A month after he was sworn in as Louisiana’s newest U.S. Senator, Bill Cassidy expressed his appreciation of an internal audit conducted by LSU in response to questions about his employment with the university while serving in Congress.
The audit, which was released to the public on Wednesday and which has already been criticized by Cassidy’s former opponent, Mary Landrieu, and Karen Carter-Peterson, the chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, reveals that, for several years, LSU failed to “adequately” document Cassidy’s work and did not execute a formal written agreement for his services. However, relying almost entirely on the sometimes conflicting and contradictory testimony of Cassidy’s colleagues and superiors, the audit also concluded that he “provided services equal to at least that of his compensation.” Many in the media have already suggested that the report “vindicates” Sen. Cassidy.
Questions about Cassidy’s work relationship with LSU were front and center during the final two weeks of his campaign against three-term incumbent Mary Landrieu. On Nov. 25, Jason Brad Berry of The American Zombie and I published a trove of public records revealing, among other things, that Cassidy, on at least 21 different occasions, claimed to be working in Baton Rouge on the same days he voted and participated in committee meetings in Washington, D.C.
The records also revealed that approximately 75 percent of Cassidy’s time sheets were either missing or had never been submitted. E-mail correspondence among his colleagues at LSU indicated concern about retaining him on the LSU payroll after his election to Congress, cautioning that his agreement would need to be formalized and his work would need to be thoroughly documented in order to justify the unusual arrangement. A U.S. House Committee approved Cassidy’s employment at LSU, under the explicit condition that he serve as a professor of a class offered for credit. The audit indicates that Cassidy did not teach a class for credit and was only physically present for instructional clinics twice a month, the only evidence of which appears to be the testimony of a colleague who claimed that she knew he’d been there whenever the white boards were full.
“I sincerely congratulate Bill for his victory,” former Sen. Mary Landrieu wrote when I asked her for comment, “but this official audit conveys no paperwork, no documentation, no explanation on double billing, and no acknowledgement that this arrangement is in violation of Congressional rules is still very troubling.”
LSU’s internal audit almost entirely avoids the central issues raised during the waning weeks of the campaign. Perhaps due to the lack of documentation and records, it often reads more like a hagiography cobbled together through interviews with Cassidy’s peers and supervisors, some of whom would likely be implicated in allegations of a payroll fraud conspiracy or violations of the Federal False Claims Act, than a clear-eyed, objective accounting report.
The report also includes a letter from Cassidy in which he expresses his desire to continue his job at LSU, pending approval from the Senate. Chancellor Larry Hollier intends on keeping Sen. Cassidy on the LSU payroll, claiming that his service has been “beneficial” to the university.
“LSU must be more careful in any future contract with public officials, and members of our Congressional delegation should accept the more than adequate limits of the statutory salary,” former Sen. Landrieu cautioned.
Karen Carter-Peterson shares Landrieu’s concerns. “It’s a shame that Sen. Cassidy insists on collecting a whole second paycheck for very little effort,” she stated. “At a time when LSU is struggling to remain viable they shouldn’t be forced to find a position and the funds for a United States Senator who is already being compensated quite handsomely with taxpayer funds.”
Editorial addendum: Considering Jason Brad Berry and I broke this story in November and in light of conservative commentators demanding that I issue some sort of statement of apology, I wanted to make this unequivocally clear: I absolutely do not regret and will not apologize for calling attention to this important story. As I said on Jim Engster’s show shortly after the audit was released, this audit was nothing more than a blatant attempt at damage control. It was farcical and propagandistic, and it wholly avoided the most critical and most troubling aspects of the story, once again underscoring the need for a truly independent investigation and audit. As Jeffrey Bostick succinctly observed, “LSU finds LSU acted appropriately.” It serves as yet another example of the ways in which Louisiana tolerates the fox guarding the hen house and is of very little value to those seeking the truth. While some suggest that Dr. Cassidy was somehow vindicated, the truth is that the audit actually proved what Sen. Landrieu had been saying all along: Dr. Cassidy systemically neglected documenting his work, and while other “similarly situated physicians” were not obligated to account for their work through time sheets, Dr. Cassidy was. The absence of records is truly alarming, because it means that a public university frequently compensated a member of Congress for work that had never been documented. LSU’s reliance on the conflicting testimony of Cassidy’s peers should be considered problematic. It failed to produce anything more than hearsay.
Louisiana deserves an open and transparent government. Taxpayers deserve to know whether they are paying a prominent physician for medical care or a powerful politician for influence. We should demand to know how and why the Congressman could have been in two places at once. LSU has done a great disservice to the people of Louisiana by focusing more on praising a U.S. Senator and made a completely bogus justification of work effort and responsibility.
Not surprisingly, Jason cuts right to the chase. “If you had any doubt that some very powerful people are above the law in the state of Louisiana,” he writes, “this should put those doubts to rest. I still maintain that state Inspector General and/or the Legislative Auditor should have conducted their own investigation but that won’t happen because the game is rigged.”