INDIANAPOLIS – As 2016 nears, Gov. Mike Pence is traveling less at state expense and more on the wings of his campaign donors – a nod to the delicate balance between governing and campaigning
Tens of thousands of state dollars have been spent transporting him from one corner of Indiana to another in a chartered plane.
Then he hops on commercial flights to drum up fundraising and name recognition in Washington, D.C., New York, Florida and others as he considers a possible presidential bid alongside running for re-election as governor.
I think everyone is wondering what the governor’s plans are, said Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody. The more time he is in other states the less time he is here focusing on Indiana. What are his plans?
According to state records, Pence traveled by air 40 times in 2013 compared with only 14 trips at state expense during the first six months of 2014.
In 2013, the governor mostly used a state plane that he later sold in a cost-cutting measure. The total costs were almost $70,000.
Starting this year, Pence is now largely using privately chartered planes for his state travel. So far those costs are about $57,000.
Several of these trips around the state have been to stump for his HIP 2.0 health care proposal. He also had news conferences on road repairs and prekindergarten; received a Right to Life award; keynoted several luncheons and attended the National Governors’ Association meeting. The Indiana Economic Development Foundation has also paid for several overseas economic development trips but the foundation is funded through private donations.
On the campaign side, costs for air transportation were paid 13 times in all of 2013, costing $18,210. This year through June 10, 12 trips were paid for by the campaign, totaling $14,000.
Eight of those trips in 2013 and five so far this year involved Pence directly. Other times the tickets were for campaign staffers or other key GOP workers.
And some of Pence’s campaign travel is in the form of in-kind donations. This includes a $4,600 plane trip in January from Koch Industries – a company run by Republican heavy-hitters Charles and David Koch.
Pence, first lady Karen Pence and security used the Koch plane to go to a private dinner with wealthy donors in Palm Beach, Florida.
An example of the interplay between state and campaign is last week’s trip to Washington, D.C., where Pence met with federal officials about an expanded health care program, caught up with state congressional leaders and appeared on a news show criticizing President Barack Obama on immigration policy.
But state taxpayers didn’t pick up the cost.
The trip was initially planned for political purposes – such as networking or fundraising – so the governor’s campaign apparatus paid for the trip even after official meetings were added related to his duties as governor.
We choose to err on the side of caution, said Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault.
She said Pence traveled widely in the state in his first year in office, introducing himself and working to accomplish some big initiatives in that first session that he wanted to talk about with Hoosiers.
After that initial push, he has been more strategic in his travel, which accounts for the difference from last year to this year, Denault said. And we do drive when we can – and sometimes when weather forces us to.
Pence has been rumored as a long shot for the GOP presidential nomination, and is keeping his options open while running for re-election.
His campaign trips this year include to Florida, New York and D.C. several times.
Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW, said that a lot of Pence’s out-of-state campaign travel is to states with lots of electors; states with lots of potential donors.
But he also acknowledged that governors around the nation are taking on more of a role for chief economic development officer so traveling extensively is not unusual.
In order to avoid the appearance of impropriety he is probably being more careful, Downs said.