Five more state lawmakers have defied leaders of the state Legislature and released Tulane University scholarship forms that House and Senate officials continue to claim are not public records.
The forms — which have now been provided by 10 of the Legislature’s 144 members to The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV — show whether recipients of the full-ride Tulane scholarships are related to any elected official. The media organizations have sent letters requesting the forms from every legislator in the state.
The scholarship program, thought to be unique in America, dates to the 1880s and allows every legislator to grant a full, one-year scholarship to the state’s most prestigious private university every year. Under a similar program, the mayor of New Orleans gives out five four-year scholarships annually. To defray some of the substantial cost — each scholarship has an estimated value of $43,150 annually — Tulane receives breaks on sales and property taxes.
The program erupted in controversy in the 1990s after it emerged that the mayor and many legislators had been awarding the scholarships to friends, family members and relatives of themselves and other politicians. Among the reforms enacted amid the uproar were new rules banning legislators from giving the scholarships to members of their immediate family, and the creation of a form on which every recipient would have to disclose whether he or she was related to a politician.
Those are the forms being sought by The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV. The two organizations sent letters to each of the 144 members of the Legislature asking for them; so far, most have failed to respond or declined to provide them. The clerk of the state House and the secretary of the state Senate have sent the news organizations multiple letters asserting that the forms are not public records and that the students who fill them out have an expectation of privacy, even though the forms include a waiver of privacy rights.
The news organizations requested the forms after publishing stories revealing that some recent scholarship recipients are the children of connected insiders, including campaign contributors and other elected officials.
The five legislators who most recently provided the forms are state Reps. John Schroder Sr., R-Covington; Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge; and Chris Leopold, R-Belle Chasse; and state Sens. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, and J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.
Those who turned them over previously were Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville, and Reps. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans; Patrick Connick, R-Marrero; Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond; and John Bel Edwards, D-Amite.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu also provided the forms for the scholarships he gave out.
So far, only one of the politicians to comply with the requests has given a scholarship to a politician’s relative: Landrieu awarded one of the 20 scholarships he has doled out so far to the great-nephew of a Lake Charles appellate court judge.
Mary Ellen Roy, a lawyer representing The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV, earlier this month sent letters to every lawmaker explaining why the organizations believe the records are subject to the state’s public records law and why each legislator is the “custodian” of the records involving the scholarships he or she gives out.
Those letters prompted responses from Alfred “Butch” Speer, the House clerk, and Glenn Koepp, the Senate secretary, reiterating their view that the records in question, called “application forms,” are actually internal Tulane records and thus not subject to public records laws.
Tulane collects the application forms, and most legislators have said they do not look at them before making scholarship awards. Tulane has declined to provide the forms directly to the news organizations, but the university did provide copies of the forms from the last four years to Speer and Koepp.
In addition, the university has provided them to individual legislators upon request.