Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Social Activism’ Category

“Double Bill” Cassidy: For Years, Bill Cassidy Billed LSU While Working In Congress

On at least 21 different occasions during the last two and a half years, Rep. Bill Cassidy billed Louisiana State University Health Science Center for work allegedly performed on the same days as Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the Affordable Care Act, according to records first posted by Jason Berry of The American Zombie. Cassidy, a medical doctor, remained on LSU’s payroll after he was first elected, despite concerns by his associates about the nature of work that Cassidy, as a member of Congress, could legitimately conduct in his capacity as an employee of LSU. Cassidy’s time sheets indicate that, on at least 17 different occasions, he spent multiple hours in LSU-HSC’s clinics on the same days in which he also participated in committee meetings and roll call votes, which would have likely required him to bend the rules of space and time. On four other occasions, Cassidy billed multiple hours for “on the phone” consultation with LSU-HSC while working from Washington, D.C.

In May of 2010, Cassidy received an extensive opinion from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, advising, among other things, that he could be compensated as a “teaching physician” who teaches “a regular course of instruction.” The House Committee also advised Cassidy that, although he is prohibited from practicing medicine for compensation, he could still accept “payments for professional medical services in an amount that does not exceed the actual and necessary expenses associated with the medical services provided.” Payments for actual and necessary expenses associated with medical services, it is worth noting, are considered on a case-by-case basis; physician members of Congress are not allowed to earn a salary for the practice of medicine.

Although the records released are incomplete, they raise serious legal and ethical questions about Cassidy’s role at LSU and seem to suggest that Cassidy may have been in open violation of the House Committee’s clear guidelines and may have been grossly overcompensated for his work.

Instead of taking a leave of absence from LSU after he was elected in November of 2008, Cassidy agreed to an 80% reduction in his salary, or approximately $20,000 a year, slightly less than the $26,550 annual limitation on outside wages earned by members of Congress. There were practical reasons a physician who had been newly and narrowly elected to a Congressional seat that had already changed hands twice in the last two years would want to remain on LSU’s payroll: In addition to his salary, LSU also paid for Cassidy’s medical malpractice insurance, continuing education, and licensing fees, expenses that can easily total in the thousands. In the event that he lost re-election, he would be able to immediately return to his medical practice, without even skipping a beat.

According to correspondence between Cassidy and his colleagues, his new role at LSU-HSC would still require a commitment of approximately 30 hours a month in order to ensure that his compensation was proportionate to the reduction of his base salary. In an e-mail dated January 30, 2009, Ronnie Smith, LSU-HSC’s Vice Chancellor, writes, “(Cassidy’s) effort should be documented and monitored and appropriate adjustments to percent of effort made, if needed, in a timely manner.” Smith was not the only person who realized, early on, that the unusual arrangement with a sitting United States Congressman could be problematic.

On March 25, 2009, William Livings, LSU-HSC’s business manager, asked his colleagues to define Cassidy’s specific duties and responsibilities. “I could make up some semblance of what I think his duties could be,” Livings writes, “but, in this case, given his status as a U.S. Congressman, I think it would be prudent from our perspective to know what it is y’all expect from him for his one day per week (20%). Is he to provide simple clinic services, GI services, endoscopies, HIV services, etc.? What happens to his clinical trials? Is he to provide services at the private clinic? I wouldn’t think so given that I can’t reimburse him for those services anyway since those collections/payments would put him over the $25,000 and auditors are going to want to know exactly what it is he is doing for us (EKLMC; LSUHSC) for the $20,000 base pay we give him annually. We are going to have to spell out exactly what it is he does for us for his renumeration from us. Believe me, this scenario will be a very auditable item and I feel they will really hone in on this situation to make sure we are meeting all federal and state regulations.”

