- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill was a top target of Republicans in 2012 even before a messy scandal expanded this week over her use of a private airplane.

Now the GOP campaign machine has kicked into overdrive in its push to win back the seat, which could be key in the party’s effort to recapture the Senate after next year’s elections.

The senator and her husband agreed Monday to pay more than $287,000 in overdue property taxes on a private airplane she used for official business. The revelation comes after news broke earlier this month that she had used the aircraft for a political trip.

Mrs. McCaskill, who faces re-election next year, has taken responsibility for the failure to pay personal property taxes from 2007 to 2010, insisting it was an unintentional oversight and that monthly sales taxes have been paid on the plane for several years.

The senator said she discovered the problem after reviewing the plane’s records. She found that the airplane was not declared and that no personal property tax bill was sent from St. Louis County, where the plane is housed.

Mrs. McCaskill, a former state auditor who has pushed for greater government transparency, has vowed to sell the aircraft.

“I have convinced my husband to sell the damn plane,” the senator said during a telephone conference call with reporters Monday. “I can tell you I will not be setting foot on the plane ever again.”

Mrs. McCaskill’s acknowledgment Monday was the latest of several politically embarrassing revelations about her use of private airplanes. She previously paid the U.S. Treasury $88,000 to cover flight costs.

She also has acknowledged she took a political trip in her private plane that her office mistakenly billed to taxpayers.

The use of chartered flights by federal lawmakers is common, but the use of an airplane that is owned by a company the family of a lawmaker holds a stake in is unusual. Senate rules do not specify whether senators can be reimbursed for use of a personal aircraft for official use.

Republicans say the senator’s mea culpa rings hollow.

“This is the third time in less than two weeks that she’s had to change her story about her private plane, and she only admitted any of her wrongdoing once she got caught by the media,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Jesmer.

“Millionaire Claire McCaskill wants to simply write yet another big check and hope people won’t ask any more questions.”

The GOP also has accused Mrs. McCaskill of hiding assets in a Delaware shell company to avoid pay paying taxes, and have demanded she publicly release tax records.

“It’s high time for McCaskill to finally live up to the same standards of transparency and accountability that she demands of others by immediately releasing her shell company tax records,” Mr. Jesmer said.

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