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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Rush’s Ruse in Missouri

In a campaign-funded radio ad to Missouri voters, Rush Limbaugh claimed the state’s lieutenant governor “banned taxpayer-funded travel for politicians” when he led the state Senate. Not really.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who is Limbaugh’s friend, spearheaded a moratorium on paying travel expenses for state senators, not all “politicians.” The ban affected only out-of-state travel and failed to affect taxpayer-funded travel within Missouri, which is a far greater cost.

Furthermore, the ban expired after one year.

Kinder’s campaign told us that he had banned out-of-state travel for politicians during his time in the Senate. It’s true that legislators’ out-of-state travel expenses plummeted under Kinder. But the expenses failed to disappear altogether. State representatives — not affected by the Senate ban — continued to spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on trips outside Missouri.

Our thanks to Michael James of Hannibal, Mo., who uploaded Limbaugh’s radio ad to our Spin Detectors page, through which we ask our readers to help us monitor political claims and campaigns across the country. James said the travel ban claim sounded “outrageous” because lawmakers often travel on official business to meetings and conferences.

Rush Helps a Friend

Kinder’s campaign paid for Limbaugh’s ad, which ran throughout July during a tough Republican primary race for the lieutenant governor.

Kinder was recently involved in a scandal regarding his own use of travel expenses as a member of the state’s executive branch. Last year, he repaid the state $54,000 in lodging expenses after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that he billed taxpayers for hundreds of nights of hotel stays to attend society balls, baseball games and political events.

The revelation played a part in Kinder scuttling his bid for governor and running for a third term as lieutenant governor instead.

Kinder won the primary on Tuesday by less than three percentage points. In November, he’ll compete against a Democratic challenger and candidates from the Libertarian and Constitution Parties.

Kinder’s Claim

We failed to find recent instances of Kinder claiming he banned taxpayer-funded travel. The biographies on his campaign website and the lieutenant governor’s webpage do not cite the effort. Ads on his YouTube page lack mention of the so-called ban.

But Kinder mentioned it during his first campaign for lieutenant governor in 2004. His biography in a Kansas City Star voters guide states: “Leading the State Senate, Peter Kinder attacked waste. He banned out-of-state taxpayer-funded travel for politicians.”

Logan Thompson, Kinder’s campaign manager, stated to us in an email that “Kinder did institute a ban on taxpayer funded out of state travel, period. Taxpayer paid junkets to anywhere outside of the state were banned when he was president pro tempore of the Senate. That ban was part of a massive restructuring of the Senate administration which saved taxpayers millions.”

Thompson’s email also stated: “The Lt. Governor considers saving taxpayers 800,000 dollars is worthy and stands by his record.”

Thompson failed to respond to our request for supporting documentation.

Thompson added in his email that Limbaugh’s ad “did not claim that legislators would not be reimbursed for fuel within their districts or to and from the state capital on official business.”

Limbaugh’s claim leaves little room for interpretation. In the ad, he states: “When he led the state Senate, Peter Kinder attacked waste. He banned taxpayer-funded travel for politicians.”

Kinder’s Rule

Kinder ascended to Senate president pro tempore in  2001. In January 2003, he proposed a year-long moratorium on paying out-of-state travel expenses for senators to reduce expenses, by as much as $80,000, in the face of a budget shortfall. State lawmakers often bill taxpayers for trips to out-of-state meetings and conferences, such as those hosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Kinder’s proposed rule required only the approval of the Senate’s Republican-controlled administration committee instead of full Senate approval. The panel voted 3-2 along party lines to approve the measure.

The new rule failed to affect taxpayer-funded travel within Missouri or privately funded trips for senators outside the state.

How Much in Savings?

We found no evidence that Kinder’s rule saved $800,000. In fact, out-of state travel expenses for both senators and representatives totaled about $250,000 in 2002, Kinder’s first full fiscal year as Senate president.

We did find a significant drop in out-of-state travel expenses. They fell to $40,000 in 2004, Kinder’s last full fiscal year. That’s a decrease of more than $200,000, or 84 percent.

And senators spent practically nothing on out-of-state travel in 2004, expensing less than $400. That’s strong evidence of Kinder’s moratorium — on senators.

State representatives, however, continued to travel outside Missouri that year, billing taxpayers nearly $40,000.

Let’s go back to Limbaugh’s claim that Kinder “banned taxpayer-funded travel for politicians.” That’s clearly not true if you look at in-state travel costs, which changed little during Kinder’s tenure and dwarfed out-of-state expenses.

Missouri lawmakers spent $1.85 million on travel within Missouri in 2002 and $1.8 million in 2004. Those figures include expenses for commercial transit, lodging, meals, and a legislative allowance.

— Ben Finley