A month ago, the Jindal administration and State Superintendent John White announced a list of private and charter schools that had qualified to receive taxpayer-funded vouchers, the cornerstone of Governor Jindal’s controversial plan to “reform” the Louisiana education system. According to an analysis by my friends at The Daily Kingfish, of the 125 schools that were approved, 115 of them (or 92%) “are affiliated with a church or other religious organization.” This, in and of itself, should not be too surprising; after all, the overwhelming majority of private schools in Louisiana are either affiliated with a church or a religious organization, and when Governor Jindal first announced his intention to shift public education money to private schools through vouchers, it should have been obvious that religious schools and institutions would be the largest beneficiary.
Less than a week after announcing the list of schools that qualified for these vouchers, the Monroe News-Star and the Washington Post published explosive stories about the merits of two of those 125 schools, the New Living Word School in Lincoln Parish and the Eternity Christian Academy in Calcasieu Parish. Both are small schools operating on small budgets. Both are struggling. Eternity Christian Academy only has fourteen students. The New Living Word School, which has 122 students, doesn’t even have its own campus. Yet Governor Jindal and his administration approved providing these schools with millions of dollars in publicly-subsidized vouchers. If all goes according to plan, Eternity Christian Academy will expand from fourteen students to 135, and New Living Word, which admittedly does not have the requisite faculty or infrastructure, will more than double their enrollment, even if it means they have to conduct classes in the church gym.
The critical point, which is often missing, is this: These schools are not charities, regardless of how they are legally incorporated. Both of these schools are seeking to use the voucher program to fund, almost entirely, their expansions. Both are religious institutions that hope to use a massive infusion of taxpayer dollars to underwrite their infrastructure and their operations. As our public schools continue to suffer from disinvestment and disrepair, Governor Jindal plans to provide taxpayer dollars to untested, unaccountable, and inadequate “religious” schools. As the New Living Word School and Eternity Christian Academy both forcefully illustrate, Bobby Jindal’s “vouchers” aren’t merely about school choice; they’re about providing seed money for religious institutions who seek to dramatically expand their infrastructure and their bottom lines. And these two schools are not the only ones. Indeed, there are schools all over the state who recognize the cash cow; schools that charge $3,000 or $4,000 in tuition can suddenly charge the State $8,500, all the while maintaining a tax-exempt status.
In Central Louisiana, for example, there’s Cenla Christian Academy, a small school in Pineville that conducts classes in large, barn-like metal buildings next door to its benefactor, the Journey Church. Not surprisingly, the preacher at Journey Church is also the CEO of Cenla Christian Academy. And much like another religiously-affilated educational institution in Pineville, Louisiana, Cenla Christian Academy has, in the past, touted its bold, short-term, and almost embarrassingly ambitious plans for a new, state-of-the-art campus. For now, though, its facilities pale in comparison to its nearby “competition,” Pineville Junior High and Pineville High School, two public schools that have, in the last ten to fifteen years, heavily invested in new infrastructure.
But maybe not for long: Cenla Christian Academy was also approved for vouchers, and considering they currently charge $3,500 a year for elementary school and $3,600 a year for high school, the $8,500 that Governor Jindal promises to provide them for every voucher student could end up going a long way.
As I predicted months ago, well before Governor Jindal’s voucher plan was signed into law, Mr. Jindal’s ultimate goal is to create a parallel, private, undemocratic, and unaccountable education system, and as we now know, Mr. Jindal’s system also seeks to provide millions and millions of taxpayer dollars as a way of enriching and funding the livelihoods and the ambitions of his like-minded, staunchly conservative ideologues in the religious right. They hope to hide comfortably behind the notion that they’re simply performing Christian charity, that they’re providing a real education to kids who would otherwise be floundering in a woefully struggling public school, that their belief in vouchers is somehow a reflection of their own commitment to selfless public service. But let’s be honest with one another: That is absurd; this is about money, plain and simple.
