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Louisiana GOP files ethics complaint against Sen. Mary Landrieu over use of tax dollars for campaign expenses

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Louisiana Republicans want Sen. Mary Landrieu investigated for violating campaign finance laws by using taxpayer dollars to charter flights for campaign events.

“As a taxpayer who resides in the state of Louisiana, I am disappointed that my senator would feel entitled to act above the law by using my tax dollars to fund her re-election campaign,” Jason Doré, executive director of the Republican Party of Louisiana, wrote in a formal complaint filed Tuesday with the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, requesting an investigation into the matter.

Doré's complaint cites the General Appropriations statute, which states that “appropriations shall be applied only to the objects for which the appropriations were made except as otherwise provided by law.” The Senate Ethics Manual interprets this to mean that, “It is thus inappropriate to use any official resources to conduct campaign or political activities.”

The manual does acknowledge that some overlap of campaign and official duties may occur, but only if it is minimal, such scheduling assistance, or responding to press inquiries to a Senate office "that may also include inquiries about campaign matters."

Landrieu has already admitted to paying for chartered flights with taxpayer dollars, however, the Louisiana Democrat and her office tried to downplay the severity of the charges.

On Nov. 8, 2013, Landrieu improperly used tax dollars to charter a flight to a fundraiser, something the campaign didn’t notice until eight months later – after a USA Today article revealed the senator had spent $47,000 on charter flights in 2013 alone. The revelation prompted Landrieu's staff to look into the excessive flight expenses, which is when the improper payment was discovered.

Landrieu’s staff claimed it was a vendor’s error that billed the senator’s official account and not her campaign account. Landrieu’s re-election campaign, Friends of Mary Landrieu, reimbursed taxpayers for the $3,200 flight.

That wasn’t an isolated incident, however. Landrieu also had to reimburse taxpayers for a $5,721 flight from September 2013 to a fundraiser in Dallas.

For this expense, Landrieu’s communications director, Matthew Lehner, said the fundraiser had been added to her schedule as the senator was traveling back to Washington, D.C.

“Out of an abundance of caution, in case there was a cost allocation error connected to this flight, the Senate will be reimbursed for the flight,” Lehner told the Shreveport Times.

The Louisiana GOP also wants two more flights investigated, which were uncovered by Politico in mid-August.

On Aug. 23, 2012, Landrieu took a $6,787 flight to multiple cities within Louisiana, during which her re-election campaign received an “in-kind donation” for renting a room and catering in Shreveport and Bossier City. Landrieu’s staff told Politico the campaign hosted a “meet and greet” for young professionals during the trip.

If Landrieu received any kind of political support from that meet and greet, her campaign would have had to pay for a portion of the trip because it wouldn't have exclusively been official Senate business.

During a second questionable trip, on Oct. 18, 2012, Landrieu spent $3,437 on another series of flights within Louisiana, which included a speech at a fundraiser in Morgan City.

Doré, in a statement to the Washington Examiner, accused Landrieu of breaking the law and “living the high life” while Louisiana residents struggled.

“It is an affront to Louisiana taxpayers that while they have to pinch pennies to afford massive Obamacare health insurance rate increases, Sen. Landrieu is living the high life and flying around the state on private planes – even when it’s against the law,” Doré said. “She needs to be held accountable for her actions, and Louisiana voters will do that this fall.”

Doré argues in his complaint that if the Ethics Committee finds that Landrieu used tax dollars for campaign expenses, she should repay taxpayers immediately and be “sanctioned to the fullest extent possible.”

Landrieu is in a tight race against Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., in a contest that could help determine control of the U.S. Senate.

Landrieu’s office did not respond immediately to an Examiner inquiry.

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