Oct 7, 2010 9:23 PM by Alison Haynes
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The latest point of attack from Democratic candidate Charlie Melancon in Louisiana's Senate race charges Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter with trying to protect companies like BP from financial liability in a massive oil spill.
Melancon's campaign launched a statewide TV ad this week saying Vitter filed legislation that would cap BP's liability in the Deepwater Horizon disaster at $150 million for all five states.
"His first response before the well was even capped was to protect BP's bottom line," Melancon said Thursday, at a campaign appearance in Baton Rouge.
Complicating the issue is that Vitter has filed two bills about oil spill liability since the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Neither has advanced out of the Senate. Melancon is focusing on the first
bill, and even that legislation is a point of contention between the two campaigns.
Vitter has described the first piece of legislation as increasing the cap on the liability of companies responsible for oil spills. In a statement, he's called the current cap too low and his bill a way "to ensure that energy companies actually pay for their mistakes without chasing many of them out of business."
Vitter's office said under the senator's bill, BP's liability would reach $20 billion.
But Melancon said Vitter's proposal - establishing a liability cap equal to the last four quarters of a company's profits or double the current $75 million liability limit, whichever is greater - would limit BP in the current spill to $150 million in damage liability.
BP lost money over the four quarters that would apply under Vitter's bill, so the $150 million cap would kick in, Melancon said.
Melancon said he favors removing a liability cap entirely.
"BP should be no less than fully responsible for every dollar of damage that was caused," he said.
Vitter's spokesman, Luke Bolar, said Melancon was inaccurately describing Vitter's proposal. And Bolar pointed to a different piece of legislation filed by Vitter that he said would eliminate any liability cap for BP, a bill that is specific to the Deepwater
"It's clear (Melancon) hasn't read Sen. Vitter's legislation that would have held BP accountable for all costs without any cap, if only his liberal campaign chair in the Senate hadn't blocked the bill," Bolar said in an e-mail.
That bill, however, wouldn't apply to future oil spills.
Bolar also noted Vitter's Thursday endorsement from a bipartisan group of local elected officials from parishes impacted by the Gulf oil spill.
The election between Melancon, a congressman from Napoleonville, and Vitter, a first-term senator from Metairie, is Nov. 2. Ten other candidates who have done little fundraising are also on the ballot. An array of polls have shown Vitter leading Melancon by double digit margins.
While Melancon attacked Vitter on oil spill liability, Vitter's campaign launched a new TV ad slamming Melancon on immigration, claiming that Melancon repeatedly voted to make it easier for illegal immigrants to get taxpayer-funded benefits like welfare.
Bolar, Vitter's spokesman, issued a statement that claimed
Melancon's votes "might as well put out a welcome sign for illegal aliens."
Melancon called the TV spot a "cookie-cutter ad" that's also being run in Nevada and that doesn't accurately reflect his voting record.
"I have consistently voted against illegal immigrants getting benefits whenever it came up as a direct issue," he said, a caveat that leaves open the possibility he's voted for those benefits if they were included in other, unrelated legislation.
The immigration ad generated complaints from a Hispanic group in Louisiana, which claims the ad "demonizes" illegal immigrants and is offensive. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana sought an apology Thursday from Vitter and asked for the ad to be taken off the air.
"The ad shows a Hollywood stereotype image of Latino workers - all Latinos - sneaking through an opening in a chain link fence and laughing about how easy it is to keep returning," said Darlene Kattan, executive director of the chamber of commerce, in an e-mail released by the Louisiana Democratic Party.
Kattan objected that the ad showed only Hispanic people, saying illegal immigrants come from around the world.
"Vitter has chosen to play the fear card and make everyone afraid of the Latinos, and the message has been so offensive," Kattan wrote.
Kattan said the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana doesn't support or endorse candidates, but she urged people to call and e-mail Vitter's office to demand that he pull the TV ad.
Vitter's campaign didn't immediately return a request Thursday for comment.
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