Louisiana has a long and sordid history of embracing politicians who bend – and sometimes even break – the rules. Mayors and sheriffs, judges and legislators, attorneys general, insurance commissioners, congressmen and even governors have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
However, over the past decade we’ve had fewer cases of public corruption, as Louisiana citizens have exhibited less tolerance – in general – for tainted public servants. The major exception is, of course, Louisiana’s 2016 embracing of a thrice-married, self-admitted serial philanderer trailing a string of bankruptcies and fraud lawsuits into the White House.
Perhaps it’s the D.C. environment, or the GOP dogma that affected the northeast Louisiana congressman who would be governor, but there seems to be something gone radically askew with Ralph Abraham’s moral compass.
In June, as the Advocate’s superb Stephanie Grace reported, the Abraham gubernatorial campaign apparently didn’t realize that re-branding Dodge’s iconic 2013 Super Bowl commercial about farmers and posting it on Facebook was plagiarism and copyright infringement, making it illegal. It was also unethical, immoral, and ludicrously perverse. As Grace notes, the paean to farmers voiced by Paul Harvey does “speak at length about the value of putting in a long, grueling day and not cutting corners.”
And as we have reported, the veterinarian-turned-physician-turned-politician is much more than his “simple country doctor” persona would indicate. He owns some 2,300 acres of northeast Louisiana farmland, and has received seven-figures worth of federal farm subsidies over the years. Approximately half of the $2.6 million he and his family have received have been through the soil conservation program, which is, essentially, like being paid not to work.
Abraham, despite being one of those Republicans who is reliably on the warpath against programs that can be perceived as welfare, had no problems this past spring not doing the job he was elected to do. As reported by the matchless Melinda Deslatte of AP, GovTrack data showed he missed 196 of 509 roll call votes in the U.S. House, from last December – when he began his run for governor – through the last week of June. It’s a no-show rate of nearly 39%.
Among the votes missed was one crucial to his district and to all of Louisiana: Reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program.
On the other hand, perhaps not voting (though he was elected and is paid to do so on behalf of his constituents) is somehow, in his mind, being true to his beliefs. After all, while campaigning in March on the luncheon circuit, Abraham stated, “I’m just tired of people voting for a living instead of working for a living, because if they’re on that program of the government – and it could be a state or a federal program – what are they going to do? They’re going to vote to keep that program going.”
As we also told you, Abraham has had problems fulfilling his campaign promises to donate his congressional salary to charity. It was a pledge he showcased as part of his 2014 platform, and left in place on his campaign website through the 2016 election cycle. Yet as his spokesman Cole Avery stated, “Because of the loss of income, it was not a pledge he could continue beyond the first term,” Avery said. “When he made the pledge (in 2014) he was unaware he would be limited by law on what he could earn as a physician.”
Congressional rules, which were highlighted during the 2014 election cycle, require physicians serving in Congress to limit their earnings to no more than their “actual and necessary expenses.” The issue was raised as our own Lamar White, Jr. exposed “Double Bill” – then-Congressman Bill Cassidy, running for U.S. Senate – for collecting pay from LSU for treating patients on days he was actually in Washington, D.C., voting on federal legislation. At that time, Cole Avery was a reporter with nola.com, covering the Cassidy for Senate campaign.
Despite all of this, Congressman Abraham’s most recent financial disclosure statements filed with the U.S. House of Representatives indicate he’s gone back to earning money practicing medicine. In 2018, Abraham reported earning between $15,001 and $50,000 in “partnership income” from Guardian Health Clinic LLC in Rayville. For the previous year, 2017, he declared zero earnings from the clinic.
Opened with local fanfare in May 2017, publicity by the Richland Parish Chamber of Commerce stated the clinic was jointly owned by Abraham’s wife, Patricia, and his daughter, Ashley Morris. That same publicity noted Ashley Morris is the chamber’s vice president. Also, a check with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office shows the only officers listed for Guardian Health Clinic LLC are the two women.
Yet the congressman’s 2018 financial disclosure says he has a 50% interest in the clinic. And medical referral services on the web show that Ralph L. Abraham is the only physician at that location. All other health care is provided by nurse practitioners.
In fact, that’s where Doc Abraham was in June, when flood insurance came up for vote in Washington.
“At the last moment, House Democratic leaders scheduled the flood insurance vote, after I had already scheduled patient visits at my medical office,” Abraham stated. “I knew the legislation would pass with a wide margin of support, and my vote, in that particular instance, would have no effect on the outcome.”
It’s been variously reported, however, that Doc Abraham “gave up” his medical practice. On Father’s Day this year, he reposted something his daughter Ashley had written: “In recent years, my dad’s job has changed. He gave up a thriving medical practice to serve his country. It hasn’t been the easiest for our family. We’ve all had to make sacrifices.”
One Times-Picayune reporter even bought into the theme that he had “given up” his medical practice. In reality, he converted operation of his former “Abraham Medical Clinic” located in Mangham to Affinity Medical Group. While he earned $348,706 as a physician at that facility in 2014, once he was sworn into Congress in 2015, Abraham only declared $12,785 in earnings from that medical practice located at 261 LA Hwy 132.
Now renamed “The Medical Office of Mangham,” Abraham retains ownership of the real estate, and continued deriving income from it in 2017. Abraham’s congressional financial disclosure statements report his medical practice received income from the Mangham medical office of between $50,001 and $100,000 that year.
For 2018, the amount dropped dramatically, with income reported of less than $200, and the asset value – formerly listed as part of his Ralph Abraham MD APMC accounting – now shows as less than $1000. That means title to the property was likely shifted to another of Abraham’s accounting entities.
But Abraham also owns and derives income from the Clinic Pharmacy of Mangham, located across the road from his former Mangham medical practice, at 252 LA Hwy 132. That income has remained steadily in the same range throughout his time in Congress, reported from 2015 through 2018 as annual income of between $50,001 and $100,000, with the asset worth between $250,001 and $500,000.
Overall, OpenSecrets estimated Ralph Abraham’s net worth at more than $12 million in 2015, ranking him the 47th wealthiest member of the U.S. House. While that pales in comparison to the wealth of fellow Republican and fellow gubernatorial contender Eddie Rispone, it certainly exceeds the personal wealth of the current mansion occupant, Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Whether you agree or disagree with some of the present governor’s stances on certain issues, he has consistently made it clear that he takes those positions from a place of personal moral certitude.
Doc Abraham, on the other hand, needs to get his directions straight, since it appears the hand on his moral compass keeps pointing south. He may think it’s directing him to Baton Rouge, but there’s another notable location south of his home base in northeast Louisiana. Angola also lies along the Mississippi River between Alto and the state capitol.