State Republicans file complaints over Landrieu travel

The Louisiana Republican Party filed a formal complaint Tuesday with the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee over U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s use of money from a government account to pay for charter flights to campaign events.

Such spending violates federal law. Landrieu, D-La., last month acknowledged two violations in 2013 and said her campaign fund will reimburse the taxpayer-financed office account that initially paid those bills. She also has ordered a review of her charter-flight records since she took office in 1997 to see if any other campaign-related flights were billed improperly to her office account.

Since those first revelations, two other Landrieu flights, in 2012, have been questioned in media accounts. She has declined to comment until the review she ordered is finished, which is expected this week.

Landrieu has attributed the wrongful billings to inadvertent bookkeeping errors.

The Ethics Committee polices behavior by senators. After investigating a complaint, it can recommend that the full Senate approve punishment, which may include formal censure or expulsion.

In response to the issue of the first two fights, a spokesman for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that supports strong enforcement of campaign laws, said Landrieu likely would avoid committee punishment because the total amount involved — less than $10,000 -— was relatively small and she had acted to correct the violation.

The total spent on the other two questioned flights was just over $10,000.

Each senator is allocated an office expense account by the federal government, with the amount varying depending on the population of the senator’s state and its distance from Washington. Senators are allowed considerable discretion in how they spend the money, but it is limited to official needs. Landrieu’s account runs to about $3 million a year, which she uses primarily to cover staff salaries and travel.

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