Former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh used taxpayer money to stay at hotels in Indianapolis for 14 nights in 2009 despite owning a condominium there, charging more than $2,000 in travel and lodging expenses to his official account, according to his internal schedule and Senate disbursement records.
Following questions from POLITICO, Bayh’s campaign conceded that reimbursements he received for five of those nights were not allowed by Senate rules and that he would personally repay $737. The Democrat’s campaign disputed that the other nine hotel stays in his home state violated Senate rules. The total charges for official expenses on the 14 days he stayed in Indianapolis hotels at taxpayer expense were $2,058.
Bayh is locked in a dead-heat race for his old seat against GOP Rep. Todd Young. Bayh owns multimillion-dollar homes in Washington and Florida and has been accused of abandoning his home state until he decided to run for office there again.
Bayh’s campaign wouldn’t directly address why he would need a hotel room in Indianapolis, where he bought a condo in 2002 that is now worth roughly $53,000.
Instead, a spokesman for the Democratic Senate hopeful called internal documents laying out Bayh’s 2009 schedule “at best incomplete, and not reliable sources of information on how Evan Bayh’s time was spent.” A detailed, nearly 500-page schedule obtained by POLITICO did not contain a complete list of the Senate’s roll-call votes from that year.
“The allegations raised here with respect to hotels do not reconcile with Senate travel records in at least one instance,” said Ben Ray, Bayh’s spokesman. “Out of an abundance of caution, we’re returning more than $700 to the Treasury in a case where the records are incomplete but suggest that the billing may have taken place in error.”
The Senate rulebook prohibits spending official funds within 35 miles of a senator’s in-state residence during the August recess. From Aug. 9-14, 2009, Bayh claimed $737 in per diem expenses during nights he stayed in the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown, located about 10 miles from his condo, his internal schedule shows. Bayh will repay that money, his campaign said.
There are also questions about the propriety of the remaining reimbursements of $1,321 in official charges.
In addition to the five nights in August 2009, Bayh stayed in hotels in Indianapolis an additional nine nights in 2009, according to his internal schedule. Yet on eight of those dates in question, covering February to late October, the Senate was not in session. Bayh also filed per diems in Indiana on Jan. 11, 2009, when the Senate was in session and his schedule shows he stayed at an Indianapolis Westin.
Bayh’s campaign argues those stays were permissible and won’t return the money.
“Per diems are allowed to be taken in a senator’s home state in connection with official activity at any time except the August recess and adjournment sine die at the end of each calendar year or Congress,” said Marc Elias, counsel to the campaign.
Senate rules say official funds cannot be used within 35 miles outside of a senator’s “duty station.” That’s defined as a member’s home in Washington during a Senate session and his or her in-state residence when the Senate is out of session for August recess and is adjourned, or at the end of the year or Congress.
Bayh’s Indiana residency — or lack of it — has been a major point of contention in the race. His internal schedule does not show any stays at his Indianapolis condo in 2009. And The Associated Press reported he never stayed there in 2010, his final year in the Senate.
Instead, when he visits Indianapolis, Bayh often stayed in modestly priced hotels. He wanted a “quiet room away from the elevators and ice machine” and extra pillows, according to his schedule.
In 2012, Sen. Dick Lugar was forced to repay $14,000 for hotel stays in Indianapolis that were improperly billed to taxpayers. The longtime senator went on to lose his primary, in large part because of his residency missteps.
Bayh jumped to a double-digit lead after he announced unexpectedly in July he would seek his old seat. But his lead has evaporated in the face of months of attacks from Republicans: Polls and operatives from both parties say the race is neck and neck.
Besides the residency hits, Bayh has been damaged by revelations that he met with future employers before leaving the Senate in 2011 and huddled with bankers as Congress weighed the Wall Street bailout. During the 2009 debate in Congress over Obamacare, he held meetings with health care industry officials and lobbyists while his political fundraiser was in the room for some of those sessions, according to a CNN report. Bayh has denied any wrongdoing.
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