The joint effort from Fox 8 and Nola.com to expose campaign contributions and their ties to influencing contracts, particularly no-bid Professional Services Contracts, focused on Jefferson Parish and the discrepancy in campaign contributions from companies that were bidding on contracts and those seeking the lucrative, no-bid contracts.
Jefferson Parish Councilmen are permitted to select the recipients of no-bid professional services contracts up to $300,000, despite the recommendations of an evaluation committee.
Allowing this process has afforded the Councilmen to receive millions in campaign contributions from firms and then giving those contributors huge contracts, all without a bid process to ensure the spending is efficient and, often, without the most qualified firm receiving the contract.
The Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) and Citizens For Good Government (CFGG) have long criticized this process and pushed for reform.
In fact, CFGG regularly lists the amount of contributions received by Councilmen from companies seeking parish contracts. At the October16th Council Meeting, Councilmen received over $505,000 in contributions from companies seeking contracts at that meeting alone.
The members of the Jefferson Parish Council have repeatedly defended this practice and maintain that, despite the contributions, they distribute contracts fairly. They also complain that running for office is expensive.
"I don't sit and look at it like, 'This contractor gave me that amount,'" said Councilman Mark Spears. "Contributions have nothing to do with it."
District 4 Councilman Ben Zahn even had the audacity to defend the contributors.
"To blanketly impugn the reputation(s) of entire industries, when qualified professionals submit their proposals for consideration publicly, and such proposals are graded by independent committees, then ranked for council selection, is simply unfair," Zahn said.
In typical fashion, Zahn issued a statement probably written by his political consultant, Greg Buisson, instead of speaking directly to a reporter.
Spears received 75% of his campaign contributions and Zahn 62% of his contributions from companies that received no-bid professional services contracts.
"I can only speak as to my personal experience in this process, which has never been guided by contributions," Zahn's statement said.
Councilman Zahn may claim that the contributors have no input in the contracting process but that doesn’t stop him from spending their money to enhance his own personal lifestyle.
Zahn spent thousands on meals at restaurants and gifts from his campaign account, using other people's money.
Apparently, Zahn is as quick to spend taxpayer’s money as he is to spend campaign contributions.
At the last Kenner City Council meeting, Mayor Yenni offered up 2 ordinances for over $600,000 in non-emergency, no-bid professionalservices contracts.
Of course, the companies selected had given Mayor Yenni the maximum campaign contribution allowed by law and also contributed to each of the 7 Kenner City Council members.
Both ordinances passed unanimously.
Recently, we took a look at Mayor Yenni’s spending and the use of campaign donations to enhance his lifestyle.
Mayor Yenni spent $50,000 on parades and beads; $16,000 in framing and thousands more in gifts and meals (including $10,000 funneled to Chateau Country Club which is owned by his father-in-law and run by Mayor Yenni’s wife) from his campaign account and using other people’s money.
Hopefully, these reports from Fox 8 and Nola.com will lead to real contract reform and campaign finance and ethics reforms.
Until then, despite a charter change in Kenner and the continued protestations of BGR and CFGG, this indefensible practice will continue and we’ll keep getting the best elected officials money can buy.
In Jefferson Parish and in Kenner.