Brewer, aides spend $32,000 on Europe trade trip

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PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and two aides spent about $32,000 in tax dollars and donated money on a two-week trade promotion trip to Europe, with thousands of dollars going for upgraded airfares and hotel cancellation fees, the governor's office reported.

Brewer and two aides went to Germany and France in late May and early June for a trade conference, a seminar on trade, investment and tourism, and other meetings.

Tax dollars covered most of the reported spending, and about 45 percent came from private sources that included a commerce booster group and a state promotional account funded by donations.

The expenses were reported by Brewer's office late Monday in response to public records requests by The Associated Press and other media organizations. The total does not include all the travel costs. For example, money spent on hotels in two German cities and most expenses involved in state police accompanying Brewer were not part of the tally.

The figure also did not include expenses of two Office of Tourism officials and several Commerce Authority officials.

Among the reported expenses, trans-Atlantic air travel for Brewer and her two aides cost a total of $14,000.

Taxpayers covered $4,950 of that amount, while the privately funded commerce booster group paid to upgrade Brewer and her chief of staff, Eileen Klein, to business class. That elevated each round-trip ticket to $6,389, more than three times the fare paid for Community Affairs Director Kim Sabow.

"That's a long flight, obviously, to Europe. In this instance, especially with the private dollars paying for that upgrade, it was deemed appropriate," Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said Tuesday. He initially said the upgrades were to first class but later reported the move was to business class.

The private commerce booster account paid $4,161 in first-night lodging and cancellation fees to a Paris hotel.

Benson said Brewer's party stayed at a different hotel because it was recognized upon arrival that the first hotel wasn't suitable for business travel. He said it lacked meeting facilities, and nearby construction caused noise and access problems.

"The good thing is that taxpayer funds won't be paying for that transition" to a different hotel, Benson said.

Benson said the hotel lodging and cancellation fees applied to rooms reserved for Brewer's three-person party plus the governor's Department of Public Safety detail. Citing security considerations, Benson declined to specify how many DPS personnel went on the trip.

Key stops on the trip included a Berlin conference that was partly organized by Glendale-based Thunderbird School of Global Management, and the trade, investment and tourism seminar in Munich for German companies that Brewer's office said had expressed an interest in relocating or expanding in the Southwest.

Benson said he didn't know offhand about any specific business recruitment successes resulting from the trip, but he said the effort was worthwhile.

"This kind of a trip is absolutely imperative if the state of Arizona is going to expand its presence on the international stage when it comes to business recruitment and investment," he said, adding later, "But you don't measure the success of these trips overnight. Sometimes it takes many months or even a year before you start to see the fruits of these kinds of international trips pay off."

Serena Unrein, a spokesman for the Arizona Public Interest Group, said using private money for upgraded airfares raised questions of possible conflicts of interest because of the personal benefit for the public officials.

"I'd feel a lot more kindly toward people if I had a better seat," said Unrein, whose advocacy group has voiced concern about transparency of the Arizona Commerce Authority.

The authority is the state's quasi-public economic development organization, and a private booster group for the authority is the entity that paid for the airfare upgrades.