Indiana Senator Richard Lugar needs some help. I like Lugar. I like the fact that he is open to compromise and genuinely works for what he believes is in the best interests of his constituency. The problem is a series of fairly serious campaign gaffes that could derail his bid for a seventh term in the United States Senate. Lugar says he will repay the U.S. Treasury $4,500 to reimburse taxpayers for a series of hotel stays in Indiana over the years. The announcement is the latest to bring attention — surely unwanted by Lugar who is in the political fight of his life — to the fact that Lugar has not had a residence in Indiana since he sold his home here in 1977. He has used the address of the home he sold as his “official” address for voting, his driver’s license and his candidacy filings over the years, citing multiple opinions by Indiana attorneys general.
But the issue has been seized on by Lugar’s opponents — both Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who is challenging Lugar in the May 8 primary election, and Democrats. And the Marion County Election Board recently voted 2-1 on party lines that Lugar and his wife Charlene cannot continue to use the address of their former residence as their voting address. Lugar has filed an appeal with the Marion Circuit Court of that ruling. Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Lugar, said the reimbursements are a result of questions raised by Politico, a Washington news outlet, who asked about an obscure set of Senate guidelines requiring senators to certify their “usual place of residence” in their home state during adjournments. During those periods, a senator is not allowed to use official funds to cover hotel costs in that home area.
Fisher said a review of records back to 1991 — the farthest back they are available — showed some payments, and Lugar will reimburse the Treasury for them. Fisher called it a “bookkeeping” error and said Lugar has “always been a strong steward of the taxpayers’ funds, returning more than $5.4 million in unspent office funds throughout his career.” He said the constant hammering of the residency issue by Lugar’s opponents is “the politics of personal destruction.” “This is a bookkeeping matter that is small in comparison to the issues that we’re trying to talk about in this campaign,” Fisher said, citing such things as health care, the deficit and the Keystone XL pipeline. “The big problem really here is that Lugar’s opponents are running a destructive political attack campaign rather than focusing on important issues.”
Mourdock, at a news conference this morning to tout his endorsement by the Indiana Right to Life political action committee, was asked about the issue by reporters. He said he was only just learning about the reimbursement, and added that if he is elected “I won’t be paying for hotel bills in Indiana because I live here.” The Indiana Democratic Party weighed in as well, calling on Lugar to release the internal audit the senator’s office conducted as it reviewed the hotel payments. “After reimbursing taxpayers for rooms that he improperly billed them for, it is essential that Senator Lugar make public the results of that audit,” said Dan Parker, the party’s chairman. “It’s a shame that it’s come to this. Indiana’s senior senator paying back taxpayers for staying in hotels when he could have just maintained a residence here.”
Lugar is appealing a county election board ruling that he can’t use the address of the Indianapolis home he sold in 1977 for his voter registration. The appeal filed in a Marion County court argues that the Marion County Election Board acted against the Indiana Constitution and state law with its 2-1 decision last week. The Indianapolis Star reports that a court hearing on the appeal has been set for March 30. The appeal argues that the election board decision disenfranchises Lugar and his wife, Charlene. Lugar is seeking a quick decision because April 9 is the voter registration deadline for the May 8 Indiana primary. State Treasurer Richard Mourdock is challenging Lugar in the Republican primary and has made Lugar’s residency a key issue.
As much as I like Lugar…and I do…and as much as I agree that the campaign against him as been one of personal destruction, it does matter. The residency issue bothers me as do his hotel bills. If nothing else, it shows the Senator could be out of touch with Indiana voters and making the argument that he is not is terribly difficult. I don’t like Mourdock and cannot even tell you who the Democratic candidate for Senate is if there is one. This is a terrible dilemma for moderates.