In the Spotlight

News & Features
Ventura Should Reimburse State, Says Auditor
By Laura McCallum
July 30, 1999
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

The legislative auditor says governors should reimburse the state when their private business dealings create extra costs for the state. The audit was prompted by Governor Ventura's book tour, which cost taxpayers $16,000 in travel costs for three State Patrol troopers and a communications staffer. A legislator who requested the audit says lawmakers will debate the matter next session. Minnesota Public Radio's Laura McCallum reports:

LEGISLATIVE AUDITOR Jim Nobles says Governor Ventura or his book publisher SHOULD have reimbursed the state for the extra costs when he promoted his autobiography on the East and West Coasts. Nobles says while the governor broke no laws, in his words, "there is more to good government than legalities." Nobles says he recognizes that Ventura needs more security than previous governors because of his celebrity status, but he's troubled that the state could pay out even more money because the governor is involved in money-making ventures.

Nobles: The door's wide open - we've paid $16,000, and we'll undoubtedly pay a lot more as time goes on. And we are kind of waving the yellow flag of caution to the legislature in saying, do you want this door to be wide open, or do you want to put some limitations on the costs the state can incur because the Governor is involved in private money-making activities?

Ventura's spokesman - John Wodele - questions why the legislative auditor is making policy recommendations. He says Minnesotans want their high-profile governor protected at all times, regardless of whether he's on personal or state time. Wodele says lawmakers will find that's a much simpler policy than trying to distinguish between a business event and a situation where security coverage is appropriate. He says that's why the governor didn't reimburse the state for the book-tour costs.

Wodele: If you take a specific incident . . . in using the book tour as an example and you say, you know, I can't handle this anymore - I'm just gonna pay the $16,000 and move on. But then what about the next time? Who's gonna make these decisions? When he is at home, and is walking to his broker's office or driving to his broker's office to discuss his financial affairs, then does he separate out that hour and reimburse? I mean, it could just get ridiculous!

But the legislator who first requested the audit - Republican State Representative Carol Molnau of Chaska - says the governor has made it clear when he's on private business:

Molnau: In his book tour, for instance, he said, "I'm taking vacation time to do my personal business." I mean, he told us that.

Molnau chairs the House transportation finance committee, which funds state security, and says her committee may be the logical place to start the debate next session. She says she's not contesting the state's obligation to protect the governor, simply the extra travel costs.

Molnau: The cost of protecting the governor whether he's here or somewhere else, the pay for those folks or their wages, is consistent. The added cost, however, in this case, in the fact that they needed to travel because of his PERSONAL business, not any other public appearance for being governor . . . really says then that those costs should be paid for and the responsibility of the governor and his personal business.

Molnau has been at odds with thegovernor in the past - in particular, over funding for light-rail transit - but insists her concern over the extra security costs is NOT personal. She received an angry message from first lady Terry Ventura over the legislative audit, and says the governor and his wife apparently DID take the audit as a personal attack. She says she talked to the governor and stressed that the legislative auditor scrutinizes ALL state agencies, not just his office.