Only seven months after critical news stories about unpaid taxes on a private airplane, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill was late paying property taxes on her Washington, D.C., condominium.
By STEVE KRASKE
The Kansas City Star
Records show that the Missouri Democrat missed the fall 2011 deadline by about three weeks. McCaskill paid $197 in penalties and interest on top of the $1,514 in taxes owed for half the year.
McCaskill also was about a month late paying her spring 2010 property tax bill on the condo. She paid $198 in penalties and interest that time. Records show she also paid a fine and interest for a late payment in 2008.
“Unlike other jurisdictions that bill just once a year, they bill twice a year,” McCaskill said. “Somehow the second bill that came to my condo in D.C. slipped through the cracks, and it got paid late.”
The ongoing tax issues could pose another hurdle for the freshman senator, who is seeking a second term this fall against the winner of the GOP primary, which includes candidates Sarah Steelman, Todd Akin and John Brunner.
Polls vary widely on where the race stands. One Democratic Party survey showed McCaskill leading all three Republicans. One independent pollster that tends to skew Republican showed the GOP candidates leading or tied with the incumbent.
Lloyd Smith, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, chided McCaskill for the late tax payments and all but guaranteed they would be a campaign issue.
“Claire McCaskill must believe that there are two sets of rules — one for her and one for everyone else,” Smith said. “McCaskill (a former state auditor) has made a career out of lecturing others about accountability, oversight and paying their taxes. But at the same time, she has a history of tax problems. What McCaskill considers a mistake is really part of a larger pattern of behavior that proves once again that her walk does not match her talk.”
In the 1990s, the senator missed a deadline for paying property taxes at a condo at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Last year McCaskill took responsibility for failing to pay more than $300,000 for four years of back taxes on a private plane her family owned in St. Louis County. She called a news conference to disclose the missed payments and insisted that she would never step foot on the plane again.
“There are people I could blame for this, but I know better,” McCaskill said at the time. “As an auditor, I know I should have checked for myself.”
McCaskill, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, said she and her husband wound up paying thousands of dollars in addition to the back taxes on the plane because all miles flown on the plane that year were considered to be flown in Missouri. Normally a plane owner can deduct for tax purposes miles flown out of state.
“Nobody in their right mind would not pay those taxes on time if they knew they owed it,” McCaskill said. “I think I’ve said the plane was a big, sloppy, embarrassing mistake.”
The plane was later sold.
Missouri’s other senator, Republican Roy Blunt, also ran into tax issues on property he owned in Washington, D.C., with his wife. When he was a congressman in 2009, he erroneously claimed an exemption only available to District of Columbia residents. The district’s government took the blame, but Blunt ended up paying nearly $7,000 in back taxes.
Of her latest lapse, McCaskill said: “I discovered it and paid it, but I paid it late.”
But she expects other attacks from Republicans in the months ahead, noting she was late once in paying personal property taxes on her car.
She said the race is particularly difficult because she is running against three opponents at once in addition to a series of political action committees, which can accept donations anonymously and buy TV ads critical of her. As a result, she considers herself the underdog.
“I feel like I’m in the middle of a circle surrounded by 25 sharp spears, and every day somebody else jabs,” McCaskill said. “I can choose to get overwhelmed by it, or I can just square my shoulders and fight as hard as I know how. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
McCaskill said that none of her three opponents is in the mainstream of the Republican Party and that they are running as far to the right as they can to win the August primary.
“I know it’s making many mainstream Republicans uncomfortable,” she said.
That gives her a fighting shot at winning in November, she added.
Republicans, however, aren’t buying it.
“Claire McCaskill has been a politician for a long time, so she should know that her record is subject to scrutiny — especially when it contradicts her rhetoric,” Smith said.