A company partly owned by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and her husband has agreed to sell a small airplane that she used for official business and pay more than $287,000 in overdue property taxes, the senator said Monday.
During a conference call with reporters, the Missouri Democrat took responsibility for the failure to pay personal property taxes from 2007 to 2010, insisting it was an unintentional oversight and that monthly sales taxes have been paid on the plane for several years.
McCaskill, who is facing re-election next year, said the twin-engine, eight-seat airplane has proven to be more trouble than it is worth.
"I have convinced my husband to sell the damn plane," McCaskill said. "He has hired a broker, and I can tell you I will not be setting foot on the plane ever again."
She added: "This is not good ... I've been sick to my stomach for four days."
McCaskill's acknowledgment Monday was the latest of several politically embarrassing revelations about her use of private airplanes. She previously paid the U.S. Treasury $88,000 to cover flight costs. She later acknowledged that one of those 89 trips was for political purposes - when McCaskill traveled from St. Louis to Hannibal for a Democratic conference.
She said she discovered the most recent problem after reviewing the plane's records. She found that the airplane was not declared and that no personal property tax bill was sent from St. Louis County, in which the plane is housed. The amount of taxes that actually are owed could change depending on several factors, including the amount of interest and penalties that must be paid, McCaskill said.
McCaskill said that she should have personally checked the plane's documents rather than assume that someone else was handling it.
David Cole, the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, said the charging of taxpayers for traveling to a political event and the unpaid personal property taxes for the plane were unacceptable. He said it raised questions about what else she might be hiding.
"Over the last four years, cash-strapped school districts and the children in these schools have been deprived of these much-need funds because McCaskill avoided paying taxes by hiding her assets with a Delaware shell company," Cole said. "These actions are unacceptable evasions of the law.'"
Last week, the Missouri Republican Party filed a complaint with the U.S. Senate ethics committee.
Two Republicans - former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and ex-gubernatorial aide Ed Martin - have said they plan to run for the U.S. Senate. Considering whether to join the race is Ann Wagner, who is the former U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg and is the former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.
During her time in the U.S. Senate, McCaskill, who served as Missouri auditor, has promoted government transparency and has focused on government contracting. She also has portrayed herself as a straight-talking person of the people, and during her successful 2006 Senate campaign, traveled the state in an RV.
Besides the unpaid personal property taxes, McCaskill said her review also turned up another plane trip that included a political event. McCaskill said she discovered that while on a trip that included eight official events, she also gave a speech at a political event and attended a fundraiser the next day. McCaskill said the political events accounted for a small fraction of the entire trip.
The use of chartered flights by federal lawmakers is common, but the use of an airplane that is owned by a company her family holds a stake in is unusual. Senate rules do not specific whether senators can be reimbursed for use of a personal aircraft for official use, though staff and lawmakers are reimbursed when they use their cars for personal business.