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Security expenses add up for McDonnell

Date published: 12/9/2012

By Julian Walker

The Virginian-Pilot (MCT)

A Virginia State Police unit that provides security for Gov. Bob McDonnell incurred nearly $106,000 in travel expenses over much of this year from trips with the governor on state and political business.

Those costs, obtained through an open records request, span mid-January through mid-October, the latest data available for those expenses. They largely cover meals, lodging and other incidentals associated with protecting McDonnell.

Gubernatorial travels have long been a peculiar fascination for government watchers, frequently because the destinations can give a sense of what a governor is doing on official time and the political causes he's engaged in.

But those jaunts came under greater scrutiny during the latter part of former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's term in 2009, when he also served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Republicans railed against Kaine for taking on a partisan political post while still in office, arguing he was short-changing his official duties to Virginia while advocating for President Barack Obama's policies.

McDonnell administration officials say they've handled out-of-state travel differently in the name of transparency. For one, they publish a weekly public and political schedule highlighting many of the governor's events and appearances.

Kaine initially declined requests for his advance schedule, saying he'd answer questions about his trips if asked. He eventually shared more details about his trips and state costs for them as public pressure mounted in mid-2009. At that time, the DNC paid for Kaine's travels when he was on party business.

McDonnell's staff says they've contained costs from the beginning by reimbursing Virginia State Police--they provide round-the-clock security for governors--for many travel expenses, including political excursions. Tucker Martin, a spokesman for the governor, said it is administration policy to defray such costs "to ensure that taxpayers, to the greatest extent possible, would not pay for political travel."

Martin said the governor's Opportunity Virginia political action committee covers fuel costs for ground transportation and reimburses Virginia State Police for gas when traveling to and from political events.

When it comes to air travel for political purposes, Martin said commercial tickets for the security squad have been covered by the state Republican Party, Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, the Republican Governors Association, or another political account.

"This is not common, however, as the overwhelming majority of political travel is done via private aircraft," he explained.

Likewise, food and lodging costs for the security personnel on political trips with the governor are paid for by the political organization putting on the event that required the travel. Martin said the McDonnell administration has "saved taxpayer dollars" by putting in place that policy.

For McDonnell, some of the trips appeared to combine business and political functions. For example, State Police records indicate security personnel accompanied McDonnell to events in Seattle, San Francisco and Las Vegas in late March.