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Legislative Auditor: Dayton violated state law for political use of state plane

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Gov. Mark Dayton broke state law when he brought a campaign staffer along for a 2012 trip on the state plane to promote DFL candidates, according to a report from Minnesota's legislative auditor.

The report said, "Since the campaign official did not travel with the Governor to participate in state government business, it was a violation of state law and MnDOT policy for the campaign official to travel on the state airplane."

The auditor's report suggests that Minnesota may want to clarify the law about political use of the plane, according to a report in the Star Tribune.

The auditor's report said the state has not established a consistent standard for determining whether it is lawful for the Governor to use a state airplane to travel to political events. The report also adds if it is allowable for the Governor to use a state airplane to travel to political events, that use should be authorized in law, and the law should expressly require reimbursement from the political organization.

Politics in Minnesota reports the issue revolved around three separate trips that Dayton took using the state's airplane. Dayton flew out of St. Paul for appearances in Willmar, Brainerd and Bemidji in the run-up to the 2012 election.

On each of the trips Dayton combined official state business with political events. A flight from Bemidji to International Falls was made purely for political purposes, according to Politics in Minnesota. Campaign staffer Julie Hottinger traveled with Dayton on that trip, in October of 2012.

Dayton's chief of staff Tina Smith acknowledged the "governor was in error" to have Hottinger travel in the state plane. She said it would not happen again and pledged that Dayton would follow any new requirements.

Dayton's office has reimbursed the state for a prorated portion of the other trips, according to the auditor's report.

The Star Tribune reports Smith said unless instructed otherwise Dayton would continue to use the state plane when he combines political and official travel and have his campaign repay the state on a prorated basis.

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