Politics & Government

Bevin discloses purpose of 148 trips on state plane, bowing to media pressure

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s office released a list Thursday evening detailing the purpose of dozens of trips he’s taken on state-owned aircraft since taking office in December 2015. The disclosure comes after repeatedly refusing to provide the information to the state’s two largest newspapers.

The list includes 148 events Bevin used the state plane to attend.

“Although it has not been required, or even asked, of previous administrations, we are very happy to release documentation showing the purpose of official travel so that taxpayers can have full confidence that state resources are supporting official travel to further economic development, business expansion, attracting tourism, and other key initiatives undertaken by our administration. Taxpayers deserve nothing less from any of their elected officials,” Bevin said in a news release issued just before 6 p.m.

Bevin’s claim that previous governors were not asked to explain the purpose of their travel by the media is incorrect. The Herald-Leader noted in a 2011 story that former Gov. Steve Beshear refused to disclose why he took certain trips on the state plane that were reimbursed by the Kentucky Democratic Party.

The list includes vague descriptors for a number of trips, with entries like “National Governors Association” or “Economic Development Recruitment Meeting.” One of those descriptors was offered for a trip Bevin took to Seattle, Chicago and Billings, Montana. The trip, which included Charles Grindle, Bevin’s chief technology officer, was Bevin’s most expensive in 2017.

Bevin’s list only includes trips the Republican governor made on official business. For example, it doesn’t include his November 2016 trip to Iowa for Terry Branstad’s 70th birthday party or his flights to Maine, where he owns a vacation home. All were reimbursed by either Bevin or the Republican Party of Kentucky.

The list makes good on Bevin’s assertion to the Bowling Green Daily News last week that the public has a right to know where he traveled when taxpayer dollars were used. At the time Bevin made that statement, his office had repeatedly refused to provide that detail to the Herald-Leader.

Earlier this week, a Herald-Leader investigation found that Bevin took 67 out-of-state trips during his first two years in office. Of the $377,404.50 expense, 49 percent was reimbursed by either the Republican Party of Kentucky, the Republican Governors Association, the Heritage Foundation, Bevin’s campaign or Bevin himself. Bevin’s office said all of the flights for personal or political reasons have been appropriately reimbursed.

The governor’s office originally declined to state a purpose for a list of 52 trips, citing security reasons. Without that information, it was impossible for the public to determine whether flights were appropriately reimbursed.

The administration also declined to give reasons to the Courier Journal for trips he took in the summer of 2019.

The flights have become an issue for Bevin, who is currently running for reelection. His opponent, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, has released several videos accusing the governor of not being transparent.

“The least a governor with a state plane can do is always tell you where he’s going, why he’s going there and who’s paying for it,” Beshear said. “You the taxpayers are who we work for as public servants.”

Beshear also took trips on the state plane when his father was governor, including a trip to the Final Four in Houston in 2011. Like Bevin, former Gov. Steve Beshear only released the reasons for trips where taxpayer dollars were used. After inquiries from the Herald-Leader, Beshear ended up reimbursing taxpayers for a flight to a political event in Louisa.

The Kentucky Democratic Party argued Thursday the list is not good enough and Bevin should release information about his personal and political flights.

“This latest stunt by Matt Bevin raises more questions than it answers,” said Marisa McNee, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Democratic Party. “The governor needs to stop hiding the ball and show Kentuckians the respect they deserve. This is our plane and we deserve straight forward answers about where he is flying it and why, including all personal and political travel.”