Conservative Legal Group Challenges Leahy

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - A conservative legal group wants Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to explain why staffers working for leading Senate Democrats held secret meetings with anti-Ashcroft activists, many of them from groups that receive federal funding.

Federal law prohibits taxpayer-funded organizations from engaging in lobbying activity.

Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 17-day period in which the Democrats held a majority in the Senate, and as chairman he presided over the committee's hearing involving Ashcroft. He plans to vote against Ashcroft's nomination.

Mark Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, wrote Leahy, "Staffers working for leading Senate Democrats, as well as the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, secretly met with over 200 national organizations opposed to the nomination of former Senator John Ashcroft for attorney general of the United States. Among other things, the group established a lobbying committee."

"We don't know what meeting they are talking about," said Leahy's spokesman David Carle. "Neither he (Leahy) nor his staff attended any such meeting."

The Landmark Legal Foundation wants to know "whether the Senate staffers present at the meeting were aware that the non-profit organizations were preparing to lobby senators" and whether they did so with Leahy's knowledge.

Landmark said it is forwarding a copy of its letter to the Internal Revenue Service, the Tax Division of the United States Justice Department, and the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.