Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, a rising star in the Republican ranks, spoke at a 2002 event in Metairie that was hosted by a David Duke-led white nationalist group while Scalise was serving in the state Legislature.

Questioned Monday about the congressman’s appearance before the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, Scalise spokeswoman Moira Bagley Smith issued a statement denouncing the group’s white supremacist views.

“Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints,” Bagley Smith said in the statement, which was also released to national media outlets. “In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around. In 2002, he made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars as well as his opposition to a proposed tax increase on middle-class families.

“He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question. The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband and a devoted Catholic,” she added.

Allegations that Scalise, currently the U.S. House majority whip, spoke at EURO’s conference in 2002 first surfaced on a left-leaning blog over the weekend. The CenLamar.com blog cited postings on neo-Nazi and white nationalist message board Stormfront to back up its claim but did not include comment or confirmation from Scalise.

Scalise, who has represented Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District since 2008, rose earlier this year to the influential majority whip post in Congress. He was re-elected to the House GOP’s No. 3 leadership position in November, after easily winning re-election to his congressional seat earlier that month.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, former Ku Klux Klan leader Duke formed the Mandeville-based EURO in 2000 as an “organization to help protect the rights and heritage of European Americans.”

In the years since — and following Duke’s guilty plea to mail and tax fraud, EURO “has accomplished little,” SPLC says, other than mostly serving as an avenue to further promote Duke’s views.

Based on message board postings from 2002-04 that CenLamar noted, the EURO event took place the weekend of May 17-18, 2002, at the Landmark Best Western in Metairie.

Duke, a former KKK grand wizard who served one term in the state Legislature and infamously made it into a runoff for governor in 1991, reportedly participated via teleconference.

A Stormfront poster who apparently attended the conference wrote fondly of Scalise’s appearance just days after the EURO event, noting that Scalise “brought into sharp focus the dire circumstances pervasive in many important, under-funded needs of the community at the expense of graft within the Housing and Urban Development Fund, an apparent give-away to a selective group based on race.”

The same poster again brought up Scalise several months later.

“Those that attended the EURO conference in New Orleans will recall that Scalise was a speaker, offering his support for issues that are of concern to us,” the Stormfront poster wrote in 2004. “I suppose if Duke does not make the election for whatever reason, this gentleman would be a good alternative.”

The revelations set off a media firestorm Monday, with some pundits questioning how Scalise could participate in an event tied to Duke without knowing the group’s racist views.

Louisiana native and conservative RedState.com blogger Erick Erickson argued that “everyone” knew Duke’s leanings in 2002.

“How do you not know? How do you not investigate?” Erickson wrote of Scalise’s appearance.

But several Republicans defended Scalise.

“For the 25 years that I’ve known Congressman Scalise, he has been an aggressive advocate for conservative reform,” Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere said in a statement. “He has been willing to bring this message to anyone who would listen and has spoken to thousands of groups during his career in public service. I’ve also known Steve to be a man of great integrity who embodies his Christian faith in his daily life.”

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/ politicsblog .