Although Livings’s concerns were legitimate, Cassidy’s arrangement with LSU-HSC never raised concerns with auditors or the media, largely due, no doubt, to the House Committee’s advisory opinion and approval. However, as its opinion makes clear, the House Committee had been under the impression that Cassidy was being compensated for teaching resident physicians and students. Federal law prohibits members of Congress from receiving honoraria or compensation for “speeches, articles, and appearances,” without prior approval.  In their letter to Cassidy, the House Committee explained the guidelines:

In order to receive approval, the individual wishing to teach must establish that:

1. The teaching is part of a regular course of instruction at an established academic institution;

2. All compensation comes from the funds of the institution and none is derived from federal grants or earmarked appropriations;

3. The payment is for services on an ongoing basis, not for individual presentations or lectures;

4. The teacher’s responsibilities include class preparation and student evaluation (for example, grading papers, testing, and homework);

5. The students receive credit for the course taught;

6.  The compensation does not exceed that normally received by others at the institution for a comparable level of instruction and amount of work;

7. No official resources, including staff time, are used in connection with the teaching;

8. The teaching does not interfere with official responsibilities nor is it otherwise inconsistent with congressional duties; and

9. The employment or compensation does not represent a significant potential for conflict of interest.

Cassidy represented himself to the House Committee as an “Associate Professor of Medicine, Teaching, and Research” and had claimed that his position “involves lecturing and teaching medical residents and students as they treat patients, as well as supervising research projects.” But more than a year before the House Committee granted approval, in an e-mail dated January 29, 2009, Cassidy acknowledged the concerns that his responsibilities had almost nothing to do with teaching.

“Ronnie (Smith) has been concerned in the past that the clinical activities have to involve teaching in order to justify application of the dual employment exception,” Cassidy writes. “The statue, as I recall, gives exceptions to teachers and to doctors working in the Charity Hospital System. The latter exception stands alone, without reference to teaching. I have not reviewed recently but I did look at this carefully when I entered the State legislature. If necessary, I can look for (it) again. I am told that when the new North Baton Rouge Clinic building opens, that it will be possible to move hepatitis clinic to a Monday. At this time, I can staff this clinic fairly regularly and that will be teaching.” Cassidy applied a Louisiana state statute that allows part-time elected officials to also work, in a full-time capacity, as physicians in the charity system, and obviously, he hoped to stretch the definition of the word “teaching” as much as possible.

Earlier in the same e-mail, Cassidy describes, exactly, what his responsibilities were. “I am spending approx 5 hours to 10 hours a week on LSUHSC activity. This includes clinical activity at Angola, private practice, discussing research issues and patient care issues with my research coordinator and nurse residents, speaking to residents and taking Internet courses in research ethics required by the IRB. The latter has or will require approx 4 hours of Internet time. I must complete it in order to continue to review our ongoing studies.”

The next day, Ronnie Smith wrote Cassidy back. “Based on the information below (from 5-10 hours/week which would suggest roughly 7.5 hours/week on average or the equivalent of 20% effort) that we would be talking about a reduced level of effort to 20% and a proportionate reduction in pay.”  On February 9, less than two weeks later, LSU-HSC changed their agreement with Cassidy accordingly.

In response to a public records request, LSU recently released 16 of Cassidy’s time sheets, dating from July 2012 to March 2014. Most of these time sheets are backdated, as if they were filed in a rush, and they reveal that Cassidy worked, on average, between 10 to 12 hours a month, far less than the 30 hours a month that his contract required. In October 2013, for example, he worked only 7 hours.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 6.20.15 PM

Despite what he had represented to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, he never taught a class; the vast majority of the very little work he apparently did for LSU-HSC is listed as “clinic.” He also billed for his own continuing education hours.

Cassidy, it’s worth noting, finally took a leave of absence from LSU-HSC in April. Between his job in Washington, D.C. and his campaign for the United States Senate, he must’ve finally ran out of time.

After Thanksgiving, Moreauville, LA Plans to Confiscate And Kill Service Dog

On Oct. 13, 2014, the town of Moreauville, a small and sleepy community of less than 1,000 people located in the heart of Avoyelles Parish, enacted one of the most draconian and arbitrary ordinances against so-called “vicious dogs” in the entire country. If the town follows through on its promise, as it’s indicated, it will confiscate each and every rottweiler and pitbull living in family homes, and unless the family suddenly finds others to adopt those dogs in other cities, Moreauville will kill those family dogs within thirty days.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a petition opposing Moreauville’s ordinance, which is almost assuredly unconstitutional, has already attracted 70,000 signatures, and yesterday, CNN broke the story on both its national and international news websites. Indeed, people from all over the country and the world are outraged by Moreauville’s decision to confiscate and kill these family pets, regardless of the animal’s disposition, intelligence, and affection, and regardless of the service those dogs may provide to their physically and mentally challenged owners. One of those dogs scheduled to die is Zeus. Brooke Buford of the local NBC News affiliate reports (bold mine):

O’Hara Owens is trying to spend as much time as she can with her beloved pit bull, Zeus, before the village she lives in promises to take him away from her and dispose of him on December 1.

“If anything ever happened to him, I would just shut down,” she said.

O’Hara suffers from severe neck problems and has been forced to wear a halo brace and use a wheelchair.  

She says Zeus acts as a sort of “therapy dog,” providing love and support for her and her other brothers and sisters.

“I can sit here if I’m in pain, he comes and he notices it before I even make any noise,” she said.

But, Zeus has been blacklisted as a “vicious” breed in Moreauville.

Zeus, by all accounts, has a spotless record. He’s considered “vicious” merely because of his breed.

Zeus's owner holding up the demand letter she received from Moreauville.

Zeus’s owner holding up the demand letter she received from Moreauville.

The letter reads:

TO ALL PITT BULL AND ROTTWEILER OWNERS:

PLEASE BE INFORMED THAT THE VILLAGE OF MOREAUVILLE IS ENFORCING THE ORDINANCE THAT WAS PASSED ON OCTOBER 13TH, 2014 THAT BANS PITT BULLS AND ROTTWEILERS WITHIN THE CORPORATE LIMITS OF MOREAUVILLE, LA.

YOU ARE HEREBY GIVEN NOTICE THAT YOU HAVE UNTIL DECEMBER 1, 2014 TO REMOVE YOUR PITT BULLS OR ROTTWEILERS FROM YOUR PREMISES. IF YOUR PITT BULLS OR ROTTWEILERS ARE NOT REMOVED BY THIS DATE, YOUR ANIMALS WILL BE IMPOUNDED AND TRANSPORTED TO A VETERINARY CLINIC FOR FURTHER DISPOSITION. YOU WILL ALSO BE FINED FOR VIOLATING THE ORDINANCE.

Again, it’s worth noting that no one had ever complained about Zeus. In fact, there isn’t a single documented dog bite case in the entire town. Quoting again from Brooke Buford’s report on KALB (bold mine):

Alderman Penn Lemoine said the ordinance was created to appease several residents.

“We had several residents that were complaining about not being able to walk along the neighborhoods because these dogs were basically running along town,” Lemoine said in a phone interview.

We asked Lemoine about dog attacks…

“There have been, but I don’t think they’re documented,” he said.

And, if they plan to kill the dogs they collect on December 1…

“I’d rather not elaborate on that,” he said.

“Is that what it is? Are you going to kill the dogs?” asked reporter, Brooke Buford.

If that’s what the ordinance says, then that’s what it says,” Lemoine responded.

Lemoine told us he owns a German Shepard. But, he only considers pit bulls and Rottweilers as “vicious.”

He also says what the town is doing is completely legal.

It is worth noting that according to the CDC, German Shepards are considered the third most vicious breed in the world, though rankings like these have recently come under growing and intense scrutiny by animal rights activists, veterinarians, and scholars. Quoting the National Canine Research Council (bold mine):

There is no evidence from the controlled study of dog bites that one kind of dog is more likely to bite a human being than another kind of dog. A recent AVMA survey covering 40 years and two continents concluded that no group of dogs should be considered disproportionately dangerous. Additionally, in a recent multifactorial study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association on the exceptionally rare events of dog bite-related fatalities, the researchers identified a striking co-occurrence of multiple, controllable factors in these cases. Breed was not identified as a factor.

For dog owners like myself, dogs can become a part of your family. But, of course, for the purposes of the law, we treat dogs as property. Still, the right to property is fundamental in our Constitution, and laws that deprive citizens of their own property cannot be arbitrary or capricious. You can’t simply confiscate and kill someone’s dog without affording them due process and a hearing, and Moreauville’s ordinance effectively denies that opportunity. This just doesn’t pass muster:

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 5.22.21 AM

After all, why isn’t Alderman Lemoine’s German Shepard also irrefutably presumed to be dangerous? 

Update: Earlier today, in a statement posted on Facebook, The Veterinary Clinics of Avoyelles Parish announced that they will not comply with Moreauville’s ordinance.

10818846_911430345533925_934496576_n

Why I’m With Mary

I first met Mary Landrieu about eight or nine years ago. I was in my early twenties and had just moved back to Louisiana. She had actually offered me an internship and, once, even a job. I was flattered, but frankly, I wasn’t really sure if she was serious. I thought that maybe it was something she said to a lot of young people. Besides, I really liked my job with Mayor Roy. My loyalty was to him and to my hometown. I never even entertained taking a job in DC or anywhere else.

During the last few years, I’ve been critical of her a few times. I’m firmly in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and Mary is and has always been much more of a centrist and a moderate than I am. For folks like me, she has sometimes been frustrating. I disagreed with her vote on the Iraq War. I think she has been too slow to embrace marriage equality and sometimes too close to the oil and gas industry. Republicans and conservatives believe that she is merely a mouthpiece for President Obama, which is ironic to those of us, like me, who wish that she would be more supportive of the President’s agenda.

I am a single issue voter in this election, but that single issue isn’t abortion or equal rights or guns or climate change or energy or Obama.

My single issue is Louisiana.

I’ve met Mary Landrieu several times over the course of the last few years, but most of what I knew about her was based on what I’d read in the news. I just wish y’all could have seen and heard the Mary Landrieu I met today at lunch, and I hope you’ll take my word: This woman is fearless and righteous. I may disagree with her on some things, but I will never discount her love and passion for the people of Louisiana. I will never again question her bona fides as a champion of civil rights, because it’s absolutely impossible to fake what she expressed to me today. She spoke from the heart about racism and sexism and the need for all of us to come together. She talked about the toxicity and divisiveness of our political and media culture, how it manufactures outrage and discourages cooperation, compromise, and compassion.

I wasn’t interviewing her. I wasn’t wearing a press badge. I wasn’t there as a blogger. This was lunch between friends that I had the privilege of joining, the day before the election.

She was unguarded, and she demonstrated to me that she’s among the best in the country and that she truly, deeply, intensely cares about Louisiana. But perhaps just as importantly, she understands Louisiana; she recognizes that, to be effective, she must bring together disparate interests, forge coalitions, and negotiate compromise. But that requires clear-eyed, level-headed honesty, even if it sometimes forces us to confront some uncomfortable truths.

Some of y’all will never vote for her because of Obama, and a few of y’all don’t like her because she supports the oil and gas industry. It may be a long shot, but I really hope you’ll reconsider your position. To me, it’s naive and myopic. No one is perfect. You’ll never meet the perfect politician.

But what we need and deserve is a leader with the muscle to bring people together, and in a state as divided as Louisiana, no one has been better at cobbling together coalitions and representing a broad range of interests than Mary Landrieu. Bill Cassidy is running a campaign built on dividing us and scaring us and convincing us that Obama is the root of all evil. He may win, but if he does, he won’t be representing Louisiana; just like Jindal, he will be representing a rabid and vocal subset of national conservatives who relish in their anger, who hate government so much that they’re willing to destroy our shared civic institutions in order to line the pockets of the wealthy, who appeal almost exclusively to our collective fears- whether it’s Mexicans crossing the border or Ebola or terrorism or whatever topic du jour scares up enough viewers to keep Fox News on top and enough listeners to keep Rush Limbaugh in syndication.

Today, at lunch, there was a discussion of political heroes. “Mine has always been Eleanor Roosevelt,” Mary said. I asked her if she’d seen the Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts, and she said that she watched every minute of it. She talked about how exceptional that family was and how inspirational Eleanor Roosevelt was to her. And as she explained the ways in which Eleanor Roosevelt- a woman who did more to advance human rights in the 20th century than almost anyone else- had been emotionally and psychologically abused by her own mother, she started to tear up a little bit– not out of pity, though. It was out of admiration for a trailblazing woman who endured the relentless cruelties of her own mother, among other things, and still, somehow, remained almost supernaturally strong.

We expect a lot out of our leaders. We subject them and their families to intense scrutiny, and in the age of talk radio, the Internet, and 24-hour cable news, we now take for granted a culture that continually, constantly enables a simplistic but cartoonish vilification of almost anyone and everyone who dares to enter public service. It’s not only unfair; it does a disservice to our democracy.

I already voted. And on the eve of the election, I can rest easily, knowing now- for damned certain- that I voted for the most effective, accomplished, and badass Senator from Louisiana in an entire generation. I don’t have to agree with her on everything; if I did, there’s no chance she would have ever been elected in the first place. This is bigger than me; this is about the future of my state and who will truly listen to all of our people.

I’m with Mary.

%d bloggers like this: