BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is under scrutiny for billing private chartered planes to her Senate office when she used the flights to attend campaign fundraisers.
The senator's two Republican opponents in the Nov. 4 election are questioning whether nearly $9,000 in reimbursements for flights that took the Democratic senator to fundraisers have unveiled a pattern of improperly using taxpayer dollars to pay for campaign events.
In one instance, Landrieu spent more than $3,200 in taxpayer money for a roundtrip flight from New Orleans to Lake Charles for a November fundraiser, though federal law doesn't allow such payments. Tax dollars are prohibited from being spent on campaign travel, which must be paid with campaign funds.
Landrieu's campaign blamed a billing mix-up from the charter company, Houma-based Butler Aviation Inc., and said the Senate was refunded the money. The campaign said it then paid for the flight.
"A few weeks ago we began going through all our invoices to ensure accuracy, when we noticed an incorrect bill from a vendor that both the campaign and Senate office utilize. We immediately contacted the vendor," campaign spokesman Fabien Levy said in a statement.
But that wasn't the end of the story.
Now, Landrieu is reimbursing $5,700 for a September flight from Shreveport to Dallas that was charged to her office. The senator's office said Landrieu was traveling through Dallas on a charter so she could take a connecting flight to Washington and a fundraiser was added to her schedule for her stopover.
An aide to the senator suggested the Dallas flight met the requirements to be covered with Senate office money because Landrieu was flying through the city after an official evening event in Shreveport and on her way back to Washington for work.
"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," Landrieu spokesman Matthew Lehner said in a statement Thursday.
Both flight reimbursements were first reported by CNN.
Republicans have slammed Landrieu over the flights.
The Republican National Committee released a Web video recounting the reimbursements. The state Republican Party has launched a campaign it's calling "Air Mary" that includes a Twitter feed designed to highlight Landrieu's use of taxpayer dollars to travel on private airplanes instead of cheaper commercial flights.
Landrieu's two GOP opponents — U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy and tea party favorite Rob Maness — said the three-term senator violated the public trust and improperly spent tax dollars.
"She should return all the taxpayer money she has spent on charter flights, open up her travel logs for further review to ensure there are not more violations and apologize to American taxpayers immediately," Cassidy said in a statement.
A complaint against Landrieu for the Lake Charles charter flight was filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission by a Baton Rouge-based organization called Keep Louisiana Working, which refuses to disclose its donors.