- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu sent $10 gift certificates for food to 108 service members in Louisiana just before Thanksgiving, leading some critics to accuse her of trying to buy military votes.
"This is like trying to buy military votes with a $10 gift certificate, and I think that's outrageous," said Gen. George Peyton Cole Jr., who retired in 1994 as commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base outside of Shreveport.
A spokeswoman for Barksdale said the Landrieu campaign gave them 20 certificates to distribute to needy airmen at Thanksgiving time. Eighty-eight gift cards were also distributed to service members throughout the state, including Fort Polk, Louisiana's other major military base.
"We did an investigation and found that she had given 20 gift certificates, worth $10 each, that were good at Wal-Mart," Sgt. Barbara Lavigne, a spokeswoman at Barksdale, said in an interview.
The certificate, which says it is from "the Armed Services Foundation and Sen. Landrieu," thanks the troops for their service and tells them to use the $10 card "for a turkey and trimmings."
The Armed Services Foundation is a small organization based in New York City that provides scholarships to the children of service members.
Jimmy Gorab, executive director of the foundation, said the gift cards had nothing to do with politics and were planned well before Mrs. Landrieu found herself in the runoff election tomorrow against Republican challenger Suzanne Haik Terrell.
"Senator Landrieu is on the honorary board of the Armed Services Foundation and is one of two senators who hosted our golf tournament in October," Mr. Gorab said.
He said that Mrs. Landrieu, Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican; along with Reps. Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat; Susan A. Davis, California Democrat; James H. Saxton, New Jersey Republican; and Duncan Hunter, California Republican, all were given cards to distribute.
Mr. Gorab said Mr. Hunter distributed 500 of the cards to service members in San Diego.
In all, Mrs. Landrieu was given 108 of the approximately 2,000 cards distributed by the group.
"This was way before her primary or anything else. This had nothing to do with her primary," Mr. Gorab said.
Bob Biersack, spokesman for the Federal Election Commission, said it "would not be a violation" of federal election law for a candidate for Congress to donate gifts to troops in her state.
"Even if her campaign did it, it would be permissible," he said
But that did not satisfy Mrs. Landrieu's critics. Gen. Cole said he was outraged when one of the recipients showed the card and its message to him.
"Coming two weeks before the election, it's pretty disingenuous I think to our men and women who are serving on active duty," Gen. Cole said. "As a retired military officer, I'm pretty disappointed in these campaign tactics."
Sgt. Lavigne said the gift certificates that went to Barksdale were presented to the base's Family Support Center. "They were given out to each squadron's first sergeant, since it was felt the first sergeants would have the best information about families in need," she said.
She said the certificates were from Mrs. Landrieu, but that the air base has no restrictions on gifts from politicians seeking re-election.
Sgt. Lavigne said she believed the "intent" of the cards was to help needy families buy Thanksgiving dinner, though she said she could see why critics would charge that it is an attempt at buying votes.
"I guess it could be construed like that," she said.
Still, Sgt. Lavigne said that only 20 gift certificates were distributed, representing only a tiny fraction of Barksdale Air Force Base's total personnel of 14,112, most of whom are not registered to vote in Louisiana.
Paula Schlag, spokeswoman for Fort Polk, an Army base in Leesville, La., said that the installation was offered between 25 and 30 free turkeys for Thanksgiving by a "private, nonprofit organization called the Armed Services Foundation."

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