BEING KEPT IN THE DARK
What, and who, is behind the Foundation for Louisiana?
Do you remember back, a couple of years ago, when an anonymous donor paid the City of New Orleans to remove, and store away, the Confederate statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard and the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place? It made national headlines. You remember, right?
Now, stay with me, for just a moment: This money (over $1 million) to remove the monuments was paid to the City of New Orleans by way of the Foundation for Louisiana, which is a non-profit. This is the same Foundation for Louisiana that paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s transition team in 2018, and it’s the same Foundation for Louisiana that is also paying for Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins’ transition team in 2019.
You may be wondering, “Who is the Foundation for Louisiana, and where do they get over $1 million to cause the City of New Orleans to remove statues and monuments, or pay all the bills stacked up by the transition teams for both the mayors of New Orleans and Shreveport, and what in the world do they want in Shreveport?” Good questions.
Well, as far as who they are, their website says they “focus on the following seven areas: Abolition, Race, Climate, Gender and Sexuality, Arts and Culture, Community Finance, and Philanthropic Leadership.” But as far as where they get their money? They get grants from various places, but their funding is mostly anonymous, so we don’t really know.
The Foundation for Louisiana is a private entity, so it’s not subject to public records laws, and it’s not obligated to say where it gets its money, even though its money is being paid directly, for all intents and purposes, to benefit duly-elected officials, or at least those officials with whom they share the same political philosophy.
Mayor Perkin’s transition team, which was set-up as a non-profit, is not bound by public records laws, and the transition team is not bound by contribution limits (like political campaigns are). Because of this, voters have little information to go by, in terms of who is paying who, to do this or that, as part of Mayor Perkins’ transition into office. And to add insult to injury, The Times reported that Mayor Perkins refuses to release a list of donors to his transition team, and the same goes for the Foundation for Louisiana (they don’t have to disclose either – they’re a non-profit).
Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as the Supreme Court likes to say, and right about now, we need a barrel of it from Mayor Perkins and his nonprofit, non-elected, non-accountable, non-vetted transition team. The concern with such non-profits and politicians is that any time you allow officials to take unlimited cash, from secret donors (like the Foundation for Louisiana or the Future of Shreveport), the public ought to have access to that information – to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Often times, some of these secret donors have specific business interests, for example, in supporting a non-profit that may fund a mayoral transition team.
In New York, just before he declared his support for increasing gambling in 2012, gambling companies donated $2 million to a non-profit affiliated with Governor Andrew Cuomo. In Los Angeles, a pipe manufacturer made a million-dollar pledge to the mayor’s non-profit to “influence government leaders,” even though the city prohibits campaign contributions by companies seeking government business.
This sort of stuff happens when “sunlight” is scarce – but it shouldn’t be. We all deserve to have confidence that decisions about who repairs our streets, picks-up our trash, sells us our water meters, or anything else, for that matter, are decisions based on the most qualified, competitive bid – and not who “anonymously” gives the most to an elected official’s non-profit organization, or is funding the mayor’s transition team.
Non-profits associated with elected officials may do good work that serves the public – no doubt – just like Mayor Perkins’ transition team or the Foundation for Louisiana intends to do.
But when elected officials go behind closed doors, and use non-profits to achieve some political agenda (like the removal of the Confederate public monuments in New Orleans), it amounts to an “end-run” around the voters, and it’s hard to follow all of that, when you’re being kept in the dark.
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.