APPEL: Democracy Dies In JBE’s “Pay To Play” Darkness

“Democracy dies in darkness.”

So true, American democracy has long depended on an inquiring press to help them make that most important of decisions, their vote. In Louisiana, a state whose history is replete with unethical leadership resulting in abysmal performance, this applies more than in most.

A valuable case in point are the sources of funding for our gubernatorial candidates. Specifically the most recent campaign finance report reveals some inconvenient truths about John Bel Edwards that he may not really want known. These are facts that demonstrate that the unethical practice known as “Pay to Play” by special interest groups is alive and well in Edwards’ Louisiana. This is a practice that has haunted our state and should be a source of strong interest to the media.

We all know that Edwards’ campaign is heavily subsidized by trial lawyers. The reason, they desperately need to keep him in office in order that he protect the current legal climate that helps them make millions. The strategy they use to help Edwards is there for all to see because it is the same strategy that they themselves use to lure clients.

Who hasn’t seen innumerable TV ads and billboards telling you that this lawyer or that cares about you and can get you mega-bucks if you have a fender bender? The goal of the trial lawyers’ campaign money is to build a phony image that Edwards’ is a governor who places people over politics. Phony because his actions in protecting the lawyers over the people allows them to pick the pockets of Louisiana citizens. Without a doubt Edwards’ shielding of trial lawyers is a fundamental cause Louisianans’ pay almost double what most Southerners pay for insurance coverage. Little do the trial lawyers care if poor people are forced to pay more, it’s just business to them.

Beyond that, Edwards’ reports display three other special interest groups that have contributed heavily to a governor who has demonstrated a propensity to always pay back his supporters. It should not surprise anyone that the National Democrats support Edwards, but perhaps you would be surprised by the extent of that support. Through the latest report date, National Democrats – defined as donors from outside of Louisiana – gave Edwards over $4 million. Yes, you heard right, over four million dollars. Why you should ask would people far removed from Louisiana be so in love with a small-state governor. The answer in my mind is that they aren’t that interested in Edwards at all; their play makes more sense in the context of National politics. To me they are looking at an Edwards re-election as a shot at President Trump. A way to lend credibility to an argument that Trump is losing support in southern states. They are buying a talking point.

What most Americans have no idea of is that in deep-red Louisiana, John Bel Edwards won not because he was a Democrat, but because of a flawed Republican candidate. It is widely accepted in Louisiana that Edwards was perhaps the most surprised person of all after the votes were tallied. So if the National Democrats can help him get re-elected they can brag about a southern state that is slipping away from its conservative beliefs and coming over to the liberal Democrat camp. Is a talking point worth $4 million? To Democrats it may be worth far more.

Another big group of contributors to Edwards was labor unions, many of them national unions. These groups gave more than $2 million of workers’ money to the Edwards’ campaign. One has to wonder how much Louisiana workers want to see their money go to a liberal democrat whose every policy has been contrary to a pro-growth economy that would provide them with jobs and opportunities to increase their income. The answer may partially be the same as for the National Democratic Party, a political effort to unseat Trump.

But beyond that, on a state level, a few unions depend upon Edwards to do their bidding. For instance the teachers’ unions have constantly been trying to undo the education reforms that were implemented in 2012. They do not want accountability, they do not want parental choice when it comes to charters and vouchers. For the unions Edwards fought these issues in the legislature, ultimately losing. As governor he has been trying to reverse them. Only because conservative Republican legislators demanded that we put children’s needs over adult needs was he blocked.

On a more cynical level Edwards promised teachers a minor pay raise this year, and a second one if they helped him win a second term. He didn’t tell them that he blocked Republican efforts to give them a much larger raise. So now the highly paid union leaders have to support Edwards or face the ire of teachers who find out that they were sold down the river.

The final group of big money players helping Edwards may seem a bit unusual. The second largest group of contributors to Edwards the first time around, just behind trial lawyers, was nursing home operators. Nursing home operators? Why would they be so supportive of a governor. It is simple, they don’t want to see their gravy train stop.

Under current law the elderly who are on Medicaid are more or less forced to go into a nursing home. Last year, working with the AARP, I brought legislation that would have allowed the elderly, if they were able to and wanted to, the option to stay in their own home. To make it even better for taxpayers, this law was estimated to save at least $100 million of state money per year. But under intense pressure from nursing home operators, the bill was killed and there was no doubt that the governor was behind its demise. So of course for his re-election the nursing home operators have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars more.

For as long as anyone can remember “Pay to Play” has been the way things were done in Louisiana. The practice under John Bel Edwards is no different from the unethical practices of the first Edwards and other governors. But the difference now is that the practice is published in ethics reports for all to see. All to see except apparently a media who doesn’t seem interested enough to investigate the connection between massive campaign contributions and an expectation of pay back by a powerful governor.

Eddie Rispone has generally financed his own campaign. John Bel Edwards has taken more than $10 million, much aggregated from special interest groups such as trial lawyers and nursing home operators. These people expect something from Edwards, something that usually translates into incredible sums of money coughed up by unsuspecting taxpayers.

The people deserve to understand the negative impact on their lives of “Pay to Play” by Edwards’ administration. The old adage that “Democracy Dies in Darkness” applies in Louisiana’s case perhaps more than most other states. It is time, with the help of the media, to end “Pay to Play” and create a pro-growth state based upon strong ethics emanating from the governor’s office.

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