Louisiana’s biggest corporate players, many with long agendas before the state government, are restricted in making campaign contributions to Gov. Bobby Jindal. But they can give whatever they like to the foundation set up by his wife months after he took office.
AT&T, which needed Mr. Jindal, a Republican, to sign off on legislation allowing the company to sell cable television services without having to negotiate with individual parishes, has pledged at least $250,000 to theSupriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children.
Marathon Oil, which last year won approval from the Jindal administration to increase the amount of oil it can refine at its Louisiana plant, also committed to a $250,000 donation. And the military contractor Northrop Grumman, which got state officials to help set up an airplane maintenance facility at a former Air Force base, promised $10,000 to the charity.
The foundation has collected nearly $1 million in previously unreported pledges from major oil companies, insurers and other corporations in Louisiana with high-stakes regulatory issues, according to a review by The New York Times.
While the charity is named and led by Mrs. Jindal, the governor has not entirely distanced himself from it: a photo of him standing alongside his wife appears on a corporate solicitation page on the foundation Web site, and his chief fund-raiser is listed as the charity’s treasurer on its most recent tax return. A state employee from the governor’s office who serves as an aide to Mrs. Jindal manages the foundation’s books.
Kyle Plotkin, the Governor’s spokesman, believes that anyone who thinks this may be cause for concern or, at the very least, a little suspicious is just “living in a fantasy land,” that the entire thing is being “dreamed up by partisan hacks.” To me, when you push back with this type of hyperbole, you’re just drawing inadvertent attention to the story. But then again, no matter what the Governor’s spokesman said, it’s still an interesting story: hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporations with direct, financial interests in state government given to a foundation whose books are managed by a member of the Governor’s staff.
Without a doubt, Mrs. Jindal’s foundation does good work. According to reports, almost all of the money the foundation collects is spent on purchasing whiteboards for public school classrooms, but the report raises several red flags:
Why would a employee of the Governor’s office be responsible for managing the “books” of a foundation that has already raised at least $1 million, particularly a foundation that belongs to the First Lady? Even if this employee is not directly compensated for this work, it certainly suggests a conflation between the Governor’s Office and the fundraising conducted for the First Lady’s foundation.
What was the exact timing of AT&T’s enormous donation? AT&T is one of the largest corporations on the planet; if they wanted to donate $250,000 for whiteboards in Louisiana public schools, they could have done so directly, not through the Governor’s wife’s foundation.
I ask because in late June of 2008, Governor Jindal signed the Orwellian-named Consumer Choice for Television Act, a pernicious piece of legislation that stripped local and parish governments of their power and responsibility to negotiate cable franchise agreements with companies that relied, in large part, on locally-owned public infrastructure. Despite the outspoken opposition of the Louisiana Municipal Association and the State Police Jury Association, Jindal signed the act into law. And then, presumably later, AT&T gave the Supriya Jindal Foundation its single largest corporate donation.
So, it may seem like a pithy punch for the Governor’s spokesman to merely reject the narrative as “fantasy.” As a friend of mine likes to say, “Fine. I won’t let your opinions get in the way of the facts.” In this case, partisan name-calling may seem effective, but it’d be far more effective if the Governor and his office simply discussed the facts: Who? What? Where? When? And most importantly, why?