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On Tuesday evening CNN reported that Mary Landrieu used taxpayer money to pay for a charter flight across Louisiana last November for a campaign fundraiser, which is against the law even though she noticed and corrected the “mistake” just before USA Today wrote an article revealing her excessive flight costs.

Landrieu spent more than $3,200 in taxpayer money to fly 400 miles round trip from New Orleans to Lake Charles, Louisiana, where she attended a $40-per person fundraising lunch with hundreds of women, according to Senate records and Landrieu campaign information. 

It is a violation of campaign finance laws to spend taxpayer money for campaigning.

Landrieu’s campaign spokesman, Fabien Levy, said in a statement that the charter company mistakenly billed Landrieu’s Senate office instead of her re-election campaign. Levy said the campaign noticed the error a few weeks ago and asked the company to refund the Senate office and bill the campaign, which the company did. Levy said Landrieu’s re-election campaign paid for the flight August 4, almost nine months after the November 8 trip.

The campaign didn’t notice the mistake until July 29. Two days later, on July 31, USA Today published a story showing that Landrieu was one of the Senate’s most frequent fliers, spending $47,000 last year on taxpayer-funded charter flights.

A Landrieu spokesman Matthew Lehner was quoted in the USA Today article so the Senator knew it was coming.

Even though the mistake was corrected, the campaign still violated federal law and could face civil fines, said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign watchdog.

“It is the senator and the senator’s staff responsibility to comply with federal laws. It’s not the job of the vendor, per se,” Ryan said. “It sounds like their excuse is, ‘We didn’t do anything wrong; it’s the vendor.’ It’s the job of the senator and her staff not to pay bills out of a Senate office account if those bills were not for Senate business.”

Ryan argued that even though Landrieu fixed the error, the law should still be enforced.

“If senators were allowed to pay for their campaign expenses out of taxpayer dollars that challengers don’t have access to, that’s a major unfair advantage to incumbents,” he said.

As Shakespeare would say, “something’s rotten in the state of Louisiana.”

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