UPDATED: Kinder Pays $35K to Make Hotel Baggage Go Away
ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–Without admitting he did anything wrong, Missouri Lt. Governor Peter Kinder is reimbursing the state $35,000 for hotel bills he had billed to taxpayers.
Kinder’s gesture follows a Post-Dispatch investigation that raised questions about whether his trips to “sporting events, charity balls, Tea Party rallies and the wedding of a political friend” were “essential to state business.”
When asked if his plans to refund amount to an admission of wrongdoing, Kinder bristles.
“Absolutely not, I am going above and beyond what the law requires in making a voluntary payment back to the state treasury, because I do not want any suspicion or perception of wrongdoing attached to my name,” Kinder said.
Kinder, the top-elected Republican in state government and a potential GOP candidate for Governor, was asked how his hotel tabs around Tea Party rallies in St. Louis could have been billed to taxpayers as “essential to state business.”
“It is a non-partisan event to which they have invited me as Lt. Governor,” Kinder said.
When challenged on his assertion that the Tea Party is “non partisan” and not a Republican-leaning conservative group, Kinder explains further.
“It is Democrats, Republicans and Independents ,” Kinder said.
And what about the report that he billed taxpayers for a hotel stay to attend the wedding of a political friend?
“I believe I had an official reason for being in town that time,” Kinder said, “I’ve got to get those records out and check that. But that’s another reason to repay this.”
Eager to put the hotel flap behind him, Kinder points out that in each of his six years as Lt. Governor he has returned to the state treasury unused monies.
“The amounts have ranged from a low $6,000 or $7,000 returned unspent, to up to $30,000″ Kinder said. “This year I will believe turn back the largest amount of unused funds to the general revenue that I ever have turned back at the end of this fiscal year in June.”
Turning the spotlight from himself to Governor Nixon, Kinder notes that his own travel has undergone two state audits without finding fault for his hotel bills, while Governor Nixon’s travel has not been audited.
“I call upon the Governor to let his travel be audited,” Kinder said.
The Associated Press has reported Governor Nixon has billed the state over $400,000 for plane trips around the state in two years.
Kinder also points to Governor Nixon’s past troubles with his use of a state car. “He came under criticism from the Democratic auditor of his own party for the use of his state car,” Kinder said, “He wrote a check for $47,000 from his own campaign to cover political use of the state car and personal use of the state car.”
Kinder claims he has parked his state car in 2007 and has not used it or his state gas credit card and not billed the state for gas mileage or wear and tear on his private vehicle. Kinder’s decision to forego the use of his official vehicle came after a state review of his driving records that same year, in which Auditor Susan Montee faulted Kinder for personal use of the vehicle. Kinder said at the time he was following the advice of the Office of Administration, which indicated that Kinder could reimburse the state for such personal trips in the car.
Kinder said his payment to the state for the hotel stays 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. From now on, Kinder also says he will sleep in a condo in St. Louis paid for by his campaign.
KMOX asked Kinder if he has any lingering hotel bill issues surrounding his trips to Kansas City and Springfield.
“Not at all, I have official business in all of these places and it’s officially reimbursable,” Kinder said.