Missouri GOP files ethics complaint against Sen. McCaskill

The Republican party of Missouri has called for an investigation into Sen. Claire McCaskill's use of a personal airplane following reports by Politico that she used taxpayer funds to cover costs associated with travel on the aircraft.

"The Missouri Republican party respectfully requests that you begin an investigation into Senator Claire McCaskill's (D-MO) apparent violation of Senate Rules 37 and her misuse of taxpayer dollars for political purposes," the Missouri GOP's executive director Lloyd Smith wrote in a letter (PDF) dated Monday to the Senate Ethics Committee.

Politico writers Scott Wong and John Bresnahan reported last week that McCaskill, who is up for re-election in 2012, spent nearly $76,000 in public funds over several years for flights on a charter plane she co-owns with her husband and other investors. The payments raised questions about whether the senator and her husband were partially subsidizing their plane with taxpayer dollars.

Following the report, McCaskill's team adamantly denied any ethics violations and announced the senator would give $88,000 to the Treasury Department to cover all costs associated with the flights.

But the scandal has offered new ammunition to Missouri Republicans, who have been asking for years for the senator and her husband, St. Louis businessman Joe Shepard, to be more transparent about their business dealings.

"This serious error would not have been corrected if the press did not happen upon it," the state party announced on its website following Politico's coverage. "McCaskill was in serious violation of Congressional ethics rules for more than 4 years, and she only returned the money after she was caught billing trips to taxpayers."

Another element to this story is also offering the GOP some ammunition--McCaskill, a longtime reformer of the Senate, just recently proposed reforms to crack down on congressional travel in an effort to make senators more accountable and reduce wasteful spending.

Smith quoted McCaskill herself in his letter to the ethics committee:

Nothing that irritates Americans more than the fact that some members of Congress think they are entitled to their own set of rules. And it's true--too many people in Washington live in an alternate reality. It's time for that to stop.

Republicans are eager to challenge McCaskill on this issue. She's up for re-election in 2012 and has made no secret of the tough odds before her in a conservative-leaning state. Amid the plane controversy, Republican Rep. Todd Akin disclosed he hasn't ruled out a challenge. Several Republicans have already entered the fray.

(Photo of McCaskill: Alex Brandon/AP)