By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s trip to China and Great Britain last month cost more than $125,000 in taxpayer money, nearly $100,000 of it in airfares, according to documents obtained by Watchdog.org.
The eight-day trade mission included visits to two Chinese companies: Tranlin Paper Co., which previously announced plans to build a $2 billion paper and fertilizer plant in Chesterfield County, and a firm not identified in the documents Watchdog received through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“The name of the second company is being withheld as disclosure of the name of the company at this time would adversely affect the commonwealth’s financial interest,” said Carlos Hopkins, who handles FOIA requests for the governor’s general counsel office.
This was McAuliffe’s first official overseas trade mission.
Accompanying him were his wife, Dorothy; Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones; Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore; and representatives of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Virginia Tourism Corp., and the Virginia Department of Agricultural Services, according to the governor’s office.
Following state government policy, a Virginia State Police Executive Protective Unit of undetermined size traveled with McAuliffe.
“We are prohibited from releasing how many total State Police personnel are assigned,” said Corrine Geller, VSP spokeswoman.
Members of the security detail dined with the governor and flew with the entourage on commercial flights, Geller said.
Airfares, including a three-day trip to the Farnborough International Air Show in England, totaled $99,574.37.
Non-travel costs for the China trip — including lodging, meals and visas — totaled $25,473.66.
The delegation made stops in Beijing, Shanghai and Jinan. Records listed $14,000 in expenditures in Shanghai, where Virginia has a foreign trade office.
On-ground costs in Britain were not included.
The governor’s office did not disclose results or details from the China leg of the trip, but announced possible European trade prospects.
McAuliffe, Haymore and other Virginia officials met with representatives of electric utilities purchasing Virginia wood pellets “in hopes of growing existing export deals and establishing new trade relationships,” a statement said.
“They also met with British members of Parliament and other senior government leaders who are responsible for establishing standards for renewable fuels utilized in power generation,” the statement said.
“Creating jobs, growing Virginia’s economy and finding new markets for our product are my top priorities,” McAuliffe said prior to the trip.
McAuliffe’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, led a delegation to China, South Korea and Japan in 2011. The estimated cost for that 11-day trip was $278,000.
Stephen Farnsworth, political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, said global trade missions have bipartisan support.
“(Politicians) are going to invest their time and taxpayers’ money in competition with other countries and other states,” he said. “A lot of international companies are looking for a beachhead here.”
Mike Thompson, president of the nonpartisan Thomas Jefferson Institute, sounded a cautionary note.
“All of these trips need to be transparent to assure taxpayers who are paying for these activities that they’re not just junkets.”
Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for Watchdog.org and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward