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‘Double Bill’ Cassidy’s Direct Supervisor at LSU Stopped Supervising Him in 2009

Questions about the nature and the extent of Congressman Bill Cassidy’s unusual work relationship with Louisiana State University took centerstage in yesterday’s first and only debate in the run-off election for United States Senate. Since the story broke last week on The American Zombie and then here on CenLamar, the Cassidy campaign has struggled to formulate a coherent response.

Earlier this year, way back in July, Cassidy had claimed to an energy trade publication and on his federal income disclosure forms that his work at LSU only covered his “medical expenses.” We now know that Cassidy had actually been approved by the House Committee on Conduct of Elected Officials to teach a class for credit, and we also now know that in addition to the $20,000 salary Cassidy collected as an Associate Professor, LSU also provided the Congressman with medical malpractice insurance, licensing fees, and the costs of his continuing medical education classes. His “medical expenses” were already covered as a part of his benefits package; LSU was, ostensibly, supposed to have been paying the Congressman to teach classes to students, just like the vast and overwhelming majority of university professors are required to do.

Thus far, LSU has only located 16 of the 63 time sheets that were required in order to document, verify, and justify Cassidy’s salary, and even though the documents are incomplete, they reveal a troubling pattern: Although he told LSU he would work 30 hours a month, which is how LSU determined the proportional changes in his base salary, he also told the House Committee that he would work 16 hours a month. The time sheets indicate that Cassidy worked well below 30 hours a month he had set with LSU, and often, significantly less than the 16 hours a month he had claimed to the House Committee. Cassidy’s time sheets are not the only things that seem to have conveniently disappeared or dematerialized. Quoting from The Advocate (bold mine):

LSU says it cannot find the documents, including the agreement that outlines the work that was supposed to be done.

Cassidy was supposed to give “20 percent effort,” but that is not defined in available documents.

LSU lawyer Katherine Muslow says the Health Science Center, based in New Orleans, is uncertain whether a letter was ever generated that would outline specifically what work would make up a “20 percent effort” and how Cassidy was to document that labor.

“One was supposed to be created, but it was never done,” Muslow said, adding that the business manager at LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center, the Baton Rouge charity hospital where Cassidy and his residents worked, repeatedly asked medical school executives to detail the congressman’s part-time assignments.

“Everybody’s been looking for the documents,” LSU Health Sciences Center Chancellor Larry Hollier said. “He was being paid out of Baton Rouge Earl K. Long, which is no longer there.”

Yesterday, only hours before the debate, to its immense credit , LSU announced its own internal investigation into matter. If true and if these documents do not resurface, then this means that Congressman Cassidy continued to bill LSU for more than five years and for more than $100,000 for work he never had a contract to do, all without any real oversight or supervision.

In their initial reactions to the story about Cassidy’s billing practices and particularly his billing for work done in Baton Rouge on the same day as committee meetings and votes taken in DC, Cassidy suggested that air travel often allowed him this unusual arrangement and that any hours he billed for work in DC were spent supervising LSU residents working in DC-area medical facilities. “He also advised students, worked with them on their research and papers, including in Washington when he would meet with students doing residencies and internships in area medical facilities after the day’s congressional work ended,reports The Times-Picayune (bold mine).

However, we know now that Cassidy apparently billed at least five hours for meetings he had at his Capitol Hill office with LSU resident Claude (or C.J.) Pirtle, for a month-long research project that sounds more like a political internship. According to ABC News (bold mine):

One such student is LSU resident Claude Pirtel (sic), who spent a month in the district earlier this year and worked with Cassidy on a project that studied the implications of the Affordable Care Act on health policy.

“Two or three times a week, we’d sit down and talk about health policy and work on projects pertaining to Louisiana,” Pirtel (sic) told ABC News of his time working with Cassidy, which he described as one of “best experiences” of his time in medical school.

Ostensibly, LSU was providing credit for a student to sit in a Congressman’s office a few times a week and talk politics, discussions for which Cassidy would bill LSU, presumably coding these meetings as “clinical resident supervision,” even though neither were anywhere close to an actual clinic. A day after spending five hours with Pirtle, Cassidy issued a press release titled “Cassidy Comments on Latest Obamacare Delay.” It’s unclear if Congressman Cassidy taught Dr. Pirtle a class for credit, if there were any lesson plans involved, or if Cassidy was responsible for testing and grading this student, who is now an outspoken and public supporter of Cassidy’s race for the United States Senate.

But let’s put all of that aside, at least for now. Yesterday, in a debate that aired all across Louisiana and nationally on C-SPAN 2, Bill Cassidy, when asked directly about these accusations said (bold mine):

“That’s very simple. One, these charges are absolutely false, and my direct supervisor and I have made multiple comments about this, and I’ll note that the Landrieu camp takes these comments, whenever they can, and they twist them around. I am proud of the work that I’ve done at LSU. Doing a liver biopsy in the morning and flying to D.C. that evening. Now, that said, the work I’ve done teaching medical students actually benefits the poor and the uninsured.”

It was the first but not the only time Congressman Cassidy referred to his direct supervisor, George Karam, in the debate, and Dr. Karam has said some very nice things about Cassidy’s work as a full-time physician at LSU. But there is just a tiny little problem: Dr. Karam hasn’t supervised Cassidy’s work since 2009, the year Cassidy packed up and moved to Capitol Hill.

Despite what Cassidy claimed to the people of Louisiana yesterday night, Dr. George Karam is not his direct supervisor; in fact, it appears that no one has supervised Cassidy’s work since he was first elected. All he needed to do was scribble a few things every few months on some backdated time sheets, and he’d be covered, seemingly without any regard for what he was actually doing and despite the real concerns of Earl K. Long’s business manager and many others.

Unfortunately for Congressman Cassidy, this isn’t like the movie “Beetlejuice.” It doesn’t matter how many times he says, “Obama, Obama, Obama,” this story won’t go away, regardless of the election results on December 6th. Win or lose, the people of Louisiana deserve answers and accountability, not merely self-aggrandizing platitudes about how you’ve treated poor people while earning more than $305,000 a year before Congress and now more than $195,000 in salaries and even more in benefits a year as a member of Congress.

“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.

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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:

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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.

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