WASHINGTON – A Washington watchdog has filed a complaint against Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, suggesting she may have traded her influence on a specific earmark for $30,000 in campaign contributions.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on Tuesday demanded the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. district courts in Louisiana and Texas investigate whether Landrieu, who is in her second term, broke federal law back in 2001 by including a $2 million earmark in the District of Columbia appropriations bill for a company whose lobbyists had thrown her a fundraiser just days earlier.
That event, held four days before the earmarks was added, raised $30,000 in contributions for Landrieu from individuals associated with the company, according to the CREW complaint.
Landrieu has flatly denied the charges, saying in a statement Tuesday they are “frivolous” and “wholly without merit.”
The Washington Post reported in December that as ranking Democrat and chairwoman of the subcommittee in charge of Washington, D.C.'s appropriations, Landrieu ensured that Voyager Expanded Learning would receive $2 million in funding to promote its reading program in D.C. schools.
Over five years, according to the Post report, Voyager Expanded Learning -- which has ties to the Bush administration in Texas -- received more than $5 million in federal tax dollars and most of that was spent in D.C., where city officials were told they could use only the Voyager product.
CREW, which filed requests for investigations with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District for Louisiana, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas and Senate ethics officials, said the company’s lobbyists sought the senator’s assistance as a “sponsor,” after which her office asked the lobbyists to hold a fundraiser for her.
Randy Best, who founded Voyager and is known as a top fundraiser for President Bush, has said the fundraiser was not tied to getting the earmark and chalked the event up to political networking in order to promote the company’s product.
CREW disagrees and asserts that if it is found that Landrieu took the contributions in exchange for getting Voyager the money, the company could be breaking federal bribery laws.
“Members of Congress need to understand that trading earmarks for campaign fund is illegal -- no exceptions,” said Melanie Sloan, director of CREW.
Sloan contends that the reading program had no track record when it was allegedly foisted upon D.C.’s school system seven years ago. It is still being used in some summer reading programs and for under-achieving students in the system, according to reports.
“It was a win-win situation for Best and Senator Landrieu and lose-lose for the taxpayers and D.C. school children,” added Sloan.
Landrieu’s office shot back, pointing out that the earmark had bipartisan support and that her staff had received letters from the D.C. Public Schools superintendent seeking funding for the program and from the New Orleans Public Schools CEO seeking expanded use of the program in his schools.
In her statement, Landrieu asserted that Voyager had a proven track record in her home state of Louisiana, and that since Voyager came to the D.C. schools, reading scores have increased to 11 percent of students reading at grade level to 39 percent of students reading at grade level.
“She is also proud of her record of integrity in public service,” the statement added.