LOUISVILLE -- Shortly after Gov. Matt Bevin celebrated a jobs announcement in Hazard last week, the state-owned plane frequently used to transport the governor took off from the nearby London-Corbin Airport and landed in Atlanta.
More than four hours later, the aircraft departed Atlanta and landed back at the Capital City Airport in Frankfort just before 10 p.m.
Asked about the purpose of that trip to Atlanta -- in addition to half a dozen other out-of-state trips where the plane was used this summer -- spokespersons for the governor's office and Bevin's campaign declined to comment.
According to flight-tracking records from FlightAware, the Beechcraft King Air plane owned by the Kentucky State Police has landed in nine different states from June through the Atlanta trip last Wednesday -- including a trip to the Alabama coast and Miami a week earlier.
Governors of Kentucky have not been legally required to provide their daily schedule since a Kentucky Court of Appeals ruling in 1995 found that such a schedule was a "preliminary" document subject to change and therefore exempt from disclosure under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
The use of state-owned aircraft for purposes unrelated to a governor's official duties -- such as attending political campaign events like fundraisers -- is also not legally prohibited, though Bevin and former Gov. Steve Beshear typically had their campaign or state party organization reimburse the state for the costs of such flights in the past.
The state police have not yet returned an open records request filed by The Courier Journal for the governor's flight records since June and any reimbursements made for those flights.
However, state police records obtained by The Courier Journal for the governor's flight to West Virginia on July 24 show it had a total cost of $1,757, while his flights to Kenosha, Wisconsin, Chicago and back to Kentucky on July 31 cost $2,775. These flights were billed at $925 per hour.
If Bevin's campaign reimburses the state for any of the governor's flights this summer, it would show up in the campaign's report filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance in October. Bevin is facing Democrat Andy Beshear, the state's attorney general, in the November election.
A spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky did not return an emailed question asking if the party has reimbursed the state for any of the flights this summer or if it plans to do so.
Bevin's flight to West Virginia -- which included as passengers state Senate President Robert Stivers and Sen. Ralph Alvarado, the governor's running mate -- was presumably to attend a fundraiser for the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump, where Bevin tweeted a photo of himself with the president.
The purpose of the governor's trip to Wisconsin and Chicago is not known. That afternoon, the official Facebook account of the governor posted a video of Bevin expressing support for the former Blackjewel coal miners protesting in Harlan County.
While Bevin's office and campaign have declined to explain the purpose of the Aug. 28 flights to Alabama and Miami -- or even if the governor was on the plane -- the Facebook page of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority posted a photo of Bevin speaking at its conference that morning. Bevin is the chairman of the authority, a nonprofit assisting the man-made waterway connecting a route from Kentucky to the Gulf of Mexico.
The state police plane left that afternoon for Miami, heading back to Kentucky that same evening. Bevin spent much of the next day campaigning across Kentucky with Donald Trump Jr.
The same plane flew to the Tri-Cities Airport in northeastern Tennessee on Aug. 11, heading back to Kentucky nearly four hours later. It also flew to Nashville, Tennessee, on Friday, July 26, returning to Kentucky the following Tuesday, July 30.
There is no public record of Bevin being in Tennessee in either of those time frames.
The plane flew to Springfield, Ohio, on the morning of June 17, leaving 2 1/2 hours later for a small airport just outside Kansas City. After landing in Kansas at 3:30 p.m., the plane took off half an hour later to fly to Kentucky.
There is no public record of Bevin being in either Ohio or Kansas on that date.
Asked about Bevin's out-of-state flights this summer, the Kentucky Democratic Party issued a statement calling for the governor to reveal the purpose of those trips.
"Matt Bevin is taking secretive flights on taxpayer-owned state airplanes to meet with special interests all over the country, while he continues to bully teachers, rip away health care, and leave the paychecks of coal miners unprotected here in Kentucky," party spokeswoman Marisa McNee said. "Matt Bevin owes the public an immediate explanation for why he refuses to say what he is doing and where he is going on these cross-country flights on taxpayer-funded planes. He also needs to reimburse taxpayers for every penny he's spent for his own political use."
GOP groups have paid for Bevin
While any reimbursements to the state for the use of the plane this summer and the next month may not be public knowledge until the next election finance report filing deadline in October, state and federal databases show the state has been reimbursed nearly $200,000 for Bevin's travel through his first 3 1/2 years as governor.
The Republican Party of Kentucky and the Republican Governors Association have picked up the tab for 99% of reimbursements to the Kentucky treasurer for travel from 2016 to 2018, with the state party paying $98,089 and the national organization dedicated to electing and supporting Republican governors paying $75,487.
According to the midyear filings in 2019 by these two groups, only the governors association had reimbursed the state for travel by paying $3,145 in March.
However, Bevin's 2019 campaign for governor has now stepped in to pick up these costs, as its post-primary election finance report showed 14 payments to the state for travel expenses totaling $19,421 in May and June.
Bevin's remaining 2015 campaign committee made only limited reimbursements to the state for air travel in the previous years, with three payments totaling less than $600.
Former Gov. Steve Beshear had his campaign and the Kentucky Democratic Party reimburse the state for the personal or political use of the state aircraft, though an IRS database does not show any payments from the Democratic Governors Association.
A review of the Federal Election Commission and Kentucky election finance databases show Beshear's campaign and the Kentucky Democratic Party combined to pay the state for more than $280,000 of the governor's air travel during his eight years in office.
During his first four-year term, the Kentucky Democratic Party reimbursed the state for more than $77,000 for such travel, with Beshear's campaign chipping in more than $35,000.
Such spending increased during Beshear's second term, with the state party picking up all of these reimbursements, totaling more than $166,000. More than 43% of these reimbursements in Beshear's second term occurred during 2015, his last year in office.
Republicans were often critical of Beshear's use of the state-owned planes for personal and political purposes during his two terms.
In 2011, Scott Jennings, then the spokesman for Republican gubernatorial nominee David Williams and now a frequent Courier Journal columnist, said donors to the Kentucky Democratic Party would be surprised to learn their money was "being used to subsidize the vacation plans of multimillionaires."
After Beshear used a state plane to travel to New Orleans twice in 2012 to attend the SEC Tournament, NCAA Final Four and political fundraisers -- both trips reimbursed by the party -- then-state Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson said the governor should make a detailed public agenda of his political activities in the city.
The Republican chairman added at the time that "all this makes one wonder if they are using political activities as a ruse to not have to have the governor report this as a gift on his income taxes."
Bevin has frequently traveled to Washington, D.C., during his first term, meeting with White House officials or political organizations. He also has visited Colorado multiple times, including to attend events hosted by the Koch political network.
In July, Bevin attended a Republican Governors Association event at a resort in Colorado Springs, where he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence.