Entergy’s Impunity, When Lobbying, Fines, and Payoffs are Disguised as Donations

New Orleans   In the Age of Trump, corporate impunity is reaching new extremes around the country, but it has also infected local and state politics as well.  Entergy, the giant utility provider in the mid-south states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, as well as parts of east Texas and of course New Orleans, is rapidly becoming the poster child for such incredible arrogance and worse.

We’ve talked previously of how they were caught red-handed having a company pay actors to become a fake crowd with fake spokespeople in favor of their proposal to build a $211 million natural gas-fired plan in eastern New Orleans, likely for fake increased demand.  Their fake news creation garnered them a 6-1 vote in favor by the City Council.

Ok, there was controversy.  The head of the New Orleans subsidiary was shuffled to another job for hiring an LA-based company that specializes in these kinds of grass-tips demonstration.  As the company’s regulator, the City Council found Entergy culpable.  Some council members have raised soft voices suggesting a re-vote.

How does Entergy respond?  This is where we get to the impunity.  They try to claim they are innocent and don’t have to take responsibility.  They announce plans to give $5 million as a “donation,” because they don’t want to call the payment a fine for their flagrant misbehavior.  They admit that the City Council is their regulator, but in going total-Trump, they claim that the City Council doesn’t have the right to fine them at all, and that they do not have the power to call for a new vote.  Without saying this, Entergy is asserting that it is above the law and accountable to nothing and no one!

Can it get worse?  Yes, Entergy can indeed go lower.  It now develops that they marshalled nonprofit charities like the Red Cross, the New Orleans Recreation Department, and others that had received similar “donations” from them to write to the Council and sing Entergy’s praises.  Most of the directors of these agencies went undercover.  The CEO for the local Red Cross, claimed not to realize that the Council was imposing a fine and that their letter was being to used to whitewash Entergy. Whoever believes that, please call me, because I’m offering to sell the Mississippi River bridge very, very cheaply.  The Council of Aging, one of the recipients of the companies supposed largesse, testified in favor of the plant construction because it would supposedly benefit the elderly, and was rewarded by an announcement that Entergy was giving them $308,323 two days after they testified.  For anyone who believes that was a coincidence, luckily there are other bridges across the Mississippi River, and I’m offering them as a special package as well.  Call me, sometime!

This is past ridiculous.  The Council has not responded.  I hope they are not trying to figure out why they didn’t get donations this large as well?

Here’s the bottom line.  Entergy should not be able to claim that monies given to these agencies qualify as charitable deductions against their taxes, when they are so clearly lobbying and business expenses.  This ludicrous $5 million “donation” is anything but and should not be allowed by the citizens or the IRS.  It is a payoff, plain and simple, if they don’t want it to be called a fine.

The charities should be as ashamed of themselves for being bought and sold as Entergy should be for perpetuating and expanding this scandal.  Amazingly, everyone is pointing a finger at someone else and no one is taking responsibility for anything.

Believe it or not, this is now our world.

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Crowds on Demand

https://crowdsondemand.com

New Orleans    Utility companies are rarely popular companies.  Entergy might be one of the least popular of the breed.  A huge part of its national business is managing nuclear power plants, rarely on the top ten favorite list for a lot of people.  Regionally, Entergy has some of those plants in Taft, Louisiana, Russellville, Arkansas, and elsewhere that are huge money sucks.  A million years ago under a previous name, Middle South Utilities, Entergy was the electricity provider to much of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana and New Orleans, under the name of New Orleans Public Service Incorporated or NOPSI, which forces them under the regulatory jurisdiction of the elected members of the New Orleans City Council on some matters, bringing us to this story.

Entergy wanted to build a gas fueled “peaking” power plant on wetlands along Bayou Sauvage which is essentially an expensive back up plant.  Local environmental and community groups, including ACORN affiliate A Community Voice (formerly Louisiana ACORN) opposed the plant as both costly, not believing it would only run $210 million, and unnecessary.  There were two public hearings in recent months until the old council, now replaced in recent days, approved the matter with only one dissenting vote.  One holdover councilperson, Jason Williams, wants to reopen the matter.  We’ve all heard of “fake news” by now.  Williams wants to look into the fact that the votes may have been swayed by a “fake” crowd of protestors carrying signs, wearing shirts, and speaking in favor of the plant.

A local progressive coalition and community forum, called Justice & Beyond, was approached by one of its activists, a local musician, who felt guilty for his participation, saying he was paid to show up to the hearing.  The coalition gave the information to the press.  Later, the local online news outlet, The Lens, followed up on their own as word spread, finding actors who were willing to come forward and tell the story.  Entergy vehemently denied that there were paid protestors, pointing the finger at its public relations firm, giving the scandal and perversion of protest and speech even more publicity.  The public relations firm also denied the story for a while, but too many actors were blabbing that they were paid $75 to show up at each hearing and $200 if they had a speaking role.

Eventually it came down to their subcontractor, a company called plainly Crowds on Demand, based in Los Angeles but active in political hotspots like Iowa and New Hampshire, and of course Washington, D.C. that had been running these fake protests since 2012.  Sometimes they hired on as a welcoming crowd or a spoof of an outpouring of love in nonpolitical events as well, but this kind of “astroturfing” as grassroots pretenders was part and parcel of their business model.  More denials moved the scandal increasingly to farce.

The ridiculous irony of this affair is also not lost on me.  One rightwing commentator after another tried to ask me during the attacks on ACORN whether we were involved in what they called “rent-a-mob” events for various causes and companies.  Nothing could have been farther from the facts but knowing that his was as a common scam in their political and corporate tactical tool bag now makes it clearer to me why they assumed everyone involved in democratic practice and protest was as fake as they were.

The plaguing questions are whether the politicians knew, and, if they didn’t, why not, or did they just not care?

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