NEW ORLEANS—Louisiana Democrats have accused GOP Sen.
David Vitter of accepting campaign money illegally funneled to him by a former Mississippi congressman through a political action committee of that state's governor.
The Democrats said they will bring their complaint to the Federal Elections Commission, citing a $5,000 donation Gov. Haley Barbour's PAC made to Vitter in August. That donation was followed by a $5,000 contribution to Barbour's PAC from the Commerce Hope Innovation and Progress PAC. CHIP PAC is affiliated with former GOP Rep. Chip Pickering, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
"Federal law prohibits anyone from offering a contribution on behalf of another, and Sen. Vitter's campaign doesn't operate that way," Vitter spokesman Joel DiGrado said in a statement Monday. "Sen. Vitter appreciates Haley's past support as well as his most recent contribution."
Pickering could have legally made the donation directly. However, Democrats claim the former congressman - whose wife is divorcing him amid claims he had an extramarital affair - did not want to be shown publicly donating to Vitter, who was linked to a
Washington, D.C., prostitution ring in 2007.
"The conclusion is obvious, that Mr. Pickering wanted to make a contribution to Mr. Vitter, but that would create another news story," Louisiana Democratic Party Chairman Chris Whittington said during a telephone briefing.
Barbour's nephew, Henry Barbour, has worked on his uncle's campaigns and works with Pickering in a Jackson, Miss.-based lobbying firm.
"All I can say is the Louisiana Democratic Party must be desperate and looking for a campaign issue," Henry Barbour said in a telephone interview Monday. "There's no truth in it. Haley has given money to many different Republican candidates and is supportive of David Vitter. That's the beginning and end of this."
Pickering's office said he was out of the country and unavailable for comment Monday. Haley Barbour is on a 13-day business trip to Asia.
Whittington said a circumstantial case can be made that a violation occurred. He cited the lack of other contributions or donations reported in August on Haley Barbour's report, and Pickering's ties to the governor.
As of Monday afternoon, the FEC's press office said it had not received the Democrats' complaint. A spokeswoman said there was no way to tell how long it would be before commission officials could determine whether an investigation is warranted.