Auditor, GOP battle over out-of-state spending

Minnesota Republican leaders say the Democratic state auditor overspent on out-of-state trips, but the auditor says the GOP got it all wrong.

Republican Chairman Tony Sutton announced today that the party had conducted an investigation that found Auditor Rebecca Otto spent up to $368 a night for a hotel room and $44 for a lobster dinner. But Otto shot back that she was reimbursed only what state rules allow, not with what Sutton called lavish spending.

For instance, she said, the state reimburses no more than $31 a day for all meals, regardless of their cost, so taxpayers never paid the full cost of that $44 lobster and cream pie meal in Boston.

Sutton made his accusations today in support of his former boss, then-Auditor Pat Anderson, who Otto defeated in 2006. The two are running against each other again.

Sutton, who was Anderson’s deputy, said that Otto owes Minnesotans an apology. But Otto said that Sutton got the information wrong, like he and Anderson did when they were in office.

"No wonder there were hundreds of millions of dollars in financial errors under Pat Anderson and Tony Sutton," Otto said. "They both have always had trouble with the numbers and he is misrepresenting them again, which is no surprise."

Republican officials complained that Otto’s office tried to block efforts to get information about her spending.

"I am shocked at both the magnitude of these expenses and their efforts to conceal and justify this lavish spending," Anderson said. "Excessive travel, expensive hotels and fancy dinners are not essential government services."

Anderson disagreed with Otto, saying the state reimbursed Otto and her employees more than it should have. "At each of these conferences, food was included with the conference fee and meals were served. State law makes the attendee ineligible for separate meal reimbursement."

Otto said that as for saving money, she eliminated the job Sutton held under Anderson, saving the state the $85,000 annual salary.