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Jun 21, 2011

CREW Files Ethics Complaint Against Senator David Vitter

Senator David VitterWashington, D.C. –  Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate Senator David Vitter (R-LA) for bribery. CREW’s complaint stems from a letter Sen. Vitter sent to Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, threatening to vote against the secretary’s pay raise unless and until the department begins issuing new deepwater exploratory permits.

“Whether it is a defense contractor buying French furniture for a congressman in exchange for earmarks, or a senator who ties a department secretary’s pay raise to approving permits, bribery is bribery,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.  “Paying off government leaders to influence official actions is against the law, period.”     

On May 23, 2011, Sen. Vitter sent a letter to Secretary Salazar stating that he intended to block legislation granting the secretary's pay raise until the Department of Interior began issuing six permits for new deepwater exploratory wells each month.  Only if Interior began issuing the permits at that rate would Senator Vitter support the secretary’s pay raise.  The letter states:

Last Friday, I was asked to support legislation in the Senate to grant you a nearly $20,000 salary increase.  Given the completely unsatisfactory pace of your department's issuance of new deepwater exploratory permits in the Gulf, I cannot possibly give my assent. . .

[W]hen the rate of permits issued for new deepwater exploratory wells reaches pre-moratorium levels (so 6 per month), I will end my efforts to block your salary increase.

The federal bribery statute makes it a crime to offer anything of value to any public official with the intent to influence any official act.  Although Secretary Salazar quickly and decisively rejected Sen. Vitter’s offer in a letter he sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Vitter’s offer may nevertheless still constitute a bribe.  CREW asked the Ethics Committee to investigate and refer the matter to the Department of Justice for further action if the evidence supports a bribery investigation.

“Perhaps given that Sen. Vitter escaped accountability for soliciting prostitutes, he also thinks he can evade responsibility for violating the bribery laws,” said Ms. Sloan.  “At some point, the Senate Ethics Committee needs to make clear to Sen. Vitter that he has to follow the same rules and laws as everyone else.”

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