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Government, Politics & Issues

Trump, McCaskill tangle over her campaign use of private plane

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill answers questions during a town hall at Harris-Stowe State University. Jan. 27, 2018
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio

President Donald Trump is joining some fellow Republicans who are attacking U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill for using her family’s private plane to make campaign stops around the state.

Said Trump in a Wednesday-afternoon tweet:

“Senator Claire McCaskill of the GREAT State of Missouri flew around in a luxurious private jet during her RV tour of the state. RV’s are not for her. People are really upset, so phony! Josh Hawley should win big, and has my full endorsement.”

At issue is the senator’s recent campaign tour to visit with military veterans around the state. Although she often traveled on a campaign RV, McCaskill has acknowledged that she also at times used her family plane.

Political opponents, including her best-known GOP rival – Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley – have tried to paint McCaskill’s use of the plane as evidence that she is elitist and wealthy.

But late Wednesday, the senator pushed back. “Paying on my own dime to visit more Missouri veterans is not something I’m going to apologize for,” McCaskill said.

McCaskill has made a point of emphasizing that she isn’t using taxpayer or campaign money to pay for such travel. She will need to report the use of the plane as an in-kind personal contribution on her campaign-finance reports.

Her allies also emphasize that private-plane travel among Missouri elected officials has been common since the 1970s.

New Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, told reporters this week that he will be using a state-owned plane at times to travel around the state, which he noted included some hard-to-reach territory.

Trump generally traveled in his own plane during his 2016 campaign for president.

McCaskill’s earlier private-plane headaches

The GOP’s aim, in part, may be to resurrect the private-plane controversy that plagued McCaskill about seven years ago.

Questions arose in 2011 about her use of her Senate office account – funded by tax dollars – to reimburse some of the costs of her use of the family plane. Although the practice was typical among members of Congress who use or own private planes, McCaskill ran into trouble. At least one of the trips highlighted in 2011 turned out to involve a campaign stop, which cannot be paid for by her Senate fund.

In the end, McCaskill reimbursed the federal treasury for close to $90,000 for all her costs for using the family plane, although she noted at the time that she did not need to do so.

She also came under fire when it turned out her family had failed to pay property taxes for several years on the plane, which was housed at the time in St. Louis County. That plane was sold, but the family purchased a new one several years ago.

Her GOP rival in 2012, Todd Akin, highlighted her family planes in his TV ads. But it turned out to be a losing issue for Akin, who was trounced by McCaskill because of his own controversies.

Many Missouri officials use private planes

The focus on McCaskill’s plane belies the fact that private planes long have been common among Missouri elected officials and candidates, especially those running for statewide office.

Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt has used private planes throughout his career. In 2006, when McCaskill first ran for the U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent Jim Talent traveled in private planes during his campaign – most notably during a statewide flyaround right before the November election.

Missouri governors have used a mix of state-owned or private aircraft.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

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