Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said Tuesday that he will use campaign funds to repay the state $35,050 for hotel costs incurred while traveling in the St. Louis area and will rent a condominium there to avoid racking up hotel costs in the future.
Kinder, a likely Republican gubernatorial candidate next year, defended his frequent travel to the area and said he was legally entitled to receive the hotel reimbursements that were highlighted Sunday by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. But Kinder said he decided to repay the state to demonstrate his "voluntary, example-setting, going-above-and-beyond-what's-required effort" to make prudent use of state resources.
"I do not want the slightest taint or suspicion to attach to my name or public service," Kinder said at a Capitol news conference. "I'm willing to go beyond what's required to move this issue off the table and get on to the real issues that confront this state, like jobs."
The Post-Dispatch reported that Kinder charged taxpayers a total of $35,050 for at least 329 nights at hotels in St. Louis and St. Louis County since 2006, including 236 nights at the Chase Park Plaza, where he typically was billed at the discounted government rate of about $119 with tax included. Those costs do not include meals or hotel stays for trips Kinder took elsewhere in the state at taxpayer expense.
The newspaper reported that some hotel stays in the St. Louis area occurred while Kinder attended sporting events, society galas and a tea party rally. Some of Kinder's expense reports listed no official reason for his stays.
The Missouri Democratic Party suggested Tuesday that at least one of those hotel stays - on Oct. 4, 2009 - was for a political fundraiser that Kinder emceed for Republican auditor candidate Tom Schweich, who went on to win election in 2010.
Kinder's chief of staff, Bill Kenney, confirmed that Kinder attended the Schweich event but said Kinder did so on his personal time. Kenney said Kinder attended a festival at the St. Ambrose Catholic Parish earlier that same day in his official capacity. Kinder needed to stay overnight to attend a 9 a.m. meeting the next day with urban leaders in downtown St. Louis, Kenney said.
Asked Tuesday if he ever had received taxpayer reimbursement for a hotel stay for a political event, Kinder replied: "No." Then he added: "Now, let me be clear, there's after-hour functions" that may be political during travel that is otherwise for official business.
Kinder said his payment to the state would be made this week, and he would ask that half the amount be used for school drop-out prevention programs and the other half for a mentoring program for children whose parents are in prison.
The lieutenant governor declined to say how much his campaign is spending on the condominium, describing it only as "a substantial amount for me, as a fiscal conservative." The condo payments will have to be disclosed on future campaign finance reports.
Kinder is Missouri's second statewide official to recently repay the government for travel costs.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill last month repaid the federal government $88,000 to cover the cost of 89 trips she had made on an airplane in which she and her husband had an ownership stake. McCaskill said the amount was intended to go beyond the $79,000 she originally had been reimbursed for the trips. A few days later, McCaskill announced she had discovered that property taxes had not been paid on the plane, and St. Louis County determined she owed about $320,000 in taxes, interest and penalties.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, whom Kinder is expected to challenge, also has come under criticism for his travel expenses. The Associated Press first reported in 2009 that Nixon was billing state agencies for the cost of his airplane travels. Nixon has continued that practice and defended it as an appropriate cost-allocation, since some of his travels relate to topics handled by the agencies. The proposed 2012 budget passed by the state House seeks to curtail Nixon's cost-shifting by prohibiting most agencies from paying for the travel costs of statewide executive officials.