Still, to a certain extent, the profit motive for many of these schools could be understood if they were genuinely committed to providing a rigorous education, an education that, objectively, surpassed anything offered by public schools. As others have already pointed out, the most prestigious private schools in Louisiana all declined to participate in the voucher program, schools like St. Thomas More, Jesuit, Newman, and Alexandria Country Day. By all indications, Governor Jindal’s program cannot and will not provide children in struggling public schools the ability to attend stellar private institutions; it will merely provide struggling, religious schools the ability to access far more tuition dollars than they could otherwise ever receive, draining money from public institutions so that churches on the radical religious right can expand their influence and their infrastructure.
Believe it or not, that’s not the most pernicious thing about Governor Jindal’s voucher program, a program that has already been embraced as a national model by Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. After all, what do I mean when I say “radical religious right”?
The most pernicious and most troubling thing about Governor Jindal’s program is that it unabashedly and blatantly incentivizes and underwrites schools that subscribe to and endorse the most corrosive, most ignorant, and most ridiculous educational curricula imaginable in 21st century America. Eternity Christian Academy and Cenla Christian Academy, for example, both follow curricula created by either Bob Jones or Advanced Christian Education (ACE), curricula that advances, among other things, a belief in the Loch Ness monster, a total rejection of evolution and a total acceptance of New Earth creationism, and the easily-refuted and thoroughly-debunked story of a Japanese fisherman who caught a dinosaur. And that’s just a sampling of what these schools teach in science classrooms. Their history curricula is just as absurd.
If you need more evidence, then watch this:
Governor Jindal’s program is not only unconstitutional in principle; it is cynically destructive, ethically questionable, and terribly corrosive in practice.
Only a few months before she passed away, I passed along a “top secret” message to my Great Aunt Sue Eakin. Aunt Sue was, arguably, Central Louisiana’s most accomplished historian. She and her sister Manie wrote the textbook that, for decades, was used in seventh and eighth grade Louisiana history classes, so chances are, if you attended junior high in Louisiana, you’ve read her work. But without question, her greatest professional accomplishment was editing Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, reintroducing the seminal slave narrative to the American public, 115 years after it was originally published. Northup’s story, in many ways, was personal to Aunt Sue.
She, my grandmother Joanne, and their family were all born and raised in a small plantation on the banks of Bayou Boeuf, the setting for much of Northup’s book. As a professor at Louisiana State University at Alexandria (LSUA), Sue worked, as an academic, on the very same land that Northup had once lived as a slave. And as a lifelong resident of this small pocket of Louisiana and a dedicated historian, Aunt Sue embraced her role as its curator.
Three years ago, while working in the Mayor’s office in Alexandria, I learned that at least a couple of Hollywood producers were seriously considering adapting Twelve Years a Slave into a big budget motion picture. I even exchanged a few e-mails with one group. I didn’t want to get my hopes up; during the last few years, due, largely, to Louisiana’s aggressive incentives for movie productions, I’d heard all sorts of rumors about the Next Big Movie, most of which haven’t yet materialized. But this was different. The people who were expressing interest in Twelve Years a Slave weren’t scouting for locations or incentives; they were researching the source material. They wanted to speak with my Aunt Sue and her family. I called my grandmother. “This may not be for real,” I said, “but you should call your sister Sue and tell her that these Hollywood people want to talk to her about turning Twelve Years a Slave into a movie.” I knew that Sue, then ninety years old, was in poor health, that she wouldn’t be able to sit down for an interview. But I also knew how important it would be for her to know, in the twilight of her life, the story that had defined her professional career endured; that forty years after her edited version of Northup’s story was published, the story was still captivating people and that, maybe, just maybe, it was about to be told on the silver screen– to an audience not just of academics and historians but to the entire world. My grandmother called up her sister and told her the promising news. “She’s thrilled,” my grandmother reported back.
Aunt Sue passed away a few months later. Until a month ago, I hadn’t heard any news on the film’s development for over two years. And I suppose, cynically, I thought it had been shelved.
Boy was I wrong. I don’t know if the same folks with whom I had spoken are still involved in the project, but the news about this film is even bigger and grander than I had ever imagined.
