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Plane chartered by Missouri governor

Twin-engine jet owned by News-Press & Gazette Co. that was chartered by Gov. Eric Greitens for three days in February 2017. 

JEFFERSON CITY • The private airplane that ferried Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens across the country last month is owned by a St. Joseph-based company that operates newspapers and television stations from Missouri to California.

Amid outcry from Democrats seeking details on how the political newcomer is traveling to various political events, the Post-Dispatch has learned that Greitens flew aboard a twin-engine jet owned by the News-Press & Gazette Co. for three days beginning on Feb. 24.

A top aide to the governor, a Republican, said it was happenstance that the business-class aircraft was used by Greitens as he hopped among various political events, including a stop in Las Vegas, a lunch with President Donald Trump in the nation’s capital and a political event in Springfield.

Greitens’ campaign adviser, Austin Chambers, said the flights were arranged through a charter agreement that had nothing to do with the media company.

“We didn’t know that beforehand,” Chambers said of the plane’s ownership. “It was no relation to them. It was a typical lease arrangement.”

During the hard-fought and expensive fall campaign season, the St. Joseph News-Press endorsed Greitens in his bid for the state’s top office against Democrat Attorney General Chris Koster.

NPG Chairman and Chief Executive David Bradley said Thursday that NPG leased out the plane when it was not being used on company business.

In similar cases, Bradley said, he often does not know who flies on the company jet.

In the case of the flights by Greitens, the plane was leased by a private third party, Bradley said.

Greitens “did not pay us a single nickel,” said Bradley, whose company also owns a Columbia television station.

The governor’s travel habits have become a focal point in the state capital after he trekked to Washington three times in his first six weeks in office.

Unlike his predecessor, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, Greitens has eschewed using state-owned aircraft. That decision has made it more difficult to know exactly who pays for his travel.

On Wednesday, the governor took his first trip in a state aircraft to view tornado damage in Perryville, Mo., after storms roared through the region on Tuesday night.

But for a trip to the nation’s capital to visit Vice President Mike Pence, Greitens flew on Southwest Airlines, Chambers said.

It remains unclear how Greitens is bankrolling the private airfare.

Chambers said some of the cost could be considered a donation, which will appear on his state-mandated personal financial disclosure forms when they are filed later this year. Other costs will be reported on his campaign account, said Chambers, whose salary also is paid by Greitens’ campaign.

Democrats, including Rep. Greg Razer of Kansas City, have complained that the governor is lacking transparency in how he is financing trips, raising questions about influence among his donors.

In a hearing last month, Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, suggested that the lack of information represented a pattern for Greitens, who has not disclosed who funded the events surrounding his inauguration on Jan. 9.

Greitens’ taxpayer-paid spokesman, Parker Briden, said the flight on the NGP airplane did not fall within government reporting guidelines.

“The governor’s office didn’t coordinate his travel,” Briden said in a text message Wednesday.

Chambers said the campaign was still tallying up how to divide up the cost of the trip.

“There were several stops and events on this trip, meaning the cost of the travel will be covered by various private and political groups,” Chambers said.

But, he added, “The governor’s plane travel wasn’t covered by the taxpayers, and we’ll continue to keep the burden off Missourians moving forward.”

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Kurt Erickson is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch