A non-partisan congressional watchdog group is calling out U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, for another apparent abuse of his federal franking privilege — a month after this newspaper published an exposé of the freshman congressman and a similar waste of taxpayer money.
In a May 14 article posted by the Beltway political newspaper Roll Call, Craig Holman of Public Citizen accuses Landry of abusing the franking privilege by spending more than $30,000 in taxpayer funds in the third quarter of 2011 to finance a series of radio ads in Lafayette and Lake Charles alerting listeners to town hall meetings he attended with U.S. Sen. David Vitter. Lafayette and Lake Charles anchor the east and west ends of the 7th Congressional District of U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, against whom Landry is expected to run this fall since his current 3rd Congressional District was absorbed into neighboring districts when the Legislature eliminated a congressional district last year due to federal redistricting. If Landry wants a second term in Congress he’ll have to challenge Boustany this fall.
The congressional franking privilege allows members of the U.S. House of Representatives to be reimbursed for communications such as direct mail, radio and TV ads and newspaper inserts so long as those communications are not for re-election purposes and only if said communications are directed at that member of Congress’ constituents. In the “if it walks like a duck” department, Landry appears to be skirting federal law to build name recognition in Boustany’s district: His communications in Boustany’s district are for re-election purposes and they’re not directed at his constituents.
Public Citizen contends that because the radio ads targeted voters in Boustany’s district they constitute a franking violation. The Landry camp, of course, disputes the allegation — just as it did in our April 11 cover story, “Frankly Speaking,” which makes the case that a “Year End Report” Landry paid to insert into The Independent and The Daily Advertiser, which reach virtually none of Landry’s constituents, at the end of 2011 also constitutes a franking violation.
From the Roll Call article:
Landry’s office characterized the events as forums on the debt ceiling that the lawmaker attended but did not co-host. A representative said the radio spots informed constituents of his schedule, which happened to include events outside his district.
“As detailed in the radio ad, Congressman Landry was Sen. Vitter’s guest at the debt forum. Congressman Landry is proud to have represented his constituents and, like Sen. Vitter, vote against the Washington debt deal and disastrous Super Committee,” Communications Director Millard Mulé said in an email.
The House Administration Committee, the franking commission and the House Ethics Committee all provide guidance about when and where Members can use official funds.
The Members’ Congressional Handbook, for example, states that a lawmaker can be reimbursed for the costs associated with joint town hall meetings they co-host with a home-state Senator, but “the meeting must take place within the House Members’ district.” Vitter’s office at the time of the forums described Landry’s role as co-host — a characterization that Landry’s office now disputes.
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