Twelve Years a Slave is set to begin production this month. Directed by Steve McQueen and produced and starring Brad Pitt, the film already promises to be a blockbuster. Only three weeks ago, actors Paul Giamatti and Sarah Paulson joined the ensemble cast:
Helmer Steve McQueen continues to fill out the ensemble of his drama “Twelve Years a Slave,” as Paul Giamatti and Sarah Paulson have joined the cast of the New Regency pic based on Solomon Northrup’s 1853 nonfiction tome.
Duo joins Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scoot McNairy, Ruth Negga and Garret Dillahunt.
Ejiofor stars as the book’s author, a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery. Paulson will play Fassbender’s jealous wife, while Giamatti will play Freeman, who takes possession of the slaves upon their arrival in New Orleans.
I don’t know if this film will be shot in Central Louisiana, but regardless, it tells one of the most significant stories in Central Louisiana history. This is big news for our region.
Kudos to the Eakin and the Lyles families, and three cheers for Aunt Sue, who spent her life telling and retelling a story she fiercely believed needed to be told.
Last week, I somehow found myself sitting in the cafeteria of my high school. I was only in town for a couple of nights, and because I am glutton for punishment, I decided to spend one of those nights at a community planning meeting. In all seriousness, it was a great meeting about a great project, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But every time I’ve returned to my high school, it’s always felt somewhat surreal. Nothing, really, has changed during the last twelve to fifteen years. The same banners hang from the walls; the same trophies sit proudly behind glass cases; it’s the same stale air, the same industrial colors on the walls, the same bright fluorescent lighting. As an adult, I’ve also visited my elementary school several times, and the experience is entirely different: Everything may be the same as it was when I was a student, but the scale feels completely unfamiliar now. I’m taller, and the school seems miniaturized, like a funhouse of trick mirrors. Aside from the security cameras that now line the hallways, however, nothing much about my high school has changed.
A friend of mine recently reminded me that our experience and our definition of “school” should have very little to do with physical infrastructure, the bricks and mortar, and almost everything to do with human infrastructure– our relationships with fellow students, the quality of our teachers, the competence of our administrators. When that is in place, our educational experience is not defined by our interaction with the built institution; it’s informed by our human interactions. We can spend tens of millions of dollars building the best facilities money can buy, but at the end of the day, we’re not investing in a school; we’re investing in a building. There’s a difference.
I had many great teachers and made many life-long friends in high school, but it was never a real school. More than half of the teachers I had have since transferred or resigned; in the four years I attended, there were three different principals. The school didn’t place a premium on academics; it championed athletics, in particular, powerlifting. My high school had a powerlifting team that won consecutive national championships, and with that, there was an underlying acceptance of “chemical” enhancers. We weren’t as concerned with prepping students for college or preparing them for the ACT or the SAT. Somehow, in my high school, no one seemed to question the legitimacy of spending public education dollars for young boys and girls to inject themselves with Creatine and stalk around campus looking like swollen, grotesque caricatures of themselves, just as long as they continued to win national championships against the kids at the military boarding school in Pennsylvania.
Last week, I noticed one other thing different about my high school. They’d cordoned off an elevated area of the cafeteria for the smart kids, their own segregated lunch counter, all sitting underneath a banner praising their “academic excellence.” I don’t know who thought this was a brilliant idea– quarantining the smart kids, literally perching them up on a pedestal during lunch, but when I saw it, my stomach turned. It was everything I hated about that high school, perfectly represented.
During the community meeting, a friend of mine pointed out this special seating section to me. “Look, Lamar,” she said earnestly, “they’re rewarding academic excellence.”
“That’s not a reward,” I said. “That’s punishment.” And I stand by that.
More than a decade after I graduated, my high school still seems to be completely confused about how to incentivize academic achievement. Being smart and making good grades are still treated as elitist, except now, smart kids don’t have to bother with the democracy of a lunch line. Meanwhile, of course, while the kids who make good grades get the privilege of sitting under a banner extolling their academic achievement, everyone else sits alongside the dozens of banners and hundreds of trophies that celebrate athletic accomplishments.
