Despite reams of investigative stories, Tulane legislative scholarships continue to be source of political patronage
No sooner had I posted a story earlier today lamenting the depth of political corruption and chicanery in Louisiana than up pops yet another story about which every single one of the state's 4.5 million citizens should be irate.
While this is not a call for pitchforks and torches, the citizenry should be up in arms over a letter to State Rep. Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans) from a New Orleans teacher named Gwendolyn V. Adams.
It's a letter that should go viral because it hammers home once again the question of one of the best examples of political corruption in the state: Legislator's Tulane scholarships.
Tulane has one of the biggest tax scams going. Act 43 of the 1884 legislature obligated Tulane to give scholarship waivers to state legislators and to the mayor of New Orleans, and they in turn select the recipients of the scholarships.
Altogether, the 145 scholarships cost Tulane something on the order of $7 million per year, based on current tuition costs.1
So, what did Tulane get in exchange for such a legislative requirement?
Tax exemptions. Specifically, property tax exemptions totaling about $25 million per year.2
The scholarships are supposed to go to deserving students in legislators' respective districts who otherwise might not be able to afford a college education. Instead, they quickly became a form of political patronage whereby family members, judges and political cronies shoved deserving students aside, taking the scholarships for their kids.3
I first wrote about the issue way back in 1982, and it has been written about by numerous publications and reporters since, but the abuse persists as legislators continue with their "in-your-face" practice of doling out scholarships to family, friends and political hacks.
The story I wrote was about then-State Sen. Dan Richie awarding his scholarship to the relative of Rep. Bruce Lynn of Shreveport, who gave his scholarship to Richie's brother.
The practice has continued unabated ever since with scholarships going to recipients like family members of former Crowley Judge Edmund Reggie, who received some 34 years worth of Tulane scholarships valued at about $750,000, based on 1999 tuition rates. The son of former St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed received a scholarship valued at about $172,000 over four years.4
The latest to come to light is Rep. Moreno who, although she represents a district in Orleans Parish, awarded her scholarship to the son of her Jefferson Parish political consultant Greg Buisson, whose company, Buisson Creative, was paid nearly $14,000 by Moreno in 2010.
She is currently a candidate for New Orleans City Council at-large.
Here is Adams's letter to Moreno:
Dear Rep. Moreno:
I write to you as an educator for 27 years as a classroom teacher, 4.5 years as a professional development educator for teachers, and private tutor/LEAP tutor at a local charter school, and express my profound disappointment in your decision to award $150,000 to the son of a Metairie-based political consultant on your payroll.
For the years 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15, you gave your Tulane University Legislative scholarship worth over $150,000 in free tuition to the son of your paid political consultant, Greg Buisson. Greg Buisson, a resident of Metairie, is a long time controversial fixture in Jefferson Parish politics.
According to the New Orleans Advocate (October 24, 2013), "State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, has awarded her scholarship for the last two years to Collin Buisson, son of Greg Buisson, a veteran political consultant who has been handling Moreno's campaigns and communications since she quit television journalism and went into politics in 2008."5
Greg Buisson has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from his Jefferson Parish political connections and Buisson could certainly afford to pay his son's Tulane tuition. For a number of years, Buisson has been on Moreno's political payroll, earning thousands of dollars as her political consultant. In fact, I understand he ran your unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2008.
Rep. Moreno, are you now the Queen of Cronyism in regional politics?
Further, the following article discusses your dismal record that includes awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to students outside of New Orleans.6
Rep. Moreno, you do not deserve promotion to New Orleans City Council At-large. You've proven yourself to be disloyal to the thousands of hardworking families and deserving students in your own Legislative District 93 qualified students from McDonough 35, Joseph S. Clark, St. Augustine and other schools in the district you are supposed to represent. You've passed over these students to award much more than $150,000 to your privileged political consultant a Metairie, Jefferson Parish resident! It's just beyond insulting!
What is your excuse? Were these scholarship monies awarded to the family of your political consultant in lieu of payment for services that should have been recorded in the State of Louisiana Board of Ethics Campaign Finance Disclosure Forms? Is the only way to get your attention: pay for play?
We don't need this corruption in New Orleans city government.
I cannot imagine you serving as New Orleans City Council President. Maybe the Jefferson Parish School Board? Do not reward political cronyism.
Gwendolyn V. Adams
Adapted from: Tom Aswell, "Despite reams of investigative stories, Tulane legislative scholarships continue to be source of political patronage," Louisiana Voice, October 6, 2017, https://louisianavoice.com/2017/10/06/despite-reams-of-investigative-stories-tulane-legislative-scholarships-continue-to-be-source-of-political-patronage/, accessed 11/1/2017. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.