By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – It hasn’t been a good week to be Mary Landrieu; she’s getting bad press throughout the state and now nationwide over her abuse of taxpayer funds to pay for her fundraising jaunts. There are at least two events now in question that the Landrieu campaign must reimburse.
The distance from New Orleans, LA to Lake Charles is only about 205 miles. In early November 2013, Senator Landrieu caught a ride on Air Force One with Obama from Washington to NOLA; Obama was on his way there for a fundraiser and she rode along.
In the second instance of what is now being called “Flight-Gate”, Landrieu billed taxpayers over $5,700 to fly from Shreveport to Dallas in September – about 300 miles. The official story on that one is that she used a charter flight to get to Dallas so she could pick up a connecting flight and a fundraiser just popped up. You know, fundraisers do that. They just happen. Conveniently.
When Senator Landrieu hitched that ride back to New Orleans in November, she had no intention of going to Obama’s fundraiser; it was just a cushy mode of travel for her to get back to a fundraiser of her own. This, in and of itself, is a problem.
In New Orleans, she and Obama parted ways; he went to his fundraiser and she chartered a plane and flew 205 miles over to Lake Charles to get to her fundraiser. The round trip charter flight cost taxpayers over $3,200.
CNN broke the story last Tuesday and, embarrassed, Landrieu’s campaign claimed it was all a big mistake, it wasn’t her fault, and that the charter company had billed Landrieu’s Senate office rather than the campaign. It’s a good effort – the Blame-Someone-Else method works pretty well for Obama, so I can see why Landrieu would try it.
Landrieu spent more than $3,200 in taxpayer money to fly 400 miles round trip from New Orleans to Lake Charles, Louisiana, where she attended a $40-per person fundraising lunch with hundreds of women, according to Senate records and Landrieu campaign information. It is illegal to spend government money campaigning.
Landrieu’s campaign spokesman, Fabien Levy, said in a statement that the charter company mistakenly billed Landrieu’s Senate office instead of her re-election campaign. Levy said the campaign noticed the error a few weeks ago and asked the company to refund the Senate office and bill the campaign, which the company did. Levy said Landrieu’s re-election campaign paid for the flight August 4, almost nine months after the November 8 trip.
It took them nine months to figure out this “mistake”? Not very good bookkeeping, is it?
Using taxpayer money for campaigning is a rookie error; Mary Landrieu has been in political office since 1980 (that’s 34 years!) starting out as a Louisiana Representative and then she served eight years as Louisiana State Treasurer where one would assume she might pick up the fine details of campaign finance somewhere along the way.
And what of that flight with Obama in November? Senator Landrieu’s reason for returning to NOLA in November was to attend a “long-standing” campaign event in Lake Charles. So she used Air Force One to get to a campaign event? And that’s ethical? Why shouldn’t she have to pay back that money, too?
It’s an issue that bears investigation.
Senator Landrieu is already fighting the image of Frequent Flyer Mary and has racked up some $47,000 in charter flights for “official Senate duties” – a problem Senator David Vitter doesn’t seem to have:
For instance, Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, spent $47,000 on charter flights in 2013, including a $5,500 round trip flight between New Orleans and Lake Charles, La., 200 miles to the west. Landrieu spokesman Matthew Lehner said chartering planes allowed the senator to reach more areas of the state more quickly.
“This alleviates the need for multi-day stopovers and maximizes the senator’s interaction with her constituents,” he said.
But Republican David Vitter, the other Louisiana senator, reported no charter flights. His spokesman, Luke Bolar, said the senator always flies commercial and drives rather than flies around Louisiana.
And if all this kerfuffle wasn’t enough to give Katrina Mary a major headache, Representative Bill Cassidy announced that his campaign now boasts a larger war chest than that of the Landrieu camp.
Rep. Cassidy sent out an email Thursday which announced that his campaign has $5.6 million on hand. The same day, the Cassidy campaign also sent out an email criticizingv Landrieu who “illegally billed taxpayers $5,700 for a flight from Shreveport to Dallas for a campaign fundraiser last September.”
Rep. Cassidy cited this Senate travel ethics rule:
Expenses for mixed purpose travel must be pro-rated on a reasonable basis to accurately reflect the purpose of the trip.
The Landrieu campaign only agreed to reimburse charges after they were caught.
Make no mistake, this scandal will cost Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. She’s in a very close race as it is, and with $5.6 million dollars at their disposal, the Cassidy campaign is going to hammer her hard on this one.
Most people in Louisiana were sick of her after Huirricane Katrina, then the Obamacare kickback came along, and now this. Nothing against Col. Rob Maness, but if he’d pull out of this race I think Cassidy can defeat Landrieu and that would be good for Louisiana but even better for the rest of the country.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.