Missouri officials traveled world at others' expense

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 | 4:16 p.m. CDT; updated 12:15 a.m. CDT, Thursday, May 20, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY— Missouri's top elected officials traveled the world last year at the expense of others — largely to see how government works in foreign countries.

Reports filed recently with the Missouri Ethics Commission show statewide officials took trips in 2009 to Brazil, Canada, Germany, Israel, Lebanon, Spain, Taiwan and the Cayman Islands, as well as several U.S. destinations. Much of the nearly $37,000 tab was picked up by nonprofit organizations and foreign governments.

Missouri's elected officials are required to file personal financial disclosure statements each May. They must list, among other things, all out-of-state travel from the prior year that was not paid for by the government, the officeholders or their relatives.

Treasurer Clint Zweifel, a Democrat, was the top recipient of free trips in 2009. His $15,622 worth of travel to Brazil, Spain and Germany was funded through Eisenhower Fellowships and the American Council on Germany. Both groups send young American leaders overseas to meet with government officials and business leaders.

Zweifel said he applied for the Eisenhower Fellowships before he was elected treasurer in 2008. His trips to Brazil and Spain through that program focused on energy policy. Zweifel said the state treasurer helps facilitate low-interest loans for alternative energy projects and serves on a state commission that awards incentives for low-income housing projects.

His Germany trip covered a variety of policy issues, Zweifel said. Between the three trips, Zweifel was out of the country for about five weeks. He said it was a valuable experience.

"Having a global perspective is imperative to ensure that Missouri is competitive," Zweifel said.

Zweifel is in Philadelphia this week for an annual meeting of Eisenhower Fellowships' participants and supporters. He is scheduled to speak to the group Thursday about his experiences in the program.

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a Democrat, ranked second among statewide officials with $11,846 of travel expenses paid for by others last year. She said most of it related to her duties as secretary of state, except for tickets to a Washington press corps banquet provided by a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter.

The Brennan Center for Justice paid for Carnahan to attend a conference on election issues in Jacksonville, Fla. The National Democratic Institute paid for Carnahan to monitor elections in Lebanon. And a meeting with government and business leaders in Israel was funded by the Green Family Foundation, which describes itself as a nonprofit organization that supports social programs to improve global health and alleviate poverty.

Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, was one of nine state attorneys general from around the country to travel to Taiwan at that government's expense. His tab: $6,085. A spokeswoman for the National Association of Attorneys General said Taiwan has a long history of inviting American officials to meet with its own officials.

Koster's former law firm also paid for his meals during a vacation to the Cayman Islands.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, reported one trip of $2,775 — paid for by Canada — to tour the Canadian Oil Sands.

Gov. Jay Nixon and Auditor Susan Montee listed no out-of-state travel on their disclosure reports. Nixon and Montee did travel as part of their jobs at taxpayer expense.

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