Walter Reed spent nearly $3,000 at the Dakota restaurant on March 19, 2005, an expense that is explained on his campaign finance report with a single word: “meeting.”
But a framed menu, topped with the words “Happy Birthday Claire,” tells a different story about the reason for the gathering.
Claire Bradley kept the framed menu — a gift from Reed — as a memento of the party that the St. Tammany Parish district attorney threw for her 46th birthday. Bradley, who was Claire Ursin before she resumed using her maiden name, says she dated Reed for years and was briefly engaged to him. She recalls the party as a high point early in their relationship, which she said ended for good in late 2012.
The menu, decorated with three tiny hearts, lists the date along with the bill of fare. About 40 guests started with classic shrimp remoulade on garlic-grilled foccacia and wild mushroom bisque and truffled wild mushroom sauté. The main course was pan-seared filet mignon topped with Maine lobster and lobster sabayon.
With the total bill coming to $2,887.59 and 40 guests, that works out to about to $72 a person.
Rick Wood, spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, directed all questions about campaign spending to the campaign, but treasurer Ron Garrity did not respond to multiple attempts to contact him.
However, Wood also described the dinner as a campaign-related event: “It was an organizational meeting for a golf tournament fundraiser. If it also happened to be Ms. Ursin’s birthday, fine, I don’t remember, but I was there, and it was an organizational meeting for a golf tournament.”
Bradley denies that the dinner was in any way campaign-related. There was no meeting or discussion of campaign events, she said. But there were birthday gifts presented to her by Reed.
The party at the Dakota isn’t the only benefit Bradley received from the veteran politician’s formidable war chest during the course of their relationship. Reed’s campaign-finance reports show that she received two checks from the fund in 2008, one for $2,000 and the other for $2,500. The records list “event supervision” as the reason she was paid. She was paid another $2,500 in June 2011 for “set up for fundraising event.” Her teenage son received a check for $500 in May 2011 for work described as “labor — fundraising event” in the records.
Bradley said that neither she nor her son worked on Reed’s campaign-related events.
Reed declined to be interviewed for a story about those expenditures. He released a statement saying that the payments to Bradley and her son were for legitimate work. In the statement, he addressed only the payments made in 2011, saying that Bradley was paid for acting as a “chaperone and liaison” to musician Christopher Cross, who was performing at his fundraiser. Her son, according to the statement, was paid for helping to set up and stock supplies.
Bradley said the extent of her involvement was to hang out with the band backstage for a few hours. She described it as a “made-up thing.”
Bradley, who is a flight attendant, said Reed paid her the money to make up for income that she didn’t receive when she took long trips with him, including a cruise to Alaska.
State ethics laws say that campaign money must be spent on legitimate campaign expenses, not as personal money. Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, said that knowingly filing a false or fraudulent campaign report is a crime under state law.
Reed, in his prepared statement, portrayed Bradley as an unreliable source of information, saying her actions became aggressive and irrational, culminating in her arrest weeks after the Christopher Cross concert for “keying” his ex-wife’s Jaguar.
Bradley pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of simple criminal damage to property. She was ordered to pay restitution, perform community service, seek a psychiatric evaluation and stay away from Reed’s ex-wife and their two children.
Reed, who was first elected district attorney in the 22nd Judicial District in 1984, also has been drawing scrutiny for the nearly $95,000 his campaign has paid over seven years to companies owned by his 42-year-old son, Steven Reed .
A $29,400 check to the firm Liquid Bread for what was described in campaign reports as “catering” services for a September 2012 fundraiser has raised a number of questions. A Reed campaign invoice says the company was to provide “beverage and liquor” for 2,450 guests, at $12 apiece, and Wood initially said that the younger Reed, who had a liquor license, provided setups and alcohol. But Steven Reed has denied to nola.com that he provided liquor for the event. Wood later said that his description of services may have been “unintendedly inaccurate” and that the bill was paid for “goods and/or services provided.”
Neither Reed, his office nor his campaign has responded to follow-up questions asking them to clear up those apparent inconsistencies.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.