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Sen. Landrieu orders review of all her flights in 18 years in Senate after billing scrutiny

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NEW ORLEANS — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, under scrutiny for billing private chartered planes to her Senate office when she used the flights to attend campaign fundraisers, on Friday ordered a complete review of all such payments made over the course of her 18 years in Washington.

The issue has plagued her re-election campaign.

Her two Republican opponents in the Nov. 4 election are questioning whether nearly $9,000 in reimbursements for flights that took the Democratic senator to fundraisers have unveiled a pattern of improperly using taxpayer dollars to pay for campaign events.

Landrieu ordered counsel to "review all payments made with official funds for her flights during her 18 years of service in the Senate. The counsel will also review internal office procedures and make recommendations to ensure accurate payments are made in the future," Matthew Lehner, Landrieu's communications director, said in a news release Friday.

The findings will be made public after the review is completed, "which is expected to be before the Senate returns in September," Lehner said.

In one instance, Landrieu spent more than $3,200 in taxpayer money for a roundtrip flight from New Orleans to Lake Charles for a November fundraiser, though federal law doesn't allow such payments. Tax dollars are prohibited from being spent on campaign travel, which must be paid with campaign funds.

Landrieu's campaign blamed a billing mix-up from the charter company, Houma-based Butler Aviation Inc., and said the Senate was refunded the money. The campaign said it then paid for the flight.

Landrieu is also reimbursing $5,700 for a September flight from Shreveport to Dallas that was charged to her office. The senator's office said Landrieu was traveling through Dallas on a charter so she could take a connecting flight to Washington and a fundraiser was added to her schedule for her stopover.

An aide to the senator suggested the Dallas flight met the requirements to be covered with Senate office money because Landrieu was flying through the city after an official evening event in Shreveport and on her way back to Washington for work.

"Out of an abundance of caution in case there was a cost allocation error connected to this flight, the Senate will be reimbursed for the flight," Lehner said in a statement Thursday.

Both flight reimbursements were first reported by CNN.

Republicans have slammed Landrieu over the flights.

The Republican National Committee released a Web video recounting the reimbursements. The state Republican Party has launched a campaign it's calling "Air Mary" that includes a Twitter feed designed to highlight Landrieu's use of taxpayer dollars to travel on private airplanes instead of cheaper commercial flights.

Landrieu's two GOP opponents — U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy and tea party favorite Rob Maness — said the three-term senator violated the public trust and improperly spent tax dollars.

A complaint against Landrieu for the Lake Charles charter flight was filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission by a Baton Rouge-based organization called Keep Louisiana Working, which refuses to disclose its donors.


Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte contributed to this report from Baton Rouge.

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