Thursday, March 22, 2012

Politico Inquiry Reveals that Lugar Wrongly Billed Taxpayers for Hotel Stays in Indiana While Senate Was Adjourned

Hoosier Access first picked up on the story, reported in Politico.
Sen. Richard Lugar
Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar’s residency problems just grew more uncomfortable: He’s reimbursing the Treasury for erroneously billing taxpayers for a series of hotel stays in Indianapolis in recent years.
The long-serving Senate Republican said because of staff errors, taxpayer money was improperly used to pay for about $4,500 in hotel expenses over the past decade.

After an inquiry from POLITICO, Lugar’s office investigated and acknowledged the issue, and the senator is now taking steps to repay the money.
“I was unaware of routine staff work over the course of several years where we may have made mistakes,” Lugar said Wednesday. “I’m sorry that I was not more observant.”
Lugar also tapped his Senate office account to pay about $70,000 in other hotel costs over the course of his 35-year career, his office said. But Lugar was allowed to use that account in those instances because the Senate was in session.
Since records were only available dating to 1991, Lugar said “it’s conceivable” that the problems stemmed throughout the breadth of his career, which started in 1977. But he insisted the problem occurred “infrequently,” attributing the issue to staff members over the years handling the issue differently.
The latest snafu revolves around an obscure set of Senate guidelines requiring senators to certify his or her “usual place of residence” in their home state as a so-called duty station during periods of Senate adjournment. During those periods, a senator is not allowed to use official funds within the duty station’s region to cover hotel costs, a problem for Lugar since he no longer owns a home there. Lugar has certified his duty station to be at the Indianapolis house he sold in 1977 — the same property in which he’s currently registered to vote.
After being contacted by POLITICO, Lugar’s office said the senator requested a comprehensive review of the records and found that in a handful of cases during periods of adjournment, taxpayers should not have paid for his stays at various hotels, such as the Holiday Inn near the airport and others.
 To see the rest of the Politico article, click here.

A couple years ago, I met with a prominent state Republican, who had been a big Lugar backer, who complained that the Senior Senator never came back to Indiana to go Lincoln Day dinners or participate in other Republican events.  He was a big fundraiser for the party and Lugar did nothing to help with that effort.

Jon Easter over at Indiana Democrat has a nice article suggesting Lugar is in deep trouble with recent polls showing him with only a 6 point lead.  I agree.  I think the residency issue has deeply hurt Lugar.  You can tell whether an issue is working by whether Lugar's opponents have abandoned the issue - they haven't.  Lugar is playing right into their hands by appealing the decision of the Election Board decision disqualifying him as a voter, and thus ensuring another set of headlines, rather than simply getting a residence in the state and killing the issue with a final one day final story.

On a related note, the conventional wisdom has been that the Democrats are better off facing State Treasurer Richard Mourdock than a Lugar who has appeal with Democrats.  I no longer believe that.  There is a huge segment of Republicans who are angry at Lugar for an assortment of reasons and many won't come home to him.  I think the Democrats would have a better chance of winning the Senate seat if they face a mortally wounded Lugar than Mourdock in the general election.


Indy Student said...

I think Mourdock still has the advantage over Donnelley. But only because the state Democratic party is in shambles right now, and it'll be tough for any statewide D running this year to win.

Even if it is in the mold of John Gregg or Joe Donnelley, who are the types of Democrats that Hoosiers could elect to statewide office.

Nicolas Martin said...

By contrast, Sen. Rand Paul returned a half-million dollars in unspent funds to the US Treasury.