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Lugar’s residency is seen as legal

Attorney general issues opinion; complaints go to panel

U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar is an Indiana resident even though he has lived in Virginia since 1977, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office has ruled.

An aide to Attorney General Greg Zoeller issued an opinion this week supporting the 1982 conclusion of then-Attorney General Linley Pearson: When it comes to voting in Indiana elections, Lugar is a Hoosier.

“Members of Congress do not lose their residency for voting purposes when they leave the state so that they may fulfill their duties,” Matthew Light, chief counsel to Zoeller, wrote in a letter to Lugar that was released Thursday by his re-election campaign.

Citing Indiana statutes and case law, Light wrote that “residency does not require continual physical presence.”

Lugar owns a tree farm in Indianapolis but not a home there. Democratic Party officials, tea party activists and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, Lugar’s foe in the Republican primary election, have contested Lugar’s claim he is an Indiana resident, and the Indiana Election Commission will consider three complaints filed on the matter during a hearing this morning.

Referring to Mourdock’s campaign team, David Willkie, political director for Lugar’s campaign, said in a statement that Light’s letter showed “the latest mud they have thrown has absolutely no validity.”

Lugar’s rivals didn’t see it that way.

“The fact that Senator Lugar would trumpet a letter like this and continue to cling to a legal technicality in order to avoid living in Indiana shows he is out of touch with Hoosiers,” Mourdock spokesman Christopher Conner said in a statement.

Conner said Light’s opinion failed to address Mourdock’s contention that, according to the U.S. Constitution, a senator must be “an inhabitant” of the state where he is elected.

Ben Ray, press secretary for the state Democratic Party, said in a statement that although Lugar insists living in McLean, Va., “is legal, he may want to stop and consider if what he’s doing is right.”

In a new charge by Democrats, Ray said Lugar “uses his taxpayer-funded Senate office to support his private business.”

Lugar’s tree farm has been registered as a corporation at the address of his Senate district office in Indianapolis.

Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher said Thursday the registration address was an error and that paperwork was filed Tuesday with the Indiana secretary of state to register the farm to Lugar’s brother, who is a co-owner of the property.

“It probably should have been caught sooner,” Fisher said in a phone interview. “It has now been caught and corrected.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, the Democratic candidate for Senate, visited a Fort Wayne restaurant on Wednesday.

Asked about the fuss over Lugar’s residency, Donnelly, a Granger resident, said: “One of the reasons I come home almost every weekend is that the answers are here. They’re not in Washington.”

Fisher said Thursday that Lugar “has typically spent about a quarter of the year in Indiana. … Our count last year was 89 days.”

“He spends as much time in Indiana as he possibly can each year and still commit to his job and have the 98 percent attendance record he has here in the Senate,” Fisher said.

Lugar has said he stays in hotels when visiting his home state.

He has told media he sold his house in Indianapolis in 1977 because his family wanted to live together and could not afford two houses at the time.