals, incentives and contracts with the state of Louisiana were the main donors to a charitable organization founded by the governor’s wife Supriya.
The director of Jindal’s new charity, a political consultant who most recently worked for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, said that Jindal’s organization would not disclose its donors to the public, arguing that, in doing so, it would only open itself up to scrutiny from President Barack Obama.
I doubt Obama cares much about who is secretly donating to a presidential campaign disguised as a charity, but I know the people of Louisiana would care, particularly considering the billions of dollars that now hang in the balance as a result of Jindal’s enactment of SB 469, the role that BP played in lobbying for the legislation, and the role that Nikesh Jindal’s law firm plays with BP.
We went from sunshine to moonshine, and, apparently, now we’re drunk on moonshine.