Katrina cronyism

Lobbyists are crafting hurricane relief efforts.

Published October 10, 2005 4:26PM (EDT)

Salon editorial fellow J.J. Helland examines recent Katrina lobbying efforts.

Not that it should be a surprise at this point, but more evidence of blatant cronyism is emerging regarding the federal response to Katrina relief efforts.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times today, lobbyists representing "transportation, energy and other special interests" advised Louisiana Sens. Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat, and David Vitter, a Republican, in crafting the Louisiana Katrina Reconstruction Act. The legislation is estimated to run as high as $250 billion, with much of the reconstruction contracts going to clients represented by the lobbyists.

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

The article goes on to note that, for example, five days before the bill was introduced, Cleco Corp. retained the lobbying services of Lynnel Ruckert, Sen. Vitter's former deputy campaign manager and the wife of his chief of staff; consequently, in what the paper describes as an "unusual assist to private utilities," the legislation apparently includes $2.5 billion to help Louisiana businesses like Cleco rebuild their electricity systems and recover losses from sustained power outages.

And a lobbyist from the firm of a former senator, Democrat J. Bennett Johnston, was part of a larger group of lobbyists seeking reconstruction funds that eventually netted billions of dollars in repair work for "construction, maintenance and repair work" in Louisiana.

The paper quotes Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington watchdog group, criticizing lobbyists for exploiting the tragedy. "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."

By J.J. Helland

J.J. Helland is Salon's editorial fellow in New York.

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