Monday, October 10, 2005

Looting by Another Name

The Los Angeles Times tells us who really wrote the Louisiana Katrina Reconstruction Act, introduced in September by Louisiana Senators Landrieu and Vitter. The Times suggests that the real authors of the $250 billion pork mine were:

“Lobbyists representing transportation, energy and other special interests dominated panels that advised Louisiana's U.S. senators crafting legislation to rebuild the storm-damaged Gulf Coast, records and interviews show.”

The recommendations of these lobbyist led panels often have little to do with post Katrina reconstruction and much to do with doling out Federal aid to the clients of these lobbyists. For example:

“• Energy utilities. Entergy Corp. and Cleco Corp. lobbyists consulted with the senators' staffs. Five days before the bill was introduced, Cleco retained the lobbying services of Lynnel B. Ruckert, Vitter's former deputy campaign manager and the wife of his chief of staff.In an unusual assist to private utilities, the recovery bill includes $2.5 billion to help Louisiana companies such as Entergy of New Orleans and Cleco of Pineville restore and rebuild their electricity systems and recover losses from sustained power outages.

• Supporters of a controversial industrial canal project serving the Port of New Orleans. Among those serving on advisory panels were two officials of Jones Walker, a New Orleans-based firm that lobbies in Washington for the canal project. One of those officials was Paul F. Cambon, an ex-aide to former House Speaker Bob Livingston (R-La.), whose Livingston Group also is a lobbyist for the canal.The recovery bill asks Congress to give "priority consideration" to the Army Corps of Engineers project, which would build a lock along the canal at a cost of $748 million.

• Highway advocates. Among those on a transportation working group were lobbyists for highway projects seeking funds, including a lobbyist from a firm headed by former Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.).In the bill, four Louisiana highways considered evacuation and energy supply routes would receive construction, maintenance and repair work worth $7 billion. At least two of those projects were represented by lobbyists on the working group.”

Not everyone included in creating the reconstruction legislation was a registered lobbyist. But, it turned out that only the lobbyists had any real clout in the process.

"I was basically shocked," said Ivor van Heerden, director of a hurricane public health research center at Louisiana State University. "What do lobbyists know about a plan for the reconstruction and restoration of Louisiana?"

Van Heerden was the first participant of any of the senators' working groups to provide such a detailed and scathing account of the process and its outcome. He said he was shut out after he voiced his concerns."

The gravy train is coming, taxpayers are footing the bill and lobbyists have got to eat. Can you blame the lobbyists for trying to get as much for their clients as possible? Does it help the people of Louisiana to concentrate on the funding of unnecessary projects and exclude projects that might help the people of the region because those projects don’t have high powered lobbyists advocating them?

"Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington watchdog group, said lobbyists were trying to exploit the catastrophe."They are using Katrina to get funding they haven't been able to get in the past," he said. "You want to help the region, but the bill they put together has a lot of projects that aren't needed. This is congressional looting at its worst."

I guess it goes without saying that “most of the lobbying firms are major campaign contributors, and several are among the most generous donors to Landrieu and Vitter.”

Every storm cloud has a silver lining.