Legislators should cut losses over scholarship records
Members of the Louisiana Legislature were sticking pins into their New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu dolls after his making them look foolish in their effort to prevent release of consent forms signed by students that score a Tulane University scholarship that are doled out by legislators.
Thus the voodoo payback by legislators to Landrieu. If cooler heads among them don’t prevail and give Speer and Koepp permission to cough up the information, the wiser heads among them will start releasing it relevant to themselves, further marginalizing the holdouts. Keeping it secret loses not just legally if pushed, but also politically. And even those who have no grantees who checked the wrong “yes” box would draw inquiries as why they wanted to provide cover for their comrades. Nobody wins here and everybody loses bigger and bigger the longer it goes on in with this constant reminding that could rival the embarrassment of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Cutting losses here seems the strategy as obvious as it is that they legally are compelled to cough up the information.
Landrieu without quibble released all of these forms from his years as mayor, where he has assented to 20 different recipients for a year’s worth over the past four years. The mayor times five and each legislator are allowed to present an annual full scholarship to a Louisiana resident in an ancient arrangement between Tulane and the state. City regulations actually present Landrieu a choice from a list of eligible recipients vetted by a board frequently refreshed designed to erase as much politics as possible from the process.
Contrast this with the sinking ship policy presently being perpetrated by Legislative staffers, who surprisingly and contrarily to the opinion of every other lawyer or person who can read the English language have declared such documents are not a public record, despite a broad waiver of confidentiality by applicants and a court ruling nearly two decades old that seems to leave little ambiguity as to these being public records. Yet neither House Clerk Butch Speer (who was on the losing end of the 1994 case) nor Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp could give any convincing reason related to the law (R.S. 44:1 et seq.) that would justify their refusal. Even so, they exactly have refused to release such records from 2010 as requested by media outlets.
The ruling almost two decades ago came about when media sued to get this information. Eventually it was discovered that lawmakers of various kinds, including legislators themselves, had family members receiving these, so the latter category became forbidden and standards were created for applicants. More recently, some legislators revealed voluntarily who was getting theirs, where some recipients were children of prominent local politicians.
So along comes Landrieu who throws fuel on the simmering fire by cheerfully revealing all. It certainly does his political profile no harm should he harbor ambitions beyond his current post on Perdido Street. But through their mouthpieces Speer and Koepp, emulation does seem to discomfit legislators, a category that by no means includes all as some seem more than willing to share their selections with the public.
Such resistance seems bizarre over information that includes, attached to a declaration of whether there is a relationship to an elected official and if so who, only an applicant’s name (which is released already by Tulane), Tulane identification number, address, contact information, date of birth, and who are his legislators – all of which except date or birth probably are out of date in fewer than five years, and in addition to an applicant affirming that he “hereby waive[s] my right to confidentiality under the Buckley Amendment or any other applicable law as may be necessary in conjunction with consideration of my application” (which application deciding the judiciary declared was part of the function of a legislator performing his duties that fell under qualification as a public record). Strange, unless what they end up revealing is chock full of political embarrassment.
Bad as that might be for some, it only can get worse the longer this gets strung out leading to certain defeat. Imagine the public outrage if legislators are sued for the documents and spend one penny of taxpayers’ money to defend this, which in comparison would make the infuriated public of 20 years ago over the issue look as somnambulant as today’s zombified viewers of The Governor’s Wife. And they still lose if for some reason nobody has the inclination and/or resources to pursue legal relief and the stonewalling continues, for now legislators who do not follow Landrieu’s lead if asked immediately for these and fail to comply will be seen as hiding something; there’s no Fifth Amendment assumption of innocence in the court of public opinion.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:00