Corruption in Louisiana

AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte
AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte

From Richard Minter of the American Media Institute writing at the Louisiana Record:

On television ads endorsing Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell for re-election, Paul Connick says a lot — but he never acknowledges that Caldwell approved $1.7 million in payments to his private practice.

Connick is Jefferson Parish’s district attorney and his law firm has received 59 contracts from the Louisiana Office of Risk Management. By law, Caldwell’s office selects and appoints outside attorneys with the Office of Risk Management’s agreement. These contracts, and the potential conflict of interest they represent, have not been reported previously.

Another Caldwell ad features an endorsement from the powerful Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association without revealing that the association’s general counsel, T. Allen Usry, or his law firm Usry Weeks & Matthews, received more than $7 million worth of legal work at the direction of Caldwell’s staff and 11 other lucrative contracts. Usry, a prominent New Orleans trial lawyer, also is a former campaign manager for Caldwell. Usry has raised  $85,000 for Caldwell’s campaigns.

Former U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, who is Caldwell’s election rival, and conservative activists across the state, have raised alarms about Caldwell’s prolific use of campaign contributors as outside attorneys paid by taxpayers. Many of those attorneys have publicly endorsed Caldwell without disclosing their financial ties to him.

None of this is illegal, law professors say, unless a clear quid pro quo is proved. But it continues a pattern of conduct widely reported by New Orleans-based WWL-TV and others that involves Caldwell’s office approving millions of dollars in payments to outside attorneys who have donated to his campaigns.

While the revelations are new that Connick and the various sheriffs received millions of dollars of government contracts and then endorsed Caldwell, this pattern has been a mainstay of the attorney general’s campaigns, according to Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch and the national American Tort Reform Association. Both groups frequently have criticized Caldwell for giving hourly contracts worth upwards of $27 million to many of his top campaign contributors.

Read the rest of the story at the Louisiana Record.