Gov. Matt Bevin claimed he made history in August after releasing what he called “a comprehensive list” of the reasons he has flown on state-owned planes to conduct official business as governor.
The list, though, didn’t mention all the reasons he’s flown on state-owned planes to conduct his own personal and political business.
A Herald-Leader analysis of Bevin’s 112 trips between 2016 and 2017 found 28 trips that were none of the public’s business, in Bevin’s eyes. All were fully reimbursed by the governor or groups associated with him, for a total of $163,907.
Those trips — spanning destinations as close as London, Kentucky and as far as Aspen, Colorado — make up the bulk of the $193,587.16 in reimbursements the state received for flights taken by Bevin in 2016 and 2017. The remaining $29,680.16 was for 18 trips that included both official and private business, which were partially reimbursed.
Taxpayers spent a total of $235,239.96 on the governor’s flights in 2016 and 2017, according to the Herald-Leader’s analysis. The governor has followed the law and reimbursed all flights that need to be reimbursed, a spokeswoman has said.
“Since the start of our administration, we have been 100 percent committed to financial integrity and to ensuring that we are good stewards of taxpayer resources,” Bevin said when his travel list was released.
Still, Bevin has faced criticism for not releasing details about flights he has taken for personal or political reasons, as have previous governors. Democrats have attempted to make Bevin’s use of state aircraft a transparency issue in the 2019 race for governor.
“Matt Bevin continues to insult Kentucky families by using the taxpayer-funded state plane like it’s his own private air service to bail out his weak and failing campaign,” said Marisa McNee, communications director for the Kentucky Democratic Party, after Bevin recently took the state plane to Hopkinsville. “He needs to stop hiding and immediately explain when and why he’s using the state plane. Kentuckians own the plane and it’s their business to know.”
It was rare for the governor to fly somewhere in Kentucky without giving a reason in 2016 and 2017, according to the Herald-Leader’s analysis of the data. Bevin took just two trips with destinations in Kentucky, one to Paducah and one to London, without giving an official reason. Most of his political trips to Kentucky destinations were part of trips he also made for official reasons.
In June 2017, for example, Bevin made a trip that included stops in Henderson, Leitchfield and Paducah and reimbursed the state $683.08 for a flight that cost $2,220. The only reason given by the governor’s office was “bill signing ceremonies.” It is common for governors to hold such ceremonies, even though the bills in question were often signed into law several months prior.
The same thing happened a month earlier, when Bevin made a trip to Somerset. The reason given by the governor’s office was “Camtech Manufacturing Solutions - new facility” but the Republican Party of Kentucky reimbursed $341.67 for the $1,025 flight.
The blend of official business and personal business also gets murky in out-of state travel. In June 2016, Bevin traveled to the National Governor’s Association meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. Afterward, he traveled to Shenendoah, Virginia, and then Auburn, Maine. After spending three nights in Maine, he headed to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and back to Frankfort that same night.
The reason listed for the 5-day trip was “National Governors Association” and no mention was made of the Republican National Convention. The trip cost $10,915 and the Republican Party of Kentucky reimbursed $8,695.
That trip was one of several the Bevin administration described in little detail. The purpose of a trip to Manchester, New Hampshire, in January 2016 was listed as an “Economic Development Meeting” but did not note that Bevin was a guest speaker at a luncheon for the New Hampshire Republican Party the same day. The flight cost $7,600, of which the state Republican Party reimbursed $3,040.
Another flight, to Indianapolis, cited economic development as the reason for traveling but did not note that Bevin spoke at the Indiana Republican Party Spring Dinner. That flight cost $1,572.5 and Republicans reimbursed $428.66.
The most common destination the governor has refused to explain is Maine, where he owns a vacation home. Those trips could often get complicated, as destinations were tacked on to the itinerary. For example, there was no reason given for a trip to Bethel, Maine on June 22 and 23, 2017. On that trip, Bevin stopped in Baltimore, Maryland, on the way there and Hartford, Connecticut, (about 20 miles from where his family’s bell business is located) and London, Kentucky, on the way back. The trip was fully reimbursed.
On June 17, 2017, the governor flew to Maine the day before attending the SelectUSA summit, an event that promotes foreign direct investment in the United States, in Washington, D.C. The flight to Maine was reimbursed by the Republican Party of Kentucky, but the flight from Bethel to Washington and back to Kentucky cost $4,810, slightly more than his median flight to Washington, D.C. from Kentucky, which was $3,983. Taxpayers were not reimbursed for the cost.
American Bridge, a national Democratic group, has criticized Bevin’s use of the state plane for personal and political reasons. It found that Bevin took an unexplained trip to Miami on August 28th this year. His reelection campaign then received $16,000 from donors based in Miami from Aug. 28 to Sept. 3.
Attorney General Andy Beshear, Bevin’s Democratic opponent, has pledged to provide reasons for all of his trips on state planes should he become governor. This would differentiate him from his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, who, like Bevin, refused to disclose the reasons for his flights when they were made for personal or political reasons.
“Andy Beshear’s hypocrisy has reached new levels,” said Davis Paine, Bevin’s campaign manager. “For eight years, Andy was content to use the state-owned plane to travel with his father, Gov. Steve Beshear, who did not disclose the purpose of his trips and only reimbursed personal travel after the press asked questions. This is the kind of double standard Kentuckians can expect from someone whose top deputy is in federal prison for corruption.”