Senator Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) release on Friday of the findings from an internal report that admitted taxpayers paid $33,727 for chartered flights she took to campaign events between 2002 and 2014 has raised more questions than it answers.
The questions arise because the findings reported did not come in the form of a complete report of the type found in a standard accounting audit.
Instead, they consisted of a press statement from her campaign office, a two page letter from her attorney, Marc Elias of the law firm of Perkins Coie, and a spreadsheet that contained the dates of the flights in question, the amount they cost, and the number of political and campaign events conducted at each event.
In the statement released on her campaign’s website, Landrieu referred to the spreadsheet as “the full report.” The spreadsheet, however, did not include the origin and destination of the flights, nor the location and details of the campaign and official events from each trip, making it impossible to check the veracity of those events.
The reliability of the findings was further compromised by the fact that Mr. Elias, who prepared the spreadsheet described by Landrieu as a “full report,” is a highly partisan Democrat with extensive experience defending Democratic politicians in trouble. According to the Perkins Coie website, his “clients include the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors Associations and numerous U.S. senators and representatives and their campaigns.”
In addition, Elias “served as lead counsel for Senator Al Franken in the 2008 Minnesota Senate election recount and contest – the largest recount and contest in American history… [He] represented Senator Maria Cantwell in connection with her 2000 recount, Senator Harry Reid in connection with his 1998 recount, and served as a consultant to the Senate Rules Committee during its consideration of the 1996 Louisiana Senate election contest. In 2010 he successfully represented Senator Robert Menendez in the New Jersey Supreme Court case invalidating the application of state recall statutes to U.S. Senators.”
The incomplete and partisan nature of the review conducted by Elias prompted Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to call for an “independent review” of Landrieu’s travel late Friday.
According to Landrieu’s statement to the press, the report prepared by Elias concluded that she spent more than $510,000 on chartered air flights between 2002 and 2014. Of that amount, the report claims that $202,330 was exclusively for campaign-only events and was paid for by the Landrieu campaign. The remaining $298,883 was paid for “mixed purpose” flights–that is, flights that took Landrieu to multiple events in both an official and campaign capacity.
Until September 2014, taxpayers paid for all $298,883 of these “mixed purpose” flights. The review by Elias, begun on August 16 and completed on September 12, suddenly discovered that Landrieu attended 136 campaign events on these 43 taxpayer-funded trips. Many of the campaign events were fundraisers.
Landrieu’s attorneys then retroactively applied a very Landrieu-friendly formula to pro-rate the payments for these “mixed purpose” flights, and determined that, under that formula, Landrieu’s campaign should have paid $33,727 of the $298,883 those flights cost, and her office, which actually paid the $298,883 at the time the flights were taken, should have only paid $265,156. On September 12, according to Elias, “Friends of Mary Landrieu, Inc. sent a check in that amount [$33,727] to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.”
Landrieu’s press statement and Elias’ letter cited new rules established by the Federal Election Commission in 2002 as the basis for the Landrieu-friendly formula for pro-ration. A review of that FEC ruling, issued on February 6, 2002, and the associated letter sent to all members of the U.S. Senate by The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, signed by Chairman Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and Vice Chairman Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) on February 14, 2002, paints a significantly different interpretation of the formula used by Landrieu’s team to calculate the amount she should have paid.
More significantly, the 2002 letter sets forth a very clear set of legal and ethical standards for the handling of “mixed purpose” travel payments, which Landrieu brazenly violated for a dozen years. The Reid and Roberts letter began:
Dear Colleague: On February 6, 2002, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) clarified the scope of its travel allocation regulation concerning mixed purpose travel, i.e. a trip that involves stops for campaign as well as official activities . . . It is the Committee’s understanding that as clarified the FEC regulation will allow expenses for a trip that is mixed purpose to be pro-rated between expenses of (i) official travel paid with Senate funds and (ii) campaign travel paid with campaign funds, to appropriately reflect the travel expenses associated with each purpose of the trip.
Under the Committee’s rulings, expenses for such a mixed purpose trip may be pro-rated on a reasonable basis (i.e. proration should be based on an evaluation of the number, nature, length, and efforts dedicated to the various events) to accurately reflect the purposes of the trip.
But Reid and Roberts also gave Senators the choice of paying for “mixed purpose” trips entirely from their campaign or personal funds. “Alternatively,” they wrote, “a Senator could use campaign or personal funds to pay for the entire cost of the trip.”
In other words, Landrieu could have chosen to have her campaign pay all $298,833 spent by the taxpayers on the 43 “mixed purpose” trips her report says she took between 2002 and 2014, rather than the $33,727 her campaign reimbursed taxpayers this month after she had been caught red-handed violating this 2002 FEC regulation and 2002 Senate Ethics Committee ruling.
Given the incomplete nature of the “full report” offered by Landrieu to describe her “mixed purpose” charter flight expenditures, and the significant time lag between the expenditure of taxpayer funds to pay for these flights (as much as a dozen years for some flights), Landrieu’s decision to pay only $37,727 of the $298,833 spent on these flights is likely to draw more criticism from her Republican opponents.
Reid and Roberts provided an illustrative example in their letter of the standard for pro-rating expenses for “mixed purpose” flights between campaigns and taxpayers. Significantly, the standard set forward in their later was not the standard used by Perkins Coie, who split costs for such flights based on the number of hours spent at campaign events versus the number of hours spent at official events.
The pro-ration standard, they wrote, should “accurately reflect the purposes of the travel.” Reid and Roberts noted:
For example, if a Senator flies to a state for two campaign and two official events (1) absent something unusual in the character of the events, Ethics Committee rulings would permit the transportation to be equally divided between appropriated funds and campaign funds (if evaluation of the factors noted above so indicates, this equal division should be adjusted as necessary to accurately reflect the purposes of the travel), or (ii) the campaign or the Senator’s funds may be used to pay for all of the transportation. As always, caution in the expenditure of official funds is advised.
Significantly, Reid and Roberts closed the letter by advising their Senate colleagues, including Landrieu “[i]f you have any questions about this matter, please do not hesitate to contact the Committee at 4-2981.”
Breitbart News asked Senator Landrieu’s office and campaign to comment on this story, but has not received a response.