Beshear's November trade mission to Dubai cost taxpayers nearly $37,000

03/14/2014 01:49 PM

When the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce launched a trade mission in November to strengthen Kentucky’s relationship with Dubai, business leaders brought with them Gov. Steve Beshear, his wife Jane, and other state officials, costing the taxpayers nearly $37,000.

The state covered the expenses of the state officials and the governor’s security detail to fly to the United Arab Emirates and stay at a five-star hotel in one of the most opulent cities in the world.

A two-trooper security detail for Beshear ate on the taxpayers’ dime, but Beshear and cabinet officials never turned in receipts for meal reimbursements, according to a Pure Politics review of expense records obtained through the Kentucky Open Records Act.

The governor’s communications director told Pure Politics that some meals were provided by the ruling family of Dubai, the rest the Beshear’s paid on their own.

Beshear’s staff did not notify the press or promote the trip abroad at the time. However, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which organized it as a trade mission, did issue a press release. After that release came out, Beshear’s spokeswoman, confirmed to Pure Politics that it would be the state paying the costs for state officials and not the Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies the executive and legislative branches.

The Beshears, along with Economic Development Secretary Larry Hayes, Secretary of Public Protection Robert Vance, the first lady of Kentucky’s Chief of Staff Susan Rieber and a two-man Kentucky State Police security detail made the nearly $4,000 per ticket for round-trip flights to Dubai.

Wil James Jr., the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky traveled with the Chamber as well as coal magnate Joe Craft, and president of Churchill Downs, Kevin Flanery. Click here for a full list of Chamber of Commerce delegates.

As Beshear put it to Pure Politics, the mission was to strengthen bonds with the emirates’ royal family, with which Kentucky leaders have enjoyed a relationship for two-decades, and build more working relationships.

“We went to both solidify the contacts we already had and to build more contacts. And we took representatives of a number of Kentucky businesses with us to make further contacts and to develop their individual business exports,” Beshear said.

How much is too much?

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said $37,000 is rather expensive for a trade mission.

Along with airfare, the largest bill came in the way of a $13,095 tab to the five-star rated Jumeriah Creekside Hotel for five rooms to accommodate 10 occupants for five nights. The hotel describes itself as “an intimate, luxurious five star hotel near Dubai International Airport, offering an authentic cultural experience through the hotel’s Middle Eastern Contemporary Art Collection.”

Beshear defended the expenditures as a “small little amount” and as a “very good investment.”

“You know If you don’t go, if you don’t make the contacts, if you don’t work with business folks around the world you don’t get anything done,” Beshear said. “That’s a small little amount compared to the benefit of several millions of dollars in exporting and money coming in to Kentucky and creating jobs for Kentucky.”

Thayer, who represents the 17th state Senate district that includes Toyota’s manufacturing plant, said the royal family of Dubai has a “significant role to play on our economy” with their interests already in the state, chiefly the horse industry.

“They have multiple farms. They employ a lot of Kentuckians. They purchase a lot of horses here,” Thayer said. “I do think executive branch travel is something that should be scrutinized. Governor Beshear made it a campaign item to use against [former Governor] Ernie Fletcher in 2007.”

He added that he was “probably being kinder to him than a Democrat might be to a Republican Governor.”

“I think that ought to be remembered in the future when we have a Republican governor who may or may not make trips like this,” Thayer said.

Trading partners

From 2009 to 2011, the Chamber of Commerce reported that Kentucky exports to Dubai $85 million in automobiles, $59 million in thoroughbred and horse exports, $42 million in aircraft parts and $27 million of filters.

“Exporting has become a huge business for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. We’ve set records three years in-a-row now for the export of goods around the world,” Beshear said. “The reason that’s so important is that as our local companies export more that means they’ve got to make more of those products.”

The leader of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce Hamad Buamim met with the Kentucky group in November and, according to news reports, encouraged growth with smaller Kentucky companies.

“The big players like Boeing know what to do,” Buamim told the group, according to the Lane Report. “But the smaller companies need to be encouraged. This is what we can do together.”

Other lawmakers said it takes time for relationships to lead to trade deals and job creation and retention. So the effectiveness of a trip like this should be measured with a surveyor’s wheel rather than a yard stick.

“It takes a while for those things to progress and to mature and stew. So, we’ll have to wait and see if that’s going to be productive or not,” said Republican Sen. Julie Denton.

House Democratic State and Local Government Committee Chair Rep. Brent Yonts of Greenville agreed with the governor that the trip was “money well spent.” He said it will “eventually lead to some business between Kentucky business and Dubai business.”

“We do a lot of exporting all around the world and I think the governor’s trip to these countries is an example of that — Toyota North America in Kentucky is an example of a trade mission success.”

The trade missions continue for Beshear. He is next scheduled for a trip to the United Kingdom in May.


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