REPORT: Louisiana Regulators Taking Two-Thirds of Campaign Cash from Industries They Regulate

via NoLa.com
An investigation into public campaign finance records by the New Orleans Times-Picayune found that Louisiana utility regulators have been receiving two-thirds of their campaign cash from the industries they are elected to regulate. Louisiana is one of only 11 states that allow voters to elect officials to the state Public Service Commission. Despite the obvious possibility of corruption, Louisiana has resisted all calls to ban campaign contributions from utility companies.  

Forest Bradley-Wright of the consumer advocacy group Alliance for Affordable Energy expressed his dismay at this conflict of interest saying, “The utility companies recognize that the money they give to a candidate or to a sitting commissioner is an investment.  It’s an inherent conflict of interest that the public should be concerned about.”

Even those who have been elected to the Louisiana Public Service Commission admit the system is flawed. Former Democratic State Legislator Foster Campbell, who is now one of the five elected officials on the commission, told the Times-Picayune, “It ought to be, probably, that you can’t take any money from anybody you regulate. But some of these races cost a million dollars. Where are you going to get the money unless you’re personally wealthy?”

This is a microcosm of America’s campaign finance problem. It is nearly impossible to do what is best for constituents when so many favors are owed to those who bankroll victory. Yet, public outcry is non-existent — it’s more of whisper from a small set of activists who recognize the urgency of the matter.

NoLa.com did not have trouble spotting the pay-to-pay trend in campaign finance records:

As part of a four-month investigation by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and WVUE Fox 8 News into campaign finance practices across the state, reporters waded through more than 2,100 contributions made to the five members of the PSC between 2009 and 2012.

Reporters also identified Louisiana’s top 400 contributors, which included several companies regulated by the PSC, such as Entergy, AT&T and Cleco.

In the four years analyzed, PSC commissioners received more than $1.55 million in total contributions. For every dollar they received, 42 cents came from industries regulated by the PSC, industry employees and employees’ immediate family members.

Add interested parties like attorneys, lobbyists and consultants acting directly on behalf of these industries and that number balloons to more than two-thirds of total contributions, or $1.03 million.

Findings about the individual members of the commission include:

Commissioner Lambert Boissiere III, D-New Orleans, and [Eric] Skrmetta, R-Metairie, both received more than three-quarters of their campaign cash from regulated industries, their employees, as well as the attorneys, lobbyists and consultants contracted to work on behalf of either the utilities or the commission itself. (See Boissiere donations in NOLA.com’s database.)

Skrmetta, who took over the chairmanship from Campbell this year, also had the highest dollar amount from industry, receiving more than $311,000 of the $401,000 he has taken in since 2009 from regulated utilities and their affiliated interests. (See Skrmetta’s contributions.)

Now-retired Commissioner Jimmy Field of Baton Rouge was right on their heels. The former LSU football star, a moderate Republican who often represented the swing vote on the panel, received at least 75 percent of his campaign money from these parties. However, his industry dollar amount was second to lowest, at just less than $160,000. 

Campbell got more than half of the $346,000 he has collected since 2009 from utilities and interested parties. According to utilities consultant and longtime PSC observer David Cruthirds, that comparatively low percentage is likely attributable to his long political history and reputation as a grassroots campaigner. 

The amount of influence these donations have on the everyday decisions of the commission is up for debate.  These actions are protected by the law, but attention is finally being drawn to the possibility of ditching these inherently flawed protections.  Among those who believe the current system needs fixing is Commissioner Foster Campbell:

“You want to know the truth? It’s not a good situation. It would be better if we did not take any money from anybody we regulate,” Campbell said. “Our system is a long ways from being perfect. Do I think the utility companies have too much influence? Yes, I do. Too much. Too damn much.”

Go to LA State Page
origin Blog: 
origin Author: 
Comments Count: 
Showing 0 comments