This one isn’t a Truth in Politics spot. Instead it’s from the Causeway Connection PAC, an organization Sen. Conrad Appel did some fundraising for. But this ad has the same basic message and accusation – that John Bel Edwards hooked up his college roommate Murray Starkel by putting him on a short list of approved vendors for coastal restoration contracts worth, the ad says, up to $65 million.
Here’s the ad…
Late last week Edwards’ campaign and Starkel himself, by use of his New Orleans attorney James Garner, who is a big Edwards donor and whose history contains a whiff of large-scale corruption in its own right, went ballistic over the initial Truth in Politics ad containing the same message. They said the ad was patently false, that the $65 million contract referenced in the ad wasn’t awarded to Starkel’s company and that the ad should be taken down.
Then Edwards put this ad on TV in New Orleans.
The problem being that the Truth in Politics ad wasn’t taken down, and in fact several of our readers in the New Orleans area derived great entertainment in seeing the Truth in Politics ad airing directly behind the Edwards ad that claimed it was pulled. Pollster and political consultant John Scurich was one of them, and in a Hayride guest post this morning Scurich opined that Edwards’ false claim that the Starkel ad had been taken down was a sure sign of trouble for the governor’s re-election.
And now Appel’s PAC is repeating the allegation, while several legislators, including Rep. Clay Schexnayder, who also penned a Hayride guest post today on the subject, are calling for an oversight hearing into the question of how Murray Starkel, without any employees or physical address for his company Ecological Service Partners, could have been put on that list.
Three things are true, after having sifted through all the claims and counterclaims surrounding the Murray Starkel ads.
First, while Starkel did not get a $65 million contract, he hasn’t lost that contract either. Independent reporting from the Baton Rouge Business Report’s Edwards-friendly editor Stephanie Riegel indicates that the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority is meeting with Starkel and the other bidders on the contract in question in an effort to make their bids acceptable to the oversight group in charge of doling out BP oil spill settlement money from which the contract would be paid.
Second, the ads are correct in noting that Starkel’s company is nothing but a shell, with no track record or infrastructure suggestive of an ability to satisfy the requirements of coastal restoration work, and as such there is nothing other than Starkel’s relationship with the governor which would make him a viable bidder on such contracts. And yet Starkel is on a list of only a handful of approved bidders on that lucrative work – which may or may not ultimately include the $65 million contract raised in the ad, but would almost certainly include other coastal restoration contracts.
And third, those contracts don’t amount to just $65 million. What’s lost in a lot of the back and forth over the Starkel ads is the amount of money potentially in the coastal restoration pipeline is billions, if not tens of billions, of dollars. The BP oil spill kitty alone is some $7 billion, and there are other pots of money potentially available which could be much larger than that. Knowing this, the idea that Starkel’s company having been put on that short list as an approved bidder on the work those contracts could encompass based purely on a friendship with the governor is wholly indicative of Third World-style corruption.
Now, Murray Starkel’s resume indicates he has experience in this kind of work. He came up through the Army Corps of Engineers, and following his departure from the military he’s worked for some contractors doing various engineering projects which involved moving dirt around and managing waterways and so forth. It isn’t like he’s a bum off the street. But just because he’s worked for people who might be qualified to do this stuff doesn’t mean he’s qualified to do it. His company, so far as anyone can tell, has yet to do a single coastal restoration project.
The fact that Edwards fought this thing as hard as he has is a good indication he feels vulnerable on the Starkel issue. We’ll see how this fight progresses, as he’s sure to challenge the Causeway Connection ad as he did the Truth in Politics one.