When I was a sophomore in high school, there was a group of kids a year older than me– brilliant, funny, and fiercely independent kids at the top of their class– who were all rejected admission into the school’s chapter of the National Honor Society. These kids weren’t ever in serious trouble; they weren’t disciplinary problems; they were just nerds. But the faculty voted on which students would be allowed into the National Honor Society; it wasn’t exactly “objective,” and there were only a limited number of spots. That year, the faculty rejected three (of the four) valedictorians and nearly a half a dozen National Merit Finalists. If you only need to know one thing about the toxic, anti-intellectual, and counter-productive culture that existed (and, to a certain extent, still exists) in my high school, it’s this. After those kids were rejected, they formed the National Dishonor Society; they printed up t-shirts and wore them to school almost every day. It was defiant and righteous, and they exposed an uncomfortable truth about our high school and the integrity of our faculty. The next year, incidentally, I was also rejected admission into the National Honor Society and subsequently became an honorary member of the National Dishonor Society. I didn’t do anything wrong. I’d never gotten in trouble at all. I was also at the top of my class. But even way back then, I was controversial, and my high school had very little tolerance for independent thinkers.
I had first intended to write about Jindal’s voucher scam and how we’re being hoodwinked. I’ll save that for later. For now, my point is this: My high school may look the same as it did when I was a student, but it doesn’t have to be the same. I attended public schools in Louisiana, and I know, very well, why we need to reform the system. Out of the 220 or so graduates, I was only one of two who was admitted to a top-tier school (despite the fact that I had been rejected by the National Honor Society). I’m not being braggadocios; I am sounding the alarm. We don’t need to funnel taxpayer dollars into propping up private schools; we already own the infrastructure.
This is important and not always understood: Schools are merely a community of people. People inform culture; buildings, at their best, merely enhance our experience. Buildings, in the most basic terms, house culture, nothing more and nothing less. Governor Jindal, who was once a Hindu kid named Piyush attending a public school in inner-city Baton Rouge, may now fashion himself as a Catholic man named Bobby (and that’s a story in and of itself), but his achievements in life are based entirely in the genius of public education, a system that allowed his immigrant parents the opportunity to provide him with a top-notch education and a pathway toward the Ivy League. And sadly and ironically, it’s a system Mr. Jindal now actively seeks to destroy. To me, Mr. Jindal doesn’t look like the wunderkind; he certainly doesn’t look like a policy wonk or a potential candidate for Vice President. He looks like an abused tool, a man all-too-willing to buy into the notion that Louisiana, post-Katrina, could be the perfect stage for disaster capitalism experimentation, results be damned. He looks ravaged, exploited, hilarious; it’s awful.
We cannot afford to disinvest from public education; we cannot quarantine or isolate or ridicule kids who push themselves academically. We can and should strive toward top-notch athletics programs, but we can no longer allow our schools to be led and administered by career coaches; schools must be led by qualified and professional educators. Our problem is not infrastructure. It’s easy enough to rearrange furniture, to move the balcony chairs of the academic elite back among their peers.
Our problem is cultural; it’s an entrenched mindset, a pettiness and a sense of defeatism that we simply accept unquestionably.
Our problem is that we’ve invested our faith in people who have absolutely no faith in us, that we’ve become convinced that education is not a fundamental right and is somehow a commodity. It’s like tying public safety to the profitability of the local police force.
I’ll always have a love/hate relationship with my high school, but I think most sane people feel the same way.
Or, to quote the movie Dazed and Confused, “All I’m saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.”
High school shouldn’t be the best years of life, but, at the very least, they should be good.
This afternoon, after years of behind-the-scenes planning, the City of Alexandria announced THINKAlex, a comprehensive initiative that will modernize the City’s development ordinances and guide its long-term plans and strategies for housing, transportation, disaster recovery, and land use, among other things.
