McCaskill to return money spent on private flights

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office said Wednesday she plans to pay the U.S. Treasury $88,000 to cover the cost of charter flights she organized through a company in which she and her husband have an ownership stake.

The Missouri Democrat’s husband, Joe Shepard, incorporated Sunset Cove Associates LLC in 2002. The company owns an eight-seat, twin-engine plane which, according to records, McCaskill’s Senate office has paid to use 89 times out of taxpayer funds.

News of McCaskill’s use of the plane was first reported by Politico.com on Wednesday. The announcement that she would reimburse taxpayers came after the story was published online, out of an “abundance of caution,” according to spokeswoman Maria Speiser.

Speiser said McCaskill and her husband did not make any money by using Sunset Cove Associates to charter her flights. The most recent financial disclosure report on record, from 2006, shows that McCaskill valued her family’s stake in Sunset Cove as between $50,000 and $100,000 but reported making less than $200 profit from it.

“She has only paid for the use of her plane as required by the Senate rules, and there has been no profit to her or her family,” Speiser said.

The use of chartered flights by lawmakers is common and, given demands on their time, can sometimes be an occupational requirement. But McCaskill’s use of a plane that is owned by a company her family holds a stake in is unusual. Senate rules do not specify whether senators can be reimbursed for use of a personal aircraft for official use, although staffers and senators are reimbursed when they use their cars for personal business.

McCaskill’s use of a family-owned plane, though, runs contrary to the image she often portrays to voters as a straight-talking woman of the people. In 2006 when she campaigned for the Senate she rode around the state in an RV. McCaskill, who is up for re-election in 2012, is likely to face a strong Republican challenge.

Her office said that what McCaskill paid Sunset Cove for her chartered air travel compared favorably to the prices of charter flight companies. McCaskill’s office paid an average of $900 a flight each time she flew on the Sunset Cove plane.

“Sen. McCaskill has been very careful flying on taxpayer dollars,” Speiser said.

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