Political Notebook

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Ethics complaint lodged about Lugar lodging

A government watchdog group said Thursday it is asking the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the hotel expenses of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

“After erroneously billing U.S. taxpayers for decades, Sen. Lugar’s shady activities are finally coming back to haunt him,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the non-profit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washingtoo.

Andy Fisher, spokesman for Lugar’s campaign, said in an email he was not surprised by the ethics complaint because Sloan once worked for Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., “who is often the point on Democrat Senate campaign activities.”

According to CREW's website, Sloan was counsel for a House Judiciary subcommittee when then-Rep. Schumer chaired the Judiciary Committee in the 1990s.

Lugar, a senator since 1977, is being challenged in the May 8 Republican primary election by state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. The winner will face Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, in the November general election.

The Indiana Democratic Party said in February that Lugar had billed $50,000 in travel costs to his Senate office since 1990. Lugar’s campaign defended the lodging expenses at the time, saying they were related to his Senate duties.

But after questions from the news organization Politico, Lugar said last week his staff had made errors filing certain expenses. He said he would return $4,500 to the U.S. Treasury that was spent on travel when the Senate was not in session.

Lugar, who lives in suburban Washington, D.C., stays in hotels when he is in Indiana.

Although Lugar “has acknowledged spending $4,500 on hotel expenses, it is unclear if this represents the full extent of the improper use of taxpayer funds,” Sloan writes in her complaint, which was filed Thursday.

She also writes that the Ethics Committee “should investigate whether Sen. Lugar improperly spent Senate funds on hotels and other travel expenses between 1977 and 1991.”

Fisher said Lugar has asked the Senate’s financial clerk for “a review of reimbursements for his entire term of service. He is voluntarily paying for some official Senate business expenses that were incurred in past years.”

Fisher added: “CREW fails to point out that Lugar has also returned more than $5.4 million in unspent office funds, and has long been praised for his open and ethical leadership. This includes: going beyond the required disclosure of his finances, being the first Senate campaign to electronically file contributions for easier search and quicker transparency, and calling for total transparency in the appropriations process.”

bfrancisco@jg.net

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