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Dayton campaign pays for travel on state plane

ST. PAUL - Gov. Mark Dayton's campaign paid for most of a flight on a state airplane flight to Bemidji and International Falls last year that took the governor and a campaign aide to two campaign events and one official meeting, his office reported on Monday.

The Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a conservative group, raised the travel subject Monday when it said it learned a top political aide traveled with the governor.

For Dayton's expenses, his office said the state paid for half of the cost of the Oct. 24, 2012, flight from St. Paul to Bemidji, where he met with local officials about a dispute over wording on a sign. His campaign paid for the entire flight from Bemidji to International Falls and back to St. Paul, spokesman Matt Swenson said.

Dayton's press secretary said the campaign paid for all of the campaign aide’s flight costs, as it does whenever a campaign staffer goes with the governor.

The campaign paid more than $2,000 for the $3,000 trip.

Swenson said Dayton's office is awaiting word from the Office of Legislative Auditor for guidance to see if the campaign or governor's office needs to do anything else in paying for the flight.

A campaign event was held in Bemidji before Dayton successfully negotiated a sign compromise and the only International Falls event was campaign related.

Bemidji officials wanted a “Welcome to Bemidji” sign on the Paul Bunyan Trail Bridge. But the Minnesota Department of Transportation had concerns about public safety, considering the sign would be adjacent to stop lights on one of the busiest intersections in town.

The compromise allowed a Bemidji branding on the sign, Swenson said.

Swenson said the campaign political director, Julie Hottinger, was the only aide to accompany Dayton on the trip. Usually an aide from his official office also travels with him.

Ben Golnik of the coalition said it was “troubling information” that the campaign aide went with Dayton “on a taxpayer-funded, state-owned aircraft.”

“This new information about Gov. Dayton's misuse of state resources is very concerning,” Golnik said. “Minnesotans deserve a chief executive who will follow the law and not use taxpayer funds for political purposes.”

Golnik said his group filed a request that the Office of the Legislative Auditor investigate the situation.

Swenson said Dayton went to Bemidji because local officials wanted signs branded with a Bemidji angle, but state officials did not.

"If it is important to the community, it is important to the governor," Swenson said, adding that he has taken similar trips, such as traveling to Thief River Falls for a ceremonial traffic signal groundbreaking.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.