JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Attorney General Jay Nixon is using his state vehicle for political purposes without reimbursing the state.
Although Missouri law prohibits government vehicles from being used for private purposes, Nixon's office justified the practice Monday by saying the Democratic attorney general is always on duty -- even when campaigning for governor.
"The attorney general is the attorney general all the time," said Nixon's legal counsel, Ted Ardini. "It's much like the governor, who is provided security under the Highway Patrol statutes when he is traveling around."
Missouri law requires the Highway Patrol to provide transportation and security for the governor. But it imposes no similar requirement for other elected officials, who also could be called to state business 24 hours a day.
Nixon is challenging Republican Gov. Matt Blunt in the 2008 election and has been campaigning for the past two years.
Aside from the governor, Missouri's statewide elected officials -- other than Nixon -- either reimburse the state for political trips, reserve their state cars for official purposes only or shun state vehicles in favor of their own.
Ardini said he conducted an evaluation of the security risks facing Nixon a couple of years ago and decided it would improve both safety and communication for Nixon to always travel in his police-styled Ford Crown Victoria.
At the same time, he decided to assign several investigators from the office's public safety and consumer protection divisions to accompany Nixon for security purposes when he travels outside of Jefferson City, Ardini said.
The staffers do not carry guns and are not paid extra for functioning as Nixon's security guards, he said. The car is equipped with a police-style radio -- instead of simply relying on Nixon's cell phone -- and can travel at speeds faster than most other vehicles, Ardini said.
YouTube strikes again
Nixon's state car came into the spotlight last week when the Missouri Republican Party highlighted two videos posted on YouTube.com showing Nixon arriving in the vehicle at what appear to be campaign fundraisers.
Blunt's campaign spokesman, John Hancock, claimed Monday that Nixon is using his state vehicle for political purposes to save on campaign expenses. He also questioned whether Nixon's security concerns justified the practiced.
"If they want to properly expend campaign dollars to get the fastest, meanest muscle car they can find and put a fancy radio in it, that's not a problem," Hancock said. "The problem is using taxpayer-financed resources to run a political campaign. That's wrong."
Nixon's office and campaign staff denied any political motives for his use of the state vehicle.
"When you're the toughest attorney general that the state has ever seen, bad people don't like you very much. That's why Jay Nixon needs security," said Nixon campaign spokesman Oren Shur.
Ardini declined to identify any specific security threats toward Nixon.
The only reimbursements Nixon makes for using the state vehicle are for his commutes to and from his Jefferson City home to his office, Ardini said.