Late last year, as he was campaigning for Minnesotans to send him a DFL Legislature, Gov. Mark Dayton traveled on a state plane with a campaign staffer to Bemidji and International Falls.
While the governor repaid the state $2,118 for the October 24, 2012 trip, it had not been clear until Monday that Julie Hottinger, a Dayton campaign staffer, was along for the flights. But according to documents newly uncovered by the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a Republican organization, Hottinger's name appeared on an invoice for the trip late last year.
Dayton has already received significant scrutiny for his late 2012 use of the state plane for the campaign purposes. He took several flights as the election approached, which included campaign appearances. He repaid the state for the political portion of the trips but they have continued to raise questions about the appropriate use of state resources by a government official.
During the October trip, Dayton had an official meeting with Bemidji area officials, made a Bemidji area campaign appearance, flew to International Falls for a campaign stop and then returned to St. Paul. Spokesman Matt Swenson said the campaign paid for half of the cost of flying Dayton to Bemidji, all of Hottinger's costs, all of Dayton's costs to International Falls and back to St. Paul.
Asked if it is appropriate for campaign staff to join the governor on the official state plane, Swenson said: "It is appropriate and our policy that any campaign-related travel or travel expenses incurred by campaign staffers is paid in full by the campaign, which is what happened here. It is appropriate for campaign staffers to travel with the governor to campaign events if that travel is paid for by the campaign."
Ben Golnik, a former Republican Party staffer who heads the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, said that Dayton's use of the state plane is troubling.
"This new information about Gov. Dayton's misuse of state resources is very concerning," Golnik said. He also noted that some information was redacted from the Coalition's request for public documents. The redacted information included the signature line on an Air Travel Request form for the Oct. 24 trip.
The Coalition's finding will not be the last word on Dayton's use of the state plane. Later this month or early next month, the non-partisan Office of the Legislative Auditor will issue a report on the governor's office. That report is expected to include an assessment of the governor's political use of state resources.
Swenson said the governor's office awaits guidance from the legislative auditor and would not take its cues from the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, which he called a "highly partisan right wing attack" organization.
The 2012 flights have already been examined by one agency watchdog. In September, in response to a complaint from the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, the state's Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board found that Dayton violated the law by not disclosing his campaign debt for his campaign's use of the state plane on several occasions.
In part because the media, including the Star Tribune, had reported on Dayton's plan to repay the state for use of the plane, the board decided that the lack of disclosure on campaign forms was inadvertent. Because the omissions were not made knowingly, the board decided the violation did not merit a fine.