Two more state lawmakers — including the leader of the House Democratic Caucus who has announced a run for governor in 2015 — released forms this week that show whether they have awarded valuable Tulane University scholarships to relatives of politicians under a program that has been dogged by allegations of cronyism. Neither gave any scholarships to such relatives, the forms show.
In making the forms public, Reps. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, and Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, have broken with leaders of the Legislature, who have sought to keep the forms secret, saying they are not public records. The Advocate and WWL-TV sent requests for the records to each of Louisiana’s 144 legislators.
The new defections mean a total of five lawmakers have now released the forms associated with the program, which allows every legislator to give a one-year full scholarship to Tulane each year to a Louisiana student. The others to release their forms are state Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville, and Reps. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, and Pat Connick, R-Marrero.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who under a similar program gets to give away five four-year scholarships to Tulane each year, has also released the forms of the 20 students upon whom he’s bestowed scholarships.
Of the six lawmakers to make the forms public, Landrieu is the only one who gave a scholarship to someone who acknowledged being related to a politician. One student said he was the great-nephew of a judge on the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal.
The scholarship program, thought to be unique in America, dates to the 1880s. In exchange for letting lawmakers give out the scholarships, 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. University officials have said the cost of the scholarships to Tulane is larger than the savings the school realizes from the tax breaks.
Many Louisianians first learned about the program in the mid-1990s, when it emerged that many legislators had awarded the scholarships to their own relatives or to those of fellow politicians. The resulting outcry sparked a variety of reforms, including requirements 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.
Those forms, called “application forms,” are the ones the news organizations are seeking.
Most legislators say they do not generally look at the forms, nor do they keep them.
Tulane, meanwhile, has retained the forms for only the last four years. University officials have declined to provide them directly to The Advocate and WWL-TV, saying the university is private and not subject to the state’s public-records law.
Tulane agreed to provide all of the forms it had to the clerk of the state House, Alfred “Butch” Speer, but Speer and his counterpart, Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp, have consistently refused to make the forms public, saying that doing so would violate the students’ right to privacy.
The Advocate and WWL-TV last month 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.
The university has agreed to provide any legislator who requests them with the forms filled out by that legislator’s awardees.