Sen. McCaskill’s travel bills are less than other senators

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill spent less to fly on her plane than two other U.S. senators from Missouri who buzzed the state in chartered aircraft when they were in office, travel records show.

McCaskill, a Democrat, spent about $88,000 for use of her privately owned plane during her first four years in the Senate. But in 2008 alone, former Sen. Kit Bond, a Republican, spent nearly the same amount that McCaskill spent in four years on chartered flights, according to records reviewed by The Kansas City Star.

?It?s expensive,? McCaskill said of the cost of air travel. ?I really thought it was only appropriate to do it when time was of the essence.?

Former Sen. Jim Talent, another Republican, also spent more on chartered flights before McCaskill defeated him in 2006.

Still, Senate travel records suggest that McCaskill might have spent less money by chartering smaller planes in some cases, rather than flying in her own bigger plane.

Many of McCaskill?s flights were only a few hundred dollars higher than estimates for similar flights provided to The Star by Aero Charter of Chesterfield, Mo. But McCaskill?s plane ? an 11-year-old, 12-seat turboprop Pilatus PC 12/45 ? is larger and faster than the four-passenger, twin-engine Baron 58 that Aero Charter quoted.

In other trips, however, McCaskill?s flights were much more expensive than what Aero Charter would have charged.

McCaskill, for example, was reimbursed $2,885 for a round-trip flight from St. Louis to Springfield in June 2008. Aero Charter would have charged only $1,941. A McCaskill flight from St. Louis to St. Joseph to Kansas City and back to St. Louis in February 2009 cost taxpayers $3,631. Aero Charter said it could do the flight now for $2,809.

Experts noted that prices have risen over the years, so a flight in 2011 is generally even more expensive than a flight was in 2007, the year she took office. Two other St. Louis area charter companies The Star checked offered higher estimates for the same flights in 2011.

McCaskill, a former Missouri auditor, said her staff did check on charters at times, but those planes were not always available.

McCaskill has been deflecting criticism in recent weeks following revelations about use of her privately owned plane as she gears up for a re-election campaign next year. One prominent journal, The Cook Political Report, has downgraded her prospects ? at least in part because of the plane controversy ? and now calls the 2013 race a tossup.

To avoid the perception that she was making a profit off the plane, McCaskill repaid the government $88,000, a figure that also included pilot fees. After further investigation, McCaskill discovered that she had not paid property taxes on the plane, which was hangared in St. Louis County.

That resulted in her writing a check to the county, this one for $320,000. McCaskill apologized for that oversight, as well as for erroneously billing taxpayers for two political trips, which did not qualify as official business.

?Big mistakes,? she acknowledged, adding that the plane is now for sale. ?I?ll never set foot in it again,? she said. ?It makes me sick to think about it.?

Her goal now, she has said, is to fly coach ?as often as I possibly can, and when I am in Missouri, to drive as often as I possibly can, and if that?s not an option, to use charter flights as infrequently as possible.?

Apr 11th, 2011 | Posted in Travel
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