Speaker Vos uses state airplane for $4,300 flight
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in February 2017 used taxpayer money to charter the state airplane and fly with two other Republican lawmakers and five staff members to meet with GOP colleagues and hold a news conference in Ohio.
The trip came four months after a campaign committee Vos controls received $15,000 from a prominent Ohio donor with close ties to then-Ohio Assembly Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, a close friend of Vos's.
The Wisconsin lawmakers spent the day meeting with Ohio Republicans, including Rosenberger, who resigned in April amid a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into his lavish lifestyle.
Vos has said he's not been contacted by the FBI. Vos did not immediately return a message Monday seeking comment on why he used taxpayer money to pay for the $4,312 flight. His spokeswoman Kit Beyer issued a statement describing the topics discussed with Ohio lawmakers, but did not address the flight cost or the donation.
The flight out of state was unusual. Records obtained by The Associated Press under the state open records law show that Wisconsin lawmakers used the state plane five times between January 2017 and March of this year. Vos's trip was the only time they used it to fly out of state.
The state airplane is typically used by governors and other office holders to travel inside Wisconsin to promote their agendas. The governor occasionally takes lawmakers with him when flying around the state to promote a particular policy initiative.
But the trip Vos took was different.
Vos, along with Wisconsin Reps. Tyler Vorpagel, R-Plymouth, and Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, stood with Rosenberger and Ohio lawmakers at a news conference in February 2017. They discussed how Republican leaders in both states were going to learn from one another as they prepared for changes in how the federal government under President Donald Trump deals with states.
The coordinated effort to give states more power is now a national effort through the National Council of State Legislatures and the work began at that meeting, Vos's spokeswoman Beyer said.
Vos said at the time that Rosenberger was looking at bipartisan task forces in Wisconsin that proposed legislation to fight Alzheimer's disease and opioid addictions as models for Ohio and other states.
Combating dementia and Alzheimer's is of particular interest to Ginny Ragan, an Ohio donor who has given $1.7 million to Ohio Republicans since 2012, including $47,000 to Rosenberger. She also owns a downtown Columbus condo he rented.
In October 2016, Ragan made her first and so far only donation in Wisconsin. The $15,000 went to the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, which Vos controls.
"The more we learn about Robin Vos's high-flying ways, the more questions there are," said Joanna Beilman-Dulin, research director at the liberal group One Wisconsin Now. "Vos's campaign committee gets $15,000 from an Ohio donor and four months later, he charters a taxpayer-funded plane to go to Ohio to meet with her favorite politician."
Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a May 3 article that Rosenberger told him to talk with Ragan because she's interested in how to treat dementia and Vos had created a task force on Alzheimer's disease in 2015. Vos told the newspaper then that he saw her again at the Republican National Convention in July 2016, a meeting that came three months before the donation.
Rosenberger served as Vos's best man at his wedding last year in Italy. Vos got married after he was in France on a trip paid for by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Vos and Rosenberger also traveled to London on a trip paid for by the conservative GOPAC Education Fund. Vos said in a state ethics filing that trip cost about $3,600.