Landrieu's New Subsidy: Cash for Charters

Landrieu's New Subsidy: Cash for Charters

Caught using congressional office funds to pay for expensive charter flights to political fundraisers, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) says her office has been reimbursed for the cost of one flight, which she has paid for with campaign funds. Landrieu also promises to reimburse her office for the cost of a second flight.

Senator Landrieu has admitted that at least two of the many charter flights she has taken to campaign events during her eighteen years in office were originally paid for by the taxpayers. It is against the law for members of Congress to use taxpayer funds to pay for campaign activities.

The first of these two charter flights to campaign events took place in September 2013 when taxpayers paid Butler Aviation, a Houma, Louisiana, charter company owned by Bobby Butler, $5,700 to fly Senator Landrieu from Shreveport to Dallas, Texas, to attend a political fundraiser.

The second took place in November 2013 when taxpayers paid Butler Aviation another $3,200 to fly Senator Landrieu on a round trip charter flight from New Orleans to Lake Charles, Louisiana, to attend another political fundraiser.

Comments from her spokesman, as well as the owner of Butler Aviation, suggest that the company has merely provided a credit to the congressional office for future charter flights rather than reimbursing actual funds. This arrangement – Landrieu’s office did not reply to requests for comment – would essentially comprise a loan from Landrieu’s congressional office to Butler Aviation.

The issue is notable because it is illegal for congressional offices to fund political activities, including private flights to campaign fundraisers. On Friday, Senator Landrieu announced that she has ordered a “review” of all the chartered flights she has taken during her eighteen years in the United States Senate.

According to a report in a local newspaper, the charter flight company only reimbursed Landrieu’s congressional office for the St. Charles flight by issuing a “credit.” 

On Wednesday, the Times-Picayune reported that “Landrieu’s Senate office received a new invoice on July 29 from Butler Aviation that listed [payments received for] the flight as a credit. The campaign cut a new check to the vendor on Aug. 4.”

In a statement issued Wednesday, Matthew Lehner, a spokesperson for Senator Landrieu’s Senate office, addressed the $5,700 paid to Butler Aviation for the flight from Shreveport to Dallas but did not specify how “the Senate will be reimbursed” for the flight in question.

Butler, the owner of the charter flight company, would not confirm the account offered by Senator Landrieu’s campaign offices in an interview.

“I don’t know exactly how [the accounting for the September 2013 charter to St. Charles] was resolved. I am the owner of a taxicab company. I have a bookkeeper… If we billed it improperly, I’m sure it’s been resolved or is in the process of being resolved. Apparently an honest mistake has been made, and that’s all I want to comment about it,” Butler told Breitbart News.

Like most small businesses, Butler Aviation appears to be reluctant to voluntarily give up cash it has received for the provision of a service it has already rendered. When the company issued an invoice with a $3,200 credit to Senator Landrieu’s office on July 29, it kept the $3,200 in cash it received in November 2013 as payment for the charter flight services it rendered to Senator Landrieu to attend the St. Charles campaign fundraiser.

Neither Butler Aviation nor Senator Landrieu’s office have provided any evidence to indicate that Butler Aviation has reimbursed Senator Landrieu’s office in cash or cash equivalent for this $3,200 payment from the taxpayers. On the books of Butler Aviation this payment appears to have simply been moved from the category of “2013 revenue” to “customer advance,” a current liability. 

In effect, taxpayers have now loaned Butler Aviation $8,900: $3,200 advanced from Senator Landrieu’s office for the campaign flight to St. Charles for which an “invoice credit” has been sent and $5,700 advanced for the flight to Dallas, which Senator Landrieu promises to have reimbursed to her Senate office by someone at some point in the future.