My take on Doyle’s travel reports

On the Fourth of July, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Governor Jim Doyle and his staff failed to properly account for 145 travel expenses over two years, including a $5,200 business-class flight to Ireland and a $654-a-night stay in a London hotel. What’s more, the MJS reported that nearly three-fourths of the time in 2007 and 2008, Doyle and his staff didn’t supply receipts as required under state travel policy. Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton and her staff weren’t much better, failing to provide receipts one-third of the time during the same period. When the story first broke, I refrained from writing about it – not because it wasn’t newsworthy, and not because Jim Doyle is a Democrat – but because I wanted more time to really digest the story. Having had a few weeks to ponder the charges leveled against Gov. Doyle, his staff, and Lt. Gov. Lawton and her staff, I can now say I’m mad as hell (pardon the language) about this situation, and I’ll tell you why.

As someone who falls under the same travel voucher system as the governor, I know all too well that a failure to properly document travel expenses is a big problem, especially if I want to get properly reimbursed for those expenses. I’m expected to account for each mile for which I’m asking to be reimbursed, and I’m expected to provide receipts for any expenses (hotel, parking, meals, etc.) that I may incur while traveling on state business.

No receipt? No problem….I just won’t get reimbursed.

I’ve never been provided with a state-issued credit card, as is the case with Gov. Doyle and his staff, but the fact that they were unwilling to provide receipts for all expenses, as is required by law, is simply galling. What’s even more galling is the assertion by Gov. Doyle’s chief legal counsel that the governor’s process of documenting travel adheres to the policy’s intent, if not to the letter of the policy. That’s an absolutely stunning statement, and I’m willing to bet if I tried that argument with my supervisor, I’d get laughed right out of her office.

Democrat or not, Gov. Doyle needs to follow the letter of the state’s travel and credit card policy, not just what he feels the intent of the policy might be; after all, he should be setting a positive example for each and every employee of the State of Wisconsin.


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12 thoughts on “My take on Doyle’s travel reports

  1. I would like to know what Doyle was doing in Ireland and London..and why do we have to pay for it???

  2. There is a long history of Wisconsin’s top executives abusing state-funded travel. Remember the flap over Scott McCallum taking a state plane to Janesville rather than driving? He was just doing what Tommy Thompson had done for years with no one pointing fingers. I suspect that Doyle got accustomed to using a state car without bothering to document and reimburse his personal mileage while he was AG, because his successor certainly thought she could do so (and also let her husband use the state car and gas it up with the state credit card).

    McCallum was voted out of office because he was a tone-deaf politician who was left holding the bag when the economy collapsed; the travel abuse was a source of ridicule, but it wasn’t the reason the voters punished him. Likewise, Lautenschlager faced and lost a primary challenge because her (extremely) drunk driving and attempt to bully the arresting officer were a major embarrassment for Wisconsin’s Top Cop. She was never really taken to task for using the state car to commute to her home, nor for damaging it on a previous occasion and having it repaired at state expense, nor for allowing her husband to take it to the gas station (and who knows where else).

    I predict that Doyle will survive this scandal, because it is really nothing new, and Wisconsin voters have demonstrated in the past that they really don’t care about this sort of thing. Yes, state employees are likely to be pissed, but how many of them are likely to vote for Mark Neumann (or Scott Walker) instead?

    1. OJ, I don’t doubt Gov. Doyle will survive the scandal; I just think it’s a shame he can’t be bothered to abide by the same policy as every other state employee. Governor or not, he doesn’t have the right to do as he pleases, as long as he thinks he’s within the intent of a policy.

  3. To date, only five legislators have said anything about this. And if I recall, they weren’t asking for heads to roll, only a hearing to look into the travel policy and the travel habits of all elected officials. Seems reasonable to me.

    What do you think? Should the Dems at least hold hearings, or at the very least, express some frustration? Your candor on this issue should be the rule, not the exception.

    1. Publius, I think there should be a hearing into this, but the hearing shouldn’t just focus on Gov. Doyle. I’m willing to bet this abuse of the state’s credit card and travel voucher policy extends far beyond Gov. Doyle’s office.

      Ultimately, I don’t think there will be hearings, because I’m willing to bet those hearings would hit a little too close to home for some legislators.

  4. Hmmm, I think that Wisconsin needs to fix its expense policy for traveling overseas and for executive accounting of expenses. There is no question in my mind that the Governor ( and Lt. Governor) should be permitted to fly first class on all flights over 5 hours in duration. This is a reasonable perk for the position.
    It is also reasonable that the Governor should not have to provide secondary receipts for charges to his credit card that do not exceed $100 per occurrence or, when traveling, $400 per day. (The primary receipt is the credit card bill every month.)A monthly reconciliation of charges should occur and become part of the official record.
    Who travels with the Governor? Is he permitted an aide or assistant to manage his schedule and accomodations? Some thought might be given to that, too.

    It is no wonder that lobbyists have such influence if we treat the Governor of the State like a middle manager instead of a Chief Executive.

    RHIP to all of the ex-military people who read this blog.Don’t you agree?

  5. Blue,
    I’m not onboard with the mid manager/CEO analogy of Doyle or Governors in general. In the work place, the CEO can be considered the guy who writes the checks and signs yours. That is not the case here. The Governor works for US!!! We pay him so he needs to reconcile ALL expenses with the finance department/voters/money supply. Doyle is an elected public servant that needs to be held accountable, he’s not a CEO of anything.

    The CEO of the company where I work IS required to provide ALL receipts. Company policy is company policy.

  6. There is a tax impact related to the business expenses when the CEO of a company does this. There is also the oversight by the Board of Directors to determine the value of the expense related to the ongoing commerce of the company. I am not convinced that the same conditions apply to a Governor.

    However, I agree that his expenses need to be public and I agree that they need to be reconciled. At issue is how much receipt-gathering and documenting does a Governor have to do? If the people of Wisconsin trust him to improve the state, can they trust him to spend $400/day wisely when he travels? For a guy who brings in millions of $$ in campaign finances from lobbyists, friends, collaborators, do you really need an individual receipt for two Starbucks lattes?

    Visibility of his expenses is one issue but receipts for minor expenses is another.

    145 items on a credit card bill without corresponding receipts is a bogus issue. First class travel overseas is another bogus issue. Show me some malfeasance like gifts for girl friends, tips for pole dancers, etc. and I might get on board with

  7. (sorry, fingers moving too fast and out of control)
    ..scrutiny, but that is a different issue than secondary receipts for credit card expenses.

    I may be in the minority on this issue but it does make me wonder if citizens are ‘penny wise and deficit foolish’.

    It also makes me wonder why would anyone would want to be a Governor if you have more handcuffs than help in getting work done.

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