Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lugar Repays Government Over $14,000 For Illegal Travel Reimbursements

After Sen. Richard Lugar learned that outsiders were reviewing his Senate travel records and a reporter for Politico began asking questions, his office announced last week that he would repay the U.S. Treasury $4,500 that he had been reimbursed over the past decade for travel back to Indianapolis when the Senate was not in session, travel that is not subject to reimbursement under Senate rules. This blog also raised questions about whether Sen. Lugar had billed for return trips to Indiana for campaign purposes during the past year. Under pressure to release more information about the travel expenses that are being repaid, today we learn from another Politico story that the amount Lugar repaid to the U.S. Treasury grew substantially to over $14,000. Here's what Politico's Manu Raju is reporting today:

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) is paying back more than $14,000 to the federal treasury – three times his earlier estimate – after a closer review of his 35-year career found he owed additional money for hotel stays in the Indianapolis area.
The Indiana Republican said Friday that an investigation by the Senate’s disbursing office initiated at his request found he improperly billed taxpayers for his hotel stays for all but seven years during his time in office, amounting to $14,684.85. He cut a personal check paying off that amount on Friday.
“Your office has compiled a comprehensive list documenting cases in which I incurred per diem expenses during trips that included a stop in Indianapolis … during August recess periods and sine die adjournments,” Lugar said in a letter to Christopher Doby, financial clerk of the Senate. “Vouchers for per diem expenses incurred in the Indianapolis area during these periods should not have been submitted or paid, even though they all pertained to official business.”
Lugar suggests he paid more back to the Senate out of an abundance of caution. Lugar’s admission came after he acknowledged last week that he erroneously billed taxpayers $4,500 for hotel stays after a review by his staff of records dating back to 1991. He began the inquiry after POLITICO asked about the matter, and later acknowledged the errors.
An ethics complaint filed by the government watchdog group, CREW, raised skepticism about the original $4,500 figure Lugar said he would be repaying to the government. As this blog pointed out before CREW filed its complaint, Lugar's situation looked pretty similar to the problem former Minnesota Sen. David Durenberger faced more than a decade ago when he repaid the Senate more than $11,000 for illegal travel reimbursements to his home in Minnesota but was still censured by the Senate and criminally prosecuted for converting Senate funds to personal use. Lugar also sought advice on whether the funds could be repaid from his campaign account, or whether he was required to reimburse them from his personal funds. According to Politico, Lugar repaid the funds from his own funds.

Today's disclosure is likely to have more damaging consequences to Lugar's political future, which was already in doubt. Lugar agreed to re-register to vote at his family's farm in Decatur Township after the Marion County Election Board earlier this month determined that he had been illegally registered to vote at a home in Wayne Township that he sold 35 years ago. Lugar's primary opponent and the Democrats have focused attention on the residency issue as proof that Lugar is out of touch with his constituents. Quietly, some sympathetic supporters of Lugar are voicing concerns about his political viability and are wondering if it wouldn't be best if he simply dropped his re-election bid and bring to an end the negative attacks against Mourdock, who now appears poised to defeat Lugar in the May 8th Republican primary. Republican leaders fear that Lugar's costly primary campaign and negative attacks on Mourdock, while not enough to stop his opponent from winning the primary, will damage his prospects in the general election.

No comments: