Missouri senator sells plane at center of controversy

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 26, 2011 3:53 PM
Missouri senator sells plane at center of controversy

By Bruce Olson

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - A single-engine turbo prop campaign airplane that last spring became a political problem for Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has been sold, her spokesman said on Wednesday.

The Democratic senator who faces reelection in 2012 vowed she would "sell the damn plane" after opponents raised questions earlier this year over taxes owed on the aircraft she used for official and political travel.

The airplane, which the senator co-owned with her husband, was sold to an air ambulance service in Montana for $1.9 million, which was less than the 2006 purchase price, McCaskill spokesman Trevor Kincaid said. St. Louis County listed the airplane's value at $2.1 million.

McCaskill has repaid the government $88,000 she reimbursed herself for use of the plane on official and political travel and has paid $287,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest to St. Louis County. A complaint filed by Republicans with the Senate Ethics Committee has also been dismissed.

The questions about the airplane were particularly sticky for McCaskill, a former prosecutor and Missouri state auditor who has been prominent in advocating for integrity in government contracting and spending.

The independent political blog The Cook Report rates the Missouri Senate race a "tossup" for the 2012 election that could decide whether Democrats retain a majority in the U.S. Senate. Republicans need to gain at least three seats to take a majority of the chamber and McCaskill is one incumbent they are targeting.

A Public Policy Poll taken last month showed McCaskill "extremely vulnerable," said Dean Debnam, president of the Missouri-based progressive polling company. "But it bodes well for her that even at a low time for her party she's running slightly ahead of the opposition."

McCaskill's personal worth, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is somewhere between $15 million to $27 million, due largely to the fortune of her husband, who made his money in the affordable housing industry.

(Editing by David Bailey and Greg McCune)