At a Monday press conference, the liberal advocacy organization One Wisconsin Now released details from a database it has compiled of flights taken by Gov. Scott Walker on a state-owned plane.
The database includes 869 taken between September 2015 and April 2018, costing a total of $818,000. OWN director Scot Ross said the records reveal a governor out of touch with average Wisconsinites and willing to waste taxpayer money for personal convenience.
Ross and his research assistants highlighted what they see as the most troubling flights Walker has taken, including those covering distances less than 30 miles.
In one instance, Walker flew from Appleton to Green Bay, a 24-mile trip. Another time, he flew from Madison to Baraboo, a 34-mile trip. Ross said he finds the flights wasteful given that riding in a state car likely would have been cheaper.
"The most important resource in a political campaign is the principal's time, so him not having to dally with us commoners on the streets of Wisconsin and instead fly high above on essentially a private jet is a way to maximize his time for political considerations," Ross said.
Ross, who presented the highlights of the data to reporters in the form of a parody in-flight magazine, framed Walker's use of the jet as an attempt to repair poor approval ratings following his failed presidential bid, which he ended on Sept. 21, 2015.
Walker campaign spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg argued that Walker's use of the state plane demonstrates his "unparalleled level of commitment" to meeting with his constituents throughout the state.
"This attack is a gross mischaracterization of Governor Walker's dedication to visiting with the people of Wisconsin," Hasenberg said. "From visiting communities recovering from disasters, to attending funerals of fallen officers and public officials, to discussing the positive things getting done throughout the state, Governor Walker has shown he stands ready to support Wisconsin and our citizens at any time."
OWN research director Joanna Beilman-Dulin said throughout the three-year time span, data showed Walker only reimbursed the state for around $4,000 in travel expenses.
Beilman-Dulin acknowledged that while many of the flight expenses may indeed be legitimate uses of taxpayer money, some of the flights appear to have been made for personal benefit while others appeared wasteful. She said OWN used posts on Walker's social media accounts and official press releases to determine the purpose of each trip.
She highlighted two instances, one on May 9, 2017, in which Walker flew with his wife to a "Walk with Walker" event in West Bend before continuing on to other destinations in the state. The other was on Feb. 6, 2016, when Walker ordered the plane to fly to Wauwatosa to pick him up from a funeral and take him to a bill-signing event at a National Rifle Association convention in Central Wisconsin.
Asked how Walker's spending compared to former Governor Jim Doyle, Ross said the fact that Doyle sold 8 state planes during his tenure speaks for itself. Ross also declined to set a definitive number of miles that would define a wasteful use of the state plane, but said the OWN website lists flights by mileage.
Ross contrasted the heavy use of the state plane with Walker's brown-bag social media presence.
"The fact is, this is not the guy from 2009 who rode around in his 1998 Saturn talking about ham sandwiches," Ross said.