Boy, That Truth In Politics Ad About The Coastal Inside Dealing Sure Hit A Nerve…

…because the lawyers are now involved.

We obtained a copy of an e-mail thread going back and forth between WWL-TV in New Orleans and Steven Gele, the attorney for Truth In Politics, that we found fascinating, because John Bel Edwards’ camp and now, attorneys for Murray Starkel, the governor’s former West Point roommate who’s in line to make millions on coastal restoration projects primarily thanks to that relationship, have been screaming at the tops of their lungs that Truth in Politics’ ad outlining the special treatment it looks like Starkel is getting.

Earlier, after the ad began airing, Edwards’ team sent lawyers to demand New Orleans TV stations take it down with the allegation that it’s a false ad. That appears to have worked with WDSU, but not with any other stations – though Truth In Politics did rework the ad to make it more palatable for some of the TV stations.

The reworking of the ad didn’t stop the complaining, though. Starkel hired the New Orleans law firm of Sher Garner Cahill Richter Klein & Hilbert, a firm heavily tied to the Edwards administration, and they fired off a letter to all of the TV stations in New Orleans demanding the revised ad be pulled down.

See the letter here. It’s four pages long and it’s rather heated, but the gist of the letter is an outright denial that Starkel has been awarded a coastal restoration contract and as such, it’s defamatory to suggest he’s received any special favors from the Edwards administration and the state Coastal Preservation and Restoration Authority.

But here’s where this thing will get very fuzzy. Last night there was a Baton Rouge Business Report article which inadvertently pokes holes in Edwards’ and Starkel’s arguments. Toward the bottom of that piece was this…

Despite the initial hiccups, CPRA officials say they remain committed to figuring out how to make performance-based contracting work. After the initial unsuccessful RFP, they invited all four teams to meet with them, one on one, and suggest ways the RFP could be modified so that prices can be lowered.

One suggestion on the table is to shorten the warranty required in the initial RFP from five years to three. Another suggestion is to remove from the RFP a clawback provision that would enable the CRPA to not only withhold payment from a contractor if a restoration project fails, but to also go after them for any payments that have been made in the event a project doesn’t “perform.”

Kline says his agency is sincerely interested in trying to make something work and is mulling over numerous modifications. Howard and others are optimistic that a second RFP can be drafted in such a way that lessens their risk and, therefore, their proposed price tag.

What happened with the contract that Starkel’s company didn’t get wasn’t that CPRA said no. There’s another entity called the Trustee Implementation Group, or TIG, which was in charge of dispensing the BP oil spill money the contract in question was depending on, and TIG was the one who killed the contract because, they said, the four bids were too expensive. CPRA is now saying they rejected Starkel and the three other companies on the list for that contract, but as the Business Report noted, CPRA is still trying to get these guys, including Starkel, that business.

And the big thing is that Starkel’s company is on a list of only four authorized to bid on these coastal restoration projects. Forget about the $65 million contract they’re denying he was going to get, because that’s actually small potatoes. There are billions of dollars in projects he’s one of only four potential bidders on, which means he’s going to end up with a hell of a lot more money than $65 million when it’s all said and done.

And given that Ecological Service Partners, Starkel’s company, is essentially little more than a legal fiction – its website and LinkedIn page contain references only to three principles but don’t have any employees listed, there is no indication it has a physical office space and certainly not one in Louisiana and a Google search of its business activity indicates none other than a press release from 2017 indicating it had secured $250 million in equity capital commitments. That last bit is significant – that $250 million wasn’t cash; what it really represents is that if this company needs to post a performance bond it has people willing to secure such an instrument.

In other words, nobody would seriously look at this company and believe it’s qualified or capable to do the kind of eight, nine or even ten-figure coastal restoration projects it’s on a very short list for.

Which means that the fundamental questions asked in the ad are absolutely valid.

Gele was asked by WWL-TV about the Edwards camp’s complaints, and his response was worth passing along…

Please accept this correspondence as explanation and substantiation as to why the advertisement in question is not “blatantly false” or “patently untrue” as alleged by counsel for the John Bel Edwards Campaign.  Counsel for the John Bel Edwards Campaign admits that Ecological Services Partners, LLC, of which Murray Starkel is a principal, has been designated as an approved successful proposer pursuant to Public Notice of a Request for Statements of Interest and Qualifications (“RSIQ”) No. 2503-19-01, issued by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (“CPRA”).

The very Request for Statements of Interest and Qualifications, attached hereto and under which counsel for the John Bel Edwards Campaign admits that Ecological Services Partners, LLC is a “proposer,” states in its second paragraph: “[T]he terms “outcome-based performance contractor’’, “Proposer”, “entity” and “contractor” may be used interchangeably and shall be understood as to be synonymous with the term “outcome-based performance contractor” as defined in the La. R.S. 49:214.7.”  The document employs the word contractor numerously thereafter.  To argue that it is “blatantly false” or “patently untrue” for Ecological Services Partners, LLC to be characterized as a contractor is contradicted by the same public documents upon which counsel for the John Bel Edwards Campaign rely.

Further, the advertisement does not contain “other falsehoods.”  The persons claimed to be “employees” are actually principals, and are even listed as “partner” and “principal” on the web page referenced by counsel for the John Bel Edwards Campaign.  The “offices” listed are actually WeWork spaces or virtual mail systems.  The letter from counsel for the John Bel Edwards Campaign argues about capitalization, but does not actually list any clients of Ecological Services Partners, LLC.  The statements in the advertisement are not “falsehoods.”

Truth in Politics should not be denied its right to free speech, and the public should not be denied valuable information, based on the semantic gymnastics of counsel for John Bel Edwards Campaign.  Please continue to broadcast the advertisement.

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