You can read the press release below, but first, I want to give my own perspective:
When I first went to work for Mayor Roy nearly five and a half years ago, we both recognized the real and pressing need to rethink and retool Alexandria’s development strategies and priorities. It’s a subject about which I’ve written frequently on my blog: The ways in which the construction of Interstate 49 in the mid-1990s affected the inner city and downtown, the fact that Alexandria had tripled in geographic size since the 1960s while retaining essentially the same population, the fact that we had prioritized the construction and development of publicly-owned assets and facilities in far-flung, suburban neighborhoods while our historic infrastructure continued to deteriorate, and the ways in which our vision, at least at the time, for solving these problems focused more on pie-in-the-sky “catalytic” developments instead of the nuts and bolts of healthy and dynamic neighborhoods.
What impressed me first about Mayor Roy– well before he was elected– was that he also intuitively understood these issues, and he ran on and was overwhelmingly elected on a platform of “smart growth.” Almost immediately, Mayor Roy changed the City’s policy on annexation: No longer was expansion prioritized for the sake of expansion; there were other things that needed to be considered: access to resources, drainage, connectivity, and police and fire coverage.
A couple of years later, he announced the SPARC (Special Planned Activity Redevelopment Corridors) Initiative, a tax-neutral bond initiative that focuses, almost exclusively, on improving and enhancing basic infrastructure along Alexandria’s most important and historic inner-core thoroughfares and assets. SPARC is about fundamentally improving and altering the quality of the built environment, and for anyone who has traveled down Masonic Drive during the last six months, its results should already be noticeable and profound. In the near future, Alexandrians can expect similar progress on Bolton Avenue, MacArthur Drive, Lower Third Street, and the Riverfront. These things take time, of course, and they demand deliberative, well-considered planning. But the magic of SPARC is really quite simple: Instead of spending millions and millions of taxpayer dollars on a single, “catalytic” asset (and I’ve heard everything pitched from a mega-million dollar marina to a waterpark hotel), public dollars should, first and foremost, go toward the improvement of basic infrastructure: roads and sidewalks, lighting, signage, and landscaping, things that make a neighborhood attractive not only for residents but also for businesses. And although the idea is simple, for Alexandria, it has been difficult to resist the allure of a quick fix, the notion that a single project could somehow change everything.
What good is it, however, if the public spends millions of dollars on a new multi-purpose arena or a marina or even a waterpark hotel (an absurd idea, to be sure), when the infrastructure around it is crumbling and in disrepair, when it’s surrounded by block after block of vacant and dilapidated properties?
To be sure, some critics may suggest that the City, under SPARC, recommended spending money on the Downtown Hotels Initiative (DHI). But those critics misunderstand the project: the DHI was never concerned with propping up a private-sector hotel; it was always about protecting a City-owned asset and investing, purely, in improving publicly-owned physical infrastructure. (For what it’s worth, after a series of false starts, I remain more confident than ever that the Hotel Bentley will reopen with private dollars and the City will finally exit the hotel business, selling the Alexander Fulton at a fair market price).
We didn’t merely need to rethink our development policies and priorities; we needed to reconsider our overall objective.
Yet, understandably, after years of planning one way, Alexandrians weren’t exactly keen on spending millions more to plan another way, particularly considering that many of the plans we had already commissioned were never realized or even seriously considered.
So, the challenge that faced Mayor Roy and his staff (myself included) was how to actualize the meritorious existing plans, while, at the same time, rethinking our long-term priorities without spending hundreds of thousands of City money and simultaneously ensuring for maximum community participation and input.
When the Louisiana Recovery Authority announced that it was accepting grant applications for “resiliency” projects, we immediately realized the opportunity, and thanks in large part to the hard work of my friend Daniel T. Smith, Alexandria received an enormous award, $567,000, the second highest grant in the State (only eclipsed by New Orleans), to execute a comprehensive, long-term initiative, now known as THINKAlex.
And believe me, for Alexandria, this is a game-changer. It cannot be overstated. Although SPARC is a nearly $100 million program, THINKAlex is just as bold, just as important, and will prove to be just as enduring. Trust me on this.
PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OFFICE OF MAYOR JACQUES M. ROY
The City of Alexandria Launches THINKAlex
Comprehensive Initiative Could “Write the Book” on Long-Term Resiliency
Alexandria Mayor Jacques M. Roy and his administration are proud to announce the launch of THINKAlex, a bold and innovative community-driven initiative focusing on the development of effective long-term strategies and solutions for transportation, land use, housing, zoning, and a revision of the municipal development code. “This ‘umbrella’ will be the framework for all the principal initiatives we have been working on for the last five years,” said Mayor Jacques Roy.
THINKAlex is funded through a $567,000 grant from the Office of Community Development and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the second-largest award of its kind in the State of Louisiana. In addition to the City, THINKAlex will be spearheaded by Concordia, LLC, an internationally renowned and award-winning innovator in urban development and architecture.
“Following the England Air Force Base closure, the Alexandria community pulled together, demonstrating a fierce resiliency. Among other smart moves, the community created a plan, Alexandria 2010, to bring Alexandria into the 21st century,” said Mayor Roy. “Now is the time to map out a course of action with proven 21st century solutions. But THINKAlex is not simply a plan. It is dynamic and multifaceted, and will be built entirely by the community. Too often, plans collect dust on shelves. THINKAlex will be organic, and because we can now utilize technologies, like social media, THINKAlex will be able to constantly evolve and rapidly respond to new and unforeseen demands.”
THINKAlex was first conceived by Mayor Roy and his staff in 2008, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav. At the time, the State of Louisiana, under the auspices of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, encouraged affected municipalities and parishes to compete for funding “resiliency” projects.
“When the funding became available, we pitched something we thought not quite done before,” said Mayor Roy. “My development staff wanted to consider ‘resiliency’ in its entirety. That meant much more than just preparing for natural disasters, though that was absolutely critical. It means addressing transportation, land use, drainage, housing, and annexation policies, and it means revising our development ordinances. We were pushing SPARC and preparing to launch what would become SafeAlex and other initiatives to tie together a complete “planning overhaul”—and do it in a way that did not involve mere plans but a series of implementation models. We were on the edge of a real, deep community planning framework to enhance the built environment and prepare for future infrastructure needs. Our relationship with GAEDA and other stakeholders began paying off in tangible results. It was exciting, but it wasn’t finished.”
City officials have been informed THINKAlex is the first and only truly comprehensive resiliency initiative in the State of Louisiana, and it will be informed by “nexus community planning,” a cutting-edge approach created by Concordia that specifically and individually focuses on the physical, cultural, social, organizational, educational, and economic components of a community. Nexus planning also emphasizes and encourages the full and effective utilization of publicly-owned neighborhood facilities and assets, such as schools, libraries, community centers, and parks. “Using the Nexus model as an organizing framework ensures the creation of a systemic and holistic plan for Alexandria’s future,” said Steven Bingler, founder and CEO of Concordia. “All assets and needs of the community are important when determining next steps for a truly resilient community. This way ensures that each aspect of the Alexandria community garners equal consideration during the planning and community engagement process.”
During the next three weeks, the City of Alexandria will announce a schedule of citywide community meetings and principal fellows, who will administer the implementation of the planning, design, and development processes.
“THINKAlex is a game-changer,” said Mayor Roy. “I have been told by several experts in this area Alexandria has the opportunity to write the book on resiliency planning. I hope we can seize this opportunity and live up to such a lofty goal. THINKAlex will not only inform the future of Alexandria, but, I believe, could serve as a national best practice and model. This plan is the coalescence and culmination of the five years of work and research being implemented by a nationally-renowned expert. I am excited for our City and look forward to our Council and community participating heavily in this process.”
Follow THINKAlex on Twitter (www.twitter.com/thinkalex318) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/THINKAlex). Applications for leadership positions can be downloaded from www.cityofalexandriala.com.
Anyone remember this?
Or, more appropriately, this?
