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.