In 2015, during his campaign for Louisiana Attorney General, former Congressman Jeff Landry lambasted his opponent, the incumbent Buddy Caldwell, for running the Department of Justice like his own private fiefdom. Landry called it “the Buddy system,” and he vowed that, once elected, he would demand complete transparency.
“A.G. candidate Landry pledges transparency,” blared a headline on the website The Louisiana Record, a publication owned by the U.S. Chamber for Legal Reform. The U.S. Chamber for Legal Reform is an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is known to rely on “substantively inaccurate and methodologically flawed” surveys in order to justify and promote legislation designed to limit a citizen’s access to the judicial system while shielding corporations from liability.
Despite its official-sounding name, The Louisiana Record is not a Louisiana publication, and the “journalist” who wrote the glowing story about then-candidate Landry’s pledge of transparency, Hanna Nakano, is a Washington D.C.-based freelance writer who also contributes to The Florida Record, The Northern California Record, The Cook County Record, and The Southeast Texas Record, among others.
So, chances are that Ms. Nakano was not actually in the room when Jeff Landry allegedly “told the American Tort Reform Association he will uphold transparency in private attorney contracts if elected.” But it sure sounds like something that candidate Landry would have said, even if it was reported on a “fake news” site.
As we learned yesterday in The Advocate, Landry never intended on following through with that promise. He’s currently being sued for violating state public record law after failing to provide documentation about his communications with oil and gas lobbyists, his travel expenses, his schedule, and- most notably- “all contracts awarded to attorneys and/or law firms … to represent the state and any state entities in litigation,” the very thing that he vowed to do when he was a candidate.
Unfortunately, The Advocate did not upload a copy of the lawsuit, which makes it abundantly clear that Landry and his staff obfuscated and delayed for months.
So, I personally obtained a copy of the lawsuit, because I think it’s important that the people of Louisiana know exactly what their Attorney General is being accused of doing (or not doing). Read it here.
Landry (who now calls himself General Landry in official correspondence) has a novel and ridiculous defense for his failure to comply with the law. His press secretary, Ruth Wisher, told The Advocate, “We can only hope it is not a political witch hunt distracting from the important work of our office.” Ms. Wisher also claims that Landry’s office has been inundated with public records requests, which she immediately debunks by disclosing that they’ve only received 200 such requests in 15 months, a pittance for a state agency as sprawling as the Louisiana Department of Justice.
But perhaps more importantly, the attempt to frame these sensible public records requests as a “political witch hunt” reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the law and, potentially, an admission of guilt. In Louisiana, the custodians of public records are prohibited from asking a requestor about the intention of their requests. In other words, even if someone is, indeed, on a “political witch hunt,” you are still obligated to comply with the request. That’s the law, and it’s ironic a man in charge of the Louisiana Department of Justice cannot seem to understand that.
But there may be another reason why Landry is reluctant to comply with a request for the contracts he has entered into with attorneys. When he was a candidate, he excoriated his opponent for implementing a so-called “Buddy system,” hiring only his friends and campaign contributors.
“Attorney General Caldwell has been accused of using the ‘Buddy system’ when awarding contracts to attorneys who will represent the state,” reported The Louisiana Record in their glowing article about Jeff Landry’s commitment to transparency. “ATRA says Caldwell uses state money to award contracts to those who have or plan to make contributions to his campaign, rather than using in house staff or bidding out the position.”
When Gov. John Bel Edwards sought to hire attorney Taylor Townsend to spearhead a lawsuit against oil and gas companies, Landry blocked the contract, and the media had a field day. Townsend had donated to Edwards’s campaign. The implication, of course, was that Gov. Edwards was engaging in the type of pay-to-play activities that Landry had so righteously castigated as a candidate.
But what Landry failed to disclose is that he received at least $550,000 in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, many of which came from companies and individuals with a direct financial interest in the outcome of the litigation, an interest that was adverse to the state’s.
Landry also failed to disclose that he is the sole owner of a company that serves the oil and gas industry, UST Environmental Service Company, which, presumably, works with underground storage tanks. In 2015, according to documents filed with the Louisiana Ethics Administration, Jeff Landry earned more than $200,000 with UST, all while criss-crossing the state and campaigning for Attorney General.
Here’s the kicker, though, because I had to save the best for last.
In March 2016, Gov. Edwards agreed to allow Landry to hire his own attorneys to continue pursuing a couple of controversial Jindal-era lawsuits about Planned Parenthood and admitting privileges for doctors who perform abortions. It was a compromise of sorts. Edwards did not want to continue paying attorneys out of his budget for these cases; under Jindal, the state had already spent a fortune and hadn’t won a single time. But Landry wanted to continue pushing, not because he thought the state would win but because they help bolster his conservative bona fides.
Jimmy Faircloth, the former executive counsel to Gov. Bobby Jindal and a man who had already made $4.7 million from the state, had been assigned to the Planned Parenthood case. As a result of the new arrangement, Faircloth’s contract was reassigned to Landry’s office, effective on March 15, 2016.
Only a month later, Jeff Landry’s campaign fund became $5,000 richer.
As it turns out, Faircloth didn’t just arbitrarily decide to donate the maximum to Landry.
His donation appears on Landry’s campaign disclosure form, because only one week after his new contract was approved, Jimmy Faircloth hosted a $1,000 a plate, $2,500 a couple luncheon fundraiser for the Jeff Landry campaign.