If you don’t pay attention to Louisiana politics, you’re really missing out on political theater that involves more plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan film and more corruption than – well, nothing beats Louisiana corruption. Consider the recent backroom deals and infighting that occurred after Congressman Vance McAllister was caught kissing a married staffer and Bobby Jindal tried to draw Senator David Vitter in on the scandal. All of this is just par for the course in the openly corrupt realm of Lousiana politics, where the lines between party affiliation or conflict of interest are often foggier than a March morning on the Baton Rouge waterfront, but nothing has been quite as flagrant as the latest story coming out of the state capitol.
Quick background: Governor Bobby Jindal signed a law barring local levee boards from suing oil companies for damages caused by flooding and coastal erosion, which basically moved the only power to sue to the state level, that happens to be firmly in the back pocket of Big Oil. Because of the poor wording and perceived in-defensibility of the law upon appeal, the state Attorney General asked Jindal to veto the law, which was put together by attorneys representing the oil and gas industry.
The law, SB 469, essentially bars a levee district in New Orleans’ East Bank – the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, or SLFPA-E – from pressing forward in its lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies, which it blames for exposing New Orleans to catastrophic damage from hurricanes Rita and Katrina by cutting thousands of miles of pipes and canals through sensitive barrier islands and wetlands that otherwise would have protected the coastal city.
The lawsuit, filed last summer, sought to force energy companies to restore the wetlands, fill in the canals, and pay for past damages.
In addition to that, not only would it protect these oil companies, but it would also possibly stop any current local or state lawsuits against BP for damages and lost tax revenues arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Outrageous? Oh absolutely. Not only do oil and gas companies not have to compensate coastal parishes and their residents for losses, but BP could also then find themselves absolved of any further financial responsibility in the state of Louisiana for their part in the oil spill.
Perhaps even more problematic than Jindal’s unwillingness to listen to Caldwell is that Jindal recently acknowledged that oil and gas industry attorneys helped draft the legislation.
And with the possibility that BP could get out of paying billions in damage claims because of the bill, it raises questions as to the oil giant’s involvement in drafting the legislation.
“During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active,” says former levee board vice president John Barry. “They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something in it for them.”
Also interesting is that the governor’s brother Nikesh Jindal is an attorney with Gibson Dunn, one of the law firms representing BP against the damage claims, and is assigned to the division handling BP’s case. (Source)
This isn’t the first conflict of interest or greasing of palms that has happened in Louisiana politics. Corruption is almost celebrated or at least accepted with a degree of amused resignation. Consider the fact that despite an 8 year stay in federal prison for extortion, fraud and racketeering, former Governor Edwin Edwards is now running for Congress. This is the same Edwin Edwards who used the campaign slogan “Vote For The Crook. It’s Important” when facing off against David Duke (yes, THAT David Duke) in the 1991 gubernatorial election.
Blogger Lamar White, Jr. observed that former Gov. Edwin Edwards spent eight years in a federal prison for accepting payments from hopeful casino operators for his assistance in obtaining licenses—all after he left office. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was similarly convicted of using his position to steer business to a family-owned company and taking free vacations meals and cell phones from people attempting to score contracts or incentives from the city.
So what is the difference between what they did and the ton of contributions received by Adley and Jindal? To paraphrase my favorite playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare, a payoff by any other name smells just as rank.
And while big oil money flowed like liquor at the State Capitol (figuratively of course; it’s illegal to make or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session), what many may not know is that Jindal may have had an ulterior motive when he signed the bill into law against sound legal advice not to do so, thus protecting the interests of big oil over the welfare of Louisiana citizens who have seen frightening erosion of the state’s shoreline and freshwater marshes. (Source)
What this looks like to me is that Governor Jindal had multiple interests in play when he signed the law against the advice of the Attorney General who would then have to defend the law on appeal. Why? Because it would not only fulfill whatever deals he and other lawmakers made with the oil industry, but it’s also a major win for his brother’s firm on the behalf of BP. If the law is struck down (which I would bet that it will be), then BP is forced to go back and try to get another law passed, thereby ensuring more money for the lawyers involved.
Usually, I can only just shake my head and laugh at the absolute corruption in Louisiana politics but in the past, it was corruption that many people didn’t seem to mind because it was often at least somewhat to their benefit. However, in this case, Bobby Jindal took it to a whole new, disgusting level when with a stroke of the pen, he handed Big Oil a complete absolution and gave the people of Louisiana both middle fingers. Louisiana tends to vote heavily conservative, but with this latest display of utter disdain for Louisiana residents, he has likely given Democrats the opening they’ve been seeking for a very long time.
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