A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter got an earful of dial tone when he called to ask Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder about the $35,000 he has spent at the Four Seasons and other hotels in St. Louis since 2006. On Monday morning, Kinder complained to a radio host that the story, which appeared Sunday, was a "contract hit job" and "a search-and-destroy mission."
Kinder is unhappy with the report because it suggests that he billed the state for hotel stays when his presence in St. Louis seemed less than "essential," the standard for taxpayer-funded travel. Kinder, who is expected to run for governor in 2012, attended "society balls, baseball games and political events" while taxpayers made sure he had a comfortable place to rest.
Kinder says the expenses were legitimate. "The St. Louis region is almost half of the state's population, so it is reasonable that a full-time Lt. Governor would stay in the region often," his office said in a statement.
The Post-Dispatch story comes at a time when Missouri's top Democrats have come under scrutiny for their travel habits.
Kinder was among the Republicans who criticized Gov. Jay Nixon for flitting about the state to attend ribbon cuttings and sporting events. But Kinder's hotel receipts indicate that he likes ceremonies and ball games, too. In 2009, Kinder drove from his home in Cape Girardeau to St. Louis, ate a $59 dinner, checked into the Four Seasons, and then made his way to St. Joseph for the groundbreaking for the Kansas City Chiefs practice facility. He spent three nights at the Chase Park Plaza hotel when baseball's All-Star Game was held in St. Louis that same summer.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill has taken heat for billing taxpayers for flights she took on a private plane that she and her husband co-own. Acknowledging that one of the trips was of a political nature, McCaskill reimbursed the Treasury $88,000. Later, Politico reported that the plane's owners failed to pay nearly $300,000 in taxes, forcing McCaskill to reach again for her checkbook.
Republicans were quick to pounce on McCaskill's plane shenanigans. But Kinder's travel expenses suggest that he, too, has blurred the line between public and political duties. His taxpayer-billed-room nights coincided with an appearance at a tea party event (he was introduced as "our next governor") and a benefit hosted by financier and political activist Rex Sinquefield.
It seems fair to say that Kinder has more than official state business on his mind when he encounters Sinquefield. Last week, Sinquefield gave Kinder's campaign a check for $115,000, according to the Post-Dispatch.