Two more state lawmakers have broken ranks with leaders of the Legislature and released forms that show whether they have awarded full Tulane University scholarships to relatives of politicians as part of a program that has been criticized as an “insider’s game.”
Reps. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, and Pat Connick, R-Marrero, provided the forms to The Advocate and WWL-TV on Wednesday. The news organizations recently sent public-records requests to each of the 144 members of the Legislature seeking the forms.
As part of a series of deals dating to the 1880s, every Louisiana legislator gets to award a full, one-year scholarship to Tulane each year, while the mayor of New Orleans annually awards five four-year scholarships. In exchange, Tulane is excused from paying any state sales tax, and it gets a break on some city property taxes.
The scholarships have a value of about $43,150 a year, making them one of the juiciest perks that lawmakers get to dole out.
Many Louisianians first learned about the program, thought to be unique in the nation, during the mid-1990s, when it emerged that many legislators had awarded the scholarships to their own relatives, those of fellow politicians — or, in some cases, themselves.
That led to a raft of reforms, including a requirement that the list of scholarship recipients be made public, and that all recipients fill out a form disclosing whether they are related to any elected officials.
It is those forms that The Advocate and WWL-TV are seeking. So far, just four of the 145 officials have complied with the organizations’ request: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, state Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville, and now Badon and Connick.
The forms show that Brown, Badon and Connick have not given a scholarship to any relative of a politician during the past four years. Only one of the 20 students who got a scholarship from Landrieu said he was related to an elected official; that student said he was the great-nephew of a judge on the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal.
Tulane has retained the forms for only the past four years, according to university officials. Tulane has declined to provide the records directly to The Advocate and WWL-TV, saying that as a private institution, Tulane is not subject to Louisiana’s public records law.
But after the news organizations sought the records, Tulane provided copies of all the forms it had on file to the clerk of the state House of Representatives, Alfred “Butch” Speer. Speer and his Senate counterpart, Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp, have refused to make the forms public, saying that they think doing so would violate the students’ right to privacy.
The Advocate and WWL-TV then asked each member of the Legislature directly for the forms, citing a 1990s ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that each individual legislator is considered the custodian of all public records related to the scholarships he or she awards, whether or not the records are in his or her possession.
Most legislators have not responded directly to those requests; most of those who have done so have either said they do not have the records or else referred reporters to Koepp and Speer.
Koepp and Speer, meanwhile, recently issued fresh letters repeating that they believe the requested documents are “NOT public records.”
Badon and Connick both got the requested records directly from Tulane.