Scott Walker's many trips need more transparency

Wisconsin State Journal, Editorial

 

 

Gov. Scott Walker and all future governors deserve around-the-clock security at taxpayer expense, regardless of where they are. The threat of violence to political leaders is real and demands caution.

 

 
At the same time, Wisconsin taxpayers deserve a detailed and timely accounting of security and travel costs, especially when the governor goes out of state and overseas.
 
Neatly separating official state business with private campaign travel can be difficult. The governor might attend a national conference, for example, and during the same trip host a private campaign fundraiser.
 
State officials should be able to calculate that cost in a fair and prompt way, highlighting the percentage and amount of travel expenses billed to the public.
 
So far, that’s been lacking, prompting Democrats this week to propose legislation requiring monthly reporting of travel itineraries and reimbursement. Despite its partisan overtones, the bill deserves support, though some changes are needed.
 
Democrats hope to stoke disapproval of the Republican governor for regularly being out of state as he runs for president. But if a Democratic governor were seeking the presidency, they’d be silent, and Republicans would question the cost.
 
Wisconsin’s governor — no matter which political party he or she represents — shouldn’t be penalized for building a national profile with a credible shot at winning the White House. Yet the governor should be forthcoming when spending public dollars.
 
The Walker campaign says it is picking up the cost of his travel, except for salaries and benefits of security personnel, which would be provided regardless. That’s reasonable. So is public payment for trade missions, assuming they don’t include campaign events.
 
Trade missions may double as a chance for the governor to improve his foreign policy experience, which is limited. But that alone shouldn’t require his campaign to cover the cost if the larger goal is boosting Wisconsin exports.
 
Unfortunately, Walker has been slow to release details of his far-flung trips.
 
Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, and Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, want all state officials running for or contemplating running for Congress or president to fill out a monthly form with the Government Accountability Board stating the purpose and cost of travel.
 
That’s a good idea, though the form should be relatively simple to complete and file online. The Democrats are right that the public shouldn’t have to wait for months for information on trips and expenses. Walker spent $2.3 million in security costs last year. Details on several international trips this year are pending.
 
Hansen and Shankland’s proposal for a $500-per-day penalty for failing to reimburse a public travel expense within 30 days seems excessive, given the chaotic nature of presidential bids. The goal should be transparency, not punishment.
 
Yet requiring regular and detailed expense reports is a standard business practice Wisconsin should responsibly adopt.