A former top aide to Sen. Thad Cochran now implicated in a lobbying scandal was paid more than $20,000 by the Mississippi Republican after leaving his office and starting another high-paid government job at the state's public broadcasting agency.
Ann Copland left Cochran's office last spring after working there for three decades. She went on the payroll of Mississippi Public Broadcasting on March 24, at a salary of $92,000. But Copland continued to collect her roughly $140,000 annual salary from Cochran's office through May 9 — an overlap of nearly two months.
Copland could not be reached for comment Thursday. Cochran's spokeswoman, Margaret McPhillips, said Copland was kept on the senator's staff to ensure "a seamless transition."
"She was helping us out by training the new staff person and passing on her extensive knowledge of the issues she covered," McPhillips said. "That's not uncommon."
McPhillips later said some of the seven weeks of pay was also for unused vacation time but could not specify how much.
To prevent conflicts of interest, congressional ethics rules limit Senate staffers' outside employment and income. Senior staffers also are required to report outside income on annual financial statements submitted to the Senate. Copland did not report her state income in a statement she filed in December.
Cochran's office did not respond when asked if the work was approved by the Senate Ethics Committee.
Cochran, who has frequently used his clout to benefit Mississippi Public Broadcasting, also declined to comment on developments this week linking Copland to the corruption investigation involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is in prison and cooperating with prosecutors.
On Wednesday, one of Abramoff's former deputies, Todd Boulanger, was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud involving allegations that he helped provide all-expense paid trips, concert tickets and other gifts to public officials.
Court documents say Boulanger, Abramoff and another lobbyist, Kevin Ring, tried to get gifts for a Senate legislative assistant described as "Staffer E," who was in a position to help with legislation benefiting a Mississippi Indian tribe. That staffer is Copland, according to an attorney with knowledge of the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Boulanger was due in federal court in Washington for a plea hearing Friday afternoon. There's no indication from the charging documents that Cochran is being investigated; Copland was his lead staffer on the Choctaw issues and dealt directly with the lobbyists.
Mississippi Public Broadcasting executive director Marie Antoon said she was aware that Copland would be taking two salaries during the transition.
"From our standpoint we did everything that under the law and as a state agency we're supposed to do," Antoon said. "She was in her desk the required hours. We have flex time here and there may have been some Fridays that she was in Washington during that period ... but she was here and she was working."