Mayday McCaskill Caught in a Tailspin Over Private Plane

Look, I can explain. I was suffering altitude sickness.
Look, I can explain. I was suffering altitude sickness.
A once high-flying Missouri politician plummeted to Earth yesterday. The only question now: Can she survive the wreckage? 

Claire McCaskill's reputation took perhaps its biggest hit in her nearly five years in the U.S. Senate on Monday when she admitted that she hadn't paid personal property taxes on her private aircraft. This from a woman who once investigated tax scofflaws as Missouri's state auditor.

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, McCaskill described her failure to register the plane with the St. Louis County revenue department a "mistake" and said she had sent the county a check for $287,000 in back taxes covering the past four years.

But could it be that McCaskill's gesture only makes her seem more out of touch with the poor and working-class Missourians she represents?

One could make that assumption considering that the county has no idea how much it is actually owed for the plane's back taxes -- which could be far less than the more than quarter-of-a-million dollars McCaskill forked over yesterday.

"If in fact we have overpaid, that is fine," McCaskill told reporters, adding that the amount should also cover interests and fees.

McCaskill can afford to write checks for such staggering amounts because of her marriage to a wealthy real-estate developer, Joe Shepard, who owns the plane through a limited-liability corporation. Yesterday was actually the second time in just a matter of weeks that McCaskill has opened up the checkbook to assuage criticism over the aircraft.

Earlier this month she sent a check for $88,000 to the U.S. Treasury to cover  reimbursements for fuel and operating costs that she'd been billing the government to use the plane on Senate business. Earlier this month, McCaskill's office told that her use of the plane was kosher but wanted to repay the money for appearance sake.

But that wasn't necessarily the case. As later revealed, McCaskill had also violated Senate ethics rules by billing the government at least once for using the plane for purely political purposes in flying it to a Democratic convention in Hannibal in 2007. 

Yesterday, McCaskill said she'd convinced her husband to "sell the damn plane." She'll now be flying coach.

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