For the last few weeks, the campaign of Pat Anderson, the Republican candidate for state auditor, has slammed DFL incumbent Rebecca Otto for expenses incurred by her office for four work-related conferences. Today, the Otto campaign struck back with documents showing that Anderson spent a similar amount when she held the office from 2003-2007, despite the fact that Anderson recently told reporters that she only attended one conference paid for by the state while holding the position.
Otto was the target of a slew of data requests from conservative and Republican groups in June and July. It was from information acquired by the Minnesota Republican Party that her Republican opponent brought up her office’s spending habits, leading with the extravagant prices of hotel rooms for conferences related to administration of the state pension system.
When the Republican Party introduced the information that Otto’s office spent thousands of dollars attending training conventions, no one pretended Otto violated any laws. Instead, Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton made the argument that Otto was wasting money, and that Anderson would be a better steward for taxpayers:
“Rebecca Otto owes the taxpayers of Minnesota an apology. At a time when Minnesota families are working longer and harder than ever to make their dollar go further, Otto and one of her political cronies have been spending lavishly on fancy hotels and expensive meals all over the country.”
Otto spent about $3,840.02 on hotels alone, according to records released by the Republican Party of Minnesota and the Otto campaign (see the breakdown at the bottom of the page). Anderson took the issue a step further when she told reporters at a press conference on July 20 that only one conference had been billed to the state when she was auditor.
Enter the Otto campaign, who did their own distributed a DFL Data Practice Act request for information about Anderson’s spending habits when she was in office (that amazingly, Otto’s office didn’t condemn as partisan). They turned up the fact that Anderson had attended three separate conferences when she was state auditor. The cost of just Anderson’s hotels, which Anderson had slammed Otto for, came in at $3,805.06.
Here’s the Otto campaign’s Michael Gabiou this morning:
“The records show that Anderson did not pay for these trips out of her pocket. Anderson’s PERA-related travel cost Minnesota taxpayers an estimated $7,400 including conference fees, airfare, luxury hotel accommodations of up to $388 per night, more expensive than any hotel Otto stayed at.”
The race for state auditor has been more highly politicized than usual constitutional office races. The back-and-forth between these candidates trying to spin the data is how a relative non-issue, the fact that some of these constitutional offices regularly attend training conferences, becomes an issue. The Otto campaign’s Gabiou told the Minnesota Independent that the campaign’s goal was to focus the race back on real issues, rather than political grandstanding. Representatives of the Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment. For this week, the fiery race ends with the Otto campaign being able to frame Anderson’s statement as a falsehood, putting her honesty at doubt.
Update: The Minnesota Independent received the full tape of Anderson’s press conference. The clip above is mostly accurate. In Anderson’s speech at the press conference, she said :”During my tenure as state auditor, I averaged zero most years, to one conference per year.” But when asked by a reporter whether she ever attended an out-of-state conference, she replied: “I did, I think, I actually pulled my records from Management and Budget, and when I was state auditor there was one conference that was billed to the office.”
Otto hotel costs (According to data released by Republican Party of Minnesota.) 6/18/-6/20/2007 Sheraton Chicago $736.20 9/16/-9/18/2007 Sheraton New Orleans $500.94 11/2-11/4/2007 Anaheim Marriott $366.62 5/15/-5/17/2008 Hilton New Orleans Riverside $568.74 Total: $2,172.56
Other Otto staff
6/18/-6/22/2007 Sheraton Chicago $2,070.30 $597.78 (The Otto campaign contends that the Republican Party factored in money that was reimbursed for the elected member of PERA Trustee Louise Olson. The Republican Party hasn’t yet made the numbers available or responded to requests for comment.)
9/16/-9/18/2007 Sheraton New Orleans $500.94
5/15/-5/17/2008 Hilton New Orleans Riverside $568.74
Anderson hotel conference costs
(according to data released by the Otto campaign. I’ve requested the original documents to confirm these are accurate. The campaign is in the process of complying.)
9/13-9/16/2003 Hilton San Diego Resort and other expenses $1691.50
7/27/-8/10/2005 Hilton Anchorage $950.40
8/5-8/9/2006 Lowes Coronado Bay Resort $1163.16