ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota law isn't clear about whether the governor can use a state-owned plane to travel to political events, a state official asked to examine the issue said in a report released Thursday.
Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles' report came in response to a complaint from a Republican-aligned group that questioned whether Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton should be able to use the plane for trips that involve political events.
Between January 2011 and June 2013, Dayton used a state airplane for 55 trips. His office has acknowledged that on three of those trips, Dayton in addition to conducting state business also made time for political events.
Dayton's re-election campaign reimbursed the state a total of $3,214, a pro-rated portion of the total cost of those trips. The auditor said that reimbursement was not required under state law, and recommended that lawmakers clarify the issue.
"If it is allowable for the Governor to use a state airplane to travel to political events, that use should also be authorized in law, and the law should expressly require reimbursement from the appropriate political organization," Nobles wrote.
The report did not suggest that governors shouldn't be able to use state planes for trips that include political appearances, noting that it's traditionally been considered acceptable for the governor's security detail to provide protection at such events; and that by law the state provides governors with a motor vehicle that can be used for travel to political events.
The report did rap Dayton's office for one aspect of the plane trips: on an Oct. 24, 2012 plane trip to Bemidji and International Falls, Dayton was accompanied by a campaign aide.
"Since the campaign official did not travel with the Governor to participate in state government business, it was a violation of state law and (Minnesota Department of Transportation) policy for the campaign official to travel on the state airplane," the report read.
In an official response provided to the auditor's office, the Dayton administration acknowledged the mistake. "This was an error and will not happen again," read the response signed by Tina Smith, Dayton's chief of staff.
Smith also wrote that in the absence of clarification from the Legislature, that Dayton's office would continue to require his political committee to cover a pro-rated share of costs for any trips that combine official and political business. She wrote that for trips solely for political purposes, Dayton's campaign would charter a private airplane.
"If the Legislature were to enact a law, which made explicit the purposes for which the Governor could and could not use a state plane, the Governor would, of course, follow that law," Smith wrote.
Patrick Condon can be followed at: https://twitter.com/pcondonap