Curious Connections in Calcasieu, Part 1

cpsb-pencil_w300     If you have been following the Block The Agenda posts, then you know that it is our intention to raise the general public’s awareness regarding the highly financed efforts to reform education in Louisiana. We welcome guest writers regarding these issues as long as the content can be easily verified. We also invite tips, a point in the right direction, if you will. Which was the case for this blog. One of our readers suggested a closer look at the campaign finance reports from the school board elections in Calcasieu parish that took place in October 2015. I think you will agree that we have uncovered enough information to raise some serious questions.

To start with, we acquired the campaign finance reports of all of the candidates in the school board race. It is pretty easy to do. The Louisiana Ethics Commission has a handy dandy website that not only allows candidates to submit their reports electronically, but also allows the public access. They are, of course, public records.

Lake Charles isn’t a huge metropolis. It isn’t so large that some of the more prominent names around town aren’t recognizable. It would be expected that a lot of the contributors to the candidates were local business men, physicians and lawyers, etc.; however, one name showed up on 15 of the 30+ candidates. The Committee for Better Schools in Calcasieu contributed $1000 to 15 candidates. Only two of the candidates were incumbents and some of the candidates were actually running in the same race. Now, that in itself, is a curious thing. If you would like to view these contributions, you can do so, here. By the way, three of their candidates won. It is also a curious thing that one of their listed expenses was a luncheon with La. Superintendent of Education, John White.

Not understanding why a committee would do this, we pulled all of their reports to see who the key people in the organization were, and where they got their money. The president/manager of the committee was listed as Paul Bonin. We googled his name, along with all of the people who contributed to the committee to try to determine their interests in the school board races. You can also view that list by clicking, here.

Chamber Member Logo copy.epsWhat we found through Google was that a lot of the contributors to this committee were some of the most successful business leaders in Lake Charles and the surrounding area, but the two most curious contributors were the Chamber SWLA and Lane Grigsby. You may remember that Grigsby was the individual featured in the video taken a Louisiana Alliance of Business and Industry (LABI) meeting talking about ripping the hearts out of unions and leaving them dead in the water. Yeah! Same guy. You probably also know that LABI is actually the Louisiana Chamber of Commerce which underwent a name change a few years ago. The Chamber SWLA is now known as the Alliance SWLA. Grigsby happens to be a high ranking person in LABI and is involved in its “workforce development” division which is a pseudonym for “education reform.” The Chamber SWLA contributed $5000 to the committee, and Grigsby contributed a whopping $15,000. Now, our curiosity has peaked. BTW…if you do the math, 15 candidates at $1000/ea. equals $15,000.

Still reeling from that discovery, we found another contributor, whose name wasn’t familiar, revealed even more odd information. Morganfield Development, LLC contributed $2500. A quick search of the Louisiana business filings, which you can view here, revealed that two major players in the committee were the owners of this contributor, Paul Bonin and William Blake. It isn’t unusual for something like this to occur. It is a way for big businesses to circumvent the campaign contribution laws and give loads of money to their candidate; however, it does raise the question, why would this tactic be applied in a low key local school board election?

Another Google search provided a little light to shine on this topic. You’ll have to wait for part two.