Thursday, October 9, 2003

State Dems want Fletcher to pay for Bush's visit

Critics say taxpayers shouldn't underwrite GOP fund-raiser

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. - State Democrats say Republican Ernie Fletcher should reimburse taxpayers for President Bush's trip to Lexington today to raise money for the GOP and its gubernatorial nominee - a trip they estimate will cost more than $170,000.

And Democrats said Fletcher is not following his 1999 vote for a proposal that would have required candidates to pay the full cost of the presidential plane, Air Force One, when using it for political purposes.

"When the president of the United States comes to Kentucky solely for political fund-raising purposes, I don't believe the taxpayers should foot that bill," said state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, a Hazard Democrat.

Bush is scheduled to come to Lexington to attend a Fletcher fund-raiser. Proceeds will also go to the state Republican party. Those who contribute $10,000 can get a "photo opportunity" with the president and Fletcher.

For $1,000, contributors can get preferred seating and a program listing, while $500 donors get a listing.

Mongiardo, the state Democratic Party's vice chairman, said Fletcher should pay the full cost of Bush's visit since it is intended to boost the 6th District congressman's campaign.

Fletcher spokesman Wes Irvin issued a brief statement and referred calls on the matter to the state Republican Party.

"The Fletcher For Governor campaign and Republican Party of Kentucky are reimbursing the White House according to established travel procedures and policy," Irvin said in the statement. "Congressman Fletcher's vote was in response to family members of a past administration using government aircraft to travel and campaign for office."

Kentuckians should be glad when the president visits, said Scott Jennings, a senior political adviser for the state Republican Party. The measure Fletcher voted for was aimed at U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, a New York Democrat, in response to her using the plane during her bid for Senate, Jennings said.

"When the president of the United States comes to Kentucky - regardless of party - we should be honored that they're here," Jennings said.

Party officials and the Fletcher campaign use a formula to determine their share of the presidential bill, Jennings said.

"We're going to continue to use that formula," he said.

Still, not paying the total cost of the trip is tantamount to "welfare for politicians," Mongiardo said.

The cost for police overtime and other expenses won't be determined until after the president's visit, Lexington Police Maj. Kevin Sutton said.

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