The Louisiana Democratic Party chairman's Federal Election Commission complaint alleging that former Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering's political action committee attempted to politically launder a campaign contribution to a Louisiana GOP Senate candidate with a pass-through donation to Gov. Haley Barbour's PAC doesn't appear to carry much weight as an FEC complaint goes.

Why? The complaint is long on allegations and short on proof.

Officially, the complaint accuses Barbour's PAC, Pickering's PAC and the campaign of incumbent Republican Louisiana U.S. Sen. David Vitter of four distinct FEC violations: Making a contribution in the name of another; permitting your name to be used in a conduit scheme; accepting a contribution in the name of another; and, individuals who assisted in making a contribution in the name of another.

Putting that in clearer terms, Louisiana Democrats claim that Pickering wanted to make a donation from his PAC to Vitter's campaign - but was afraid a straight donation would incite news coverage just like this column that rehashed both Pickering's and Vitter's personal problems.

So to avoid that - Louisiana Democrats claim - Barbour's PAC made a $5,000 donation to Vitter's campaign and Pickering made a $5,000 donation to Barbour's PAC.

Louisiana Democrats claim in their FEC complaint that Barbour's $5,000 donation to Vitter's campaign plus the Pickering PAC's $5,000 donation to Barbour's equals "an illegal conduit scheme" or pass-through donation.

The trouble is that those same Louisiana Democrats offer no proof to back up their claim - and the prospects of producing such proof appear exceedingly dim.

But from the perspective of the Louisiana Democratic Party, the complaint's a howling success because the media are talking about the reasons the LDP cite in the complaint as Pickering's supposed motivation to "pass" his PAC's donation to Vitter through Barbour's PAC:

"While the near simultaneous contributions from (Pickering's PAC) to Haley's PAC and from Haley's PAC to Vitter are inconsistent with the committees' normal activities, there are reasons why Pickering would want to hide the fact that his PAC was giving support to Sen. Vitter.

"Recently, allegations that Pickering engaged in an extramarital affair while serving as a congressman have been receiving attention in the media. Similarly, Sen. Vitter has had to deal with his own sex scandal concerning admitted connections to the "D.C. Madam," Deborah Jeane Palfrey," the complaint claims.

Those are topics that Louisiana Democrats running against Vitter want and need on the table in Vitter's re-election bid. In Mississippi, it's difficult to imagine that Chip Pickering's political stock could go any lower and certainly not based on marginal, innuendo-based allegations of campaign contribution irregularities.

The bottom line here is that Louisiana Democrats turned an FEC complaint into an effective political manifesto designed to drop a big steaming bag of political dog doo on Sen. Vitter's doorstep.

The FEC complaint was designed to force the press to say "Republican" and "sex scandal" and "Vitter" in the same story. Mission accomplished.

Barbour and Pickering were merely collateral damage in that effort.



Contact Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com. Visit his blog at clarionledger.com. His talk radio show, On Deadline with Sid Salter, is broadcast on the SuperTalk Mississippi network.

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