The coziness between regulators and the regulated was once a way of life at the Public Service Commission, and we hope members have not forgotten the black eye the commission took because members had themselves entertained handsomely back in the day.
Entertained, it is obvious, by the same companies that would benefit handsomely from favorable rulings on rates and other issues before the PSC.
State ethics law caps meals with legislators and state employees at $60 per meal per person, with full disclosure of the recipients, although there are exceptions for events.
The PSC in 2009 went further, saying that meals would not be allowed for commissioners and staff.
The new rule allows eating on others’ tab at large gatherings such as conventions but not the wining and dining that has been typical for generations at the commission.
Now, with a few new members on the commission since the 2009 ethics standard, the idea of a lobbyist-funded steak has come back.
Meeting recently in north Louisiana, commissioners decided against taking up an effort to change ethics rules, according to four participants in the PSC meeting being held at Toledo Bend. When the commissioners meet next in Baton Rouge, we hope that they will shelve the proposal for regulation by feedlot.
The PSC had scheduled at Toledo Bend a vote on whether to roll back the commission’s absolute ban on accepting meals, beverages, entertainment and other largesse provided by the utility companies. Because utility companies sell electricity as monopolies within their territories, the PSC is responsible for determining how much Louisiana’s two million customers of 19 investor-owned electric and gas utilities conducting business in the state can be charged on their monthly bills.
Newly elected Commissioner Mike Francis, R-Crowley, asked his colleagues to reconsider what is the state’s most stringent policy on wining and dining public officials. He argued that business in Louisiana is traditionally conducted over lunch.
No one should write this off as naivete of a businessman just turning to politics; Francis is a former head of the Louisiana Republican Party, and surely he must have read the newspapers during the disclosures that led to the 2009 rule.
Commissioner Foster Campbell, D-Bossier City, says he still has business lunches with interested parties but he splits the check. Sounds like a more responsible policy for all the commissioners.