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9.1.08

Landrieu unconvincing defending ethics lapse charges

Struggling on the policy front where she has been voting against the majority of Louisianans on a number of issues, the last thing Sen. Mary Landrieu needed to secure her reelection this fall was an apparent pattern of scandal. But the latest publicity surrounding an alleged earmark-for-contribution episode has made her appear to be a serial violator of campaign finance law, her defense of which makes her look even worse.

At is issue is a contract Landrieu foisted upon the District of Columbia school system to provide a specific kind of learning software onto its schools. Four days before formal approval of the $2 million, but after having met with Landrieu on the matter, at her office’s suggestion the company’s founder held a fundraiser among employees and friends that raised $30,000 for her 2002 reelection bid and more than $50,000 more would find its way to her from among his associates. Eventually, the company would receive over $8 million from the federal government for contracts nationwide including $700,000 for Louisiana.

On the surface, this looks like a trade which the nonpartisan Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington claims is illegal and wants legal investigations conducted on it. That’s bad enough, but Landrieu has made matters worse for herself by the way in which she has tried to explain it.

Landrieu’s office asserts that there couldn’t be any connection because the item in the appropriations bill that by her place on the relevant committee she was able to include was done months before the fundraiser. But that argument is entirely specious if corruption was in play: the idea was not to include it but to get it passed. Timeline: the item is stalled in the Senate, the company owner meets with Landrieu, her staff suggests a fundraiser, the fundraiser is held (which eventually would lead those affiliated with the company to donate enough for it to become one of the 20 highest sources of campaign funds for Landrieu in her two terms), and the bill with the earmark is passed out shortly thereafter.

It also tries to address the allegation by saying the software program ultimately proved helpful (which is somewhat disputed). But this logic is akin to the ends justifying the means: it’s as if Landrieu was saying, “So what if the deal was shady, it worked.” These “explanations,” if you can call them that, just beg more questions about her role and thought process.

Which is why the watchdog group is calling for an investigation which puts Landrieu in a no-win situation of her own making. Having it could exonerate her, but at the same time it would consistently remind voters during an election season that she may have ethical problems, if not actually having broken the law.

Further, having it or repeated calls for it would compound the fallout the campaign finance matter on which she ran afoul months ago regarding recently incarcerated Democrat fundraiser Norman Hsu, who appeared to have steered illegal donations her way. Democrat Landrieu ignored the issue at first then finally issued denials that she knew of any illegal activities taking place and promised to divest the contributions. Adding to this festering was the appointment last year to her staff of Stephanie Leger who was investigated as part of the Jack Abramhoff lobbying scandal (Leger’s work history with the Abramhoff organization goes unnoted in her biography on the Landrieu senate web site).

Together, all of this adds up to create a plausible picture of a politician who plays fast and loose with the law. (And one who doesn’t even bring home the bacon despite all of that: Louisiana got less than 10 percent of the questioned earmarks.) That’s not the thing Landrieu wants to convey in a state ready to embark on major ethics reform when polls show she is well short of reelection, if not behind announced Republican challenger state Treasurer John Kennedy, yet she seems to be doing her best to do exactly that.

1 comment:

baton rouge du nord said...

Criminal violation or not, the entire Voyager arrangement stinks on ice. Forget everything I said about LA not going GOP. The preeminent LA Democrat power-player has declared ethical bankruptcy.

Sadly, the Dem attack dogs are left to point out that GOP's took Voyager money also. Their quiver has but one arrow-- "we may be bad, but so are you." Pathetic.

The important issues facing our country will be obscured. There ought to be outrage on both sides of the aisle.