While the Jindal campaign was producing commercials depicting their opponents as corrupt, money-grubbing (literally, they’re eating money) clowns, we now know that this same campaign, at the same time, was receiving of tens of thousands of dollars in allegedly illegal campaign contributions. From The Times-Picayune (bold mine):
A former executive of a failed Lacombe-based bank, charged last month with funneling illegal political contributions through the bank’s board of directors, gave the $55,000 of allegedly illegal donations to the campaign that first ushered Bobby Jindal to the Governor’s Mansion. It was the same campaign, just days later, that received $30,000 from companies that the Louisiana Board of Ethics alleges were bogus entities formed to launder illegal donations from the embattled River Birch landfill’s parent company.
And, of course, it was the same campaign that ran on an anti-corruption platform, the same campaign that championed a “gold standard” for ethics (which, we later discovered, would not include the Governor’s Office), the same campaign that depicted its opponents as a part of an old-school cabal of entrenched political hacks and opportunists.
Team Jindal, not surprisingly, denies knowing that these contributions were illegal or improper and asserts that they did nothing wrong. And I suppose that for the uninitiated, this may be convincing:
“You get a check and it says it was from so and so, another check says it was from somebody else,” Teepell said. “You act in good faith that those contributions are being made by that person.”
Jindal’s 1,381-page candidate’s report that logged Blossman’s illegal contribution lists more than $2.6 million donated by more than 7,800 individuals between January and April 2007.
It would be impossible, Teepell said, to audit each individual contribution. An accountant goes through the candidate’s finance reports before they are submitted to the state Board of Ethics to check for red flags, though in this case noticed none, Teepell said.
Teepell said he learned the governor was involved from the media, not the feds.
Jindal is not required to give the $55,000 back, he said.
“We’re talking about donations that were given and spent a half-decade ago,” Teepell said. “And donations that were received in good faith and in accordance with the law.”
Sure, Democratic politicians have also found themselves ensnared in similar situations. But what is interesting and noteworthy about Team Jindal is their reluctance to return the money, or, at the very least, donate the money to a worthy charity. Remember, this is a candidate who ran, almost entirely, on an anti-corruption platform, but now that some of his campaign contributions have been exposed as allegedly illegal, he is refusing to even acknowledge or admit to any responsibility. The accountant to whom Mr. Teepell refers was not a government agent; he was a paid employee of the Jindal campaign.
And importantly, although it is unquestionable that Mr. Jindal raised millions of dollars and that these contributions represent a tiny portion of his campaign coffers, there were red flags: They were all maximum contributions given by Louisiana businessmen and businesses at the same time. In the case of the Lacombe bank:
A week later, on April 6, 2007, the Jindal campaign logged having received a $5,000 donation, the maximum allowed by state law, from each of the board members — Mark Perrilloux, Douglas Ferrer, Edward Amar Jr., Henry Powell Jr., Raymond Fontaine, Welton Brumfield Jr., Ann Blossman Dunn, Brandon Faciane, Ralph “Sandy” Menetre III, Charles Law Ponder and James Venezia Sr.
Each listed the address only as Lacombe or, as it was spelled on the campaign finance reports, “LeCombe,” though few of the board members actually have Lacombe addresses.
That’s eleven maximum contributions from Lacombe, Louisiana (population 8,679, a town so far off of the Jindal radar that his campaign didn’t even know the proper spelling), all occurring at the same time, all from members of the same board of the same bank, a bank controlled by someone that Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin referred to as a “political acquaintance” of the Governor.
Over the same time period, the average contribution to the Jindal campaign was $333. In other words, sure, Mr. Jindal’s campaign raised a ton of cash, but there were only a small handful of Louisianans who contributed the maximum. Flippantly disregarding these contributions as irrelevant and something that occurred “a half-decade ago” (that would be five years, for those unaccustomed to political spin) is both insulting and ridiculous.
With Mr. Jindal’s “gold standard” of ethics, the pitch may have seemed universal, but the rules were never intended to apply to him. And with this most recent discovery, the message from Team Jindal seems to be: Although we campaigned against corruption, we were too wealthy to prevent it from infecting our own campaign… and besides, this all happened a half-decade ago, ancient history.