Va. Governor's Travels as DNC Chief Not So Easy to Pin Down

On party business in Florida, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has an animated chat with Karen Thurman, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, and Bob Graham, former Florida governor and U.S. senator.
On party business in Florida, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has an animated chat with Karen Thurman, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, and Bob Graham, former Florida governor and U.S. senator. (By Wilfredo Lee -- Associated Press)
By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 25, 2009

RICHMOND, June 24 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine travels regularly across the country for fundraisers and national policy events as he juggles his job as Virginia's chief executive and his role as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Kaine has been to North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Texas, Georgia, Missouri and Ohio in recent months and has often attended fundraisers in Virginia and the District. He was in Philadelphia on Wednesday and will be in New York on Monday.

But repeated attempts to review Kaine's schedule -- in Richmond, around the state or across the country -- before and after he became DNC chairman in late January have been unsuccessful. The Washington Post has requested Kaine's calendar through the governor's office, the DNC and his political action committee, Moving Virginia Forward. The requests have been denied or gone unanswered.

"The citizens of Virginia have the right to know the facts so they can judge for themselves whether the governor is spending adequate time on the job that he was elected to fulfill," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.

Kaine's office cites security and privacy concerns, as well as state law, court rulings and precedent, in declining to release a full schedule of his travels and activities. Requests for travel records and the cost of his security detail were also denied.

Kaine would not make himself available last week or this week for an interview about his DNC activities. But at a news conference Tuesday, he depicted himself as fully engaged in state matters. "Look at the number of public events I do, and look at the number of initiatives we're rolling out," Kaine said. "I'm working seven days a week. I'm very comfortable with the time I'm spending on state business."

Of his travel, Kaine said: "If anyone wants to know where I am, all they have to do is ask. . . . There's nothing covert about it."

The DNC pays for Kaine's travel on party business, but state taxpayers have paid for his security no matter where he travels. On Tuesday, after questions were raised, Kaine said the DNC will begin reimbursing the state for his security.

Kaine's recent travels have given ammunition to Republican critics who say he puts politics ahead of governing, even as the state's unemployment rises in the recession. The state Republican Party has produced a video mocking Kaine for his absences from the state.

"What does he have to hide?" House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said. "He knows he can't do both jobs. Is that why he's hiding?"

Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) brushed aside GOP criticism of Kaine. "He is on top of everything here," he said.

Previous Virginia governors have seen their popularity fall after they appeared more interested in Washington than in Richmond. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, ended his term as governor with a 39 percent approval rating after an unsuccessful run for president. James S. Gilmore III was attacked for becoming chairman of the Republican National Committee in his final year as governor. Democrats created a Web site that chronicled the whereabouts of "Governor Gone-More."

Kaine was initially reluctant to serve as DNC chairman.

"I don't view that, frankly, as consistent with being governor, so I'm going to be governor," Kaine said in November. "I would view it as taking my eye too much off the ball about things that need to happen here."

After he took the job in January, at President Obama's urging, Kaine said he would work at it part time from Richmond until January 2010. At that point, his term as governor will end, and he will become full-time party chairman. He said he would conduct DNC business this year on weekends and in evenings and rely on aides, computers and phones to monitor party business.

Kaine's office typically makes public a schedule that includes speeches, bill signings and news conferences. It includes official trips he takes as governor, but no private travel or travel in his roles at the DNC or Moving Virginia Forward.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has provided copies of his full schedule, including out-of-state political trips, to The Post in response to requests made under that state's public information law. Some information, including O'Malley's private appointments, is redacted.

Kaine's travel has stepped up since the General Assembly completed its 45-day session in late February. The Post pieced together some of his travel schedule through interviews and newspaper reports. Some events are on weekends, but many are not.

On March 25, he attended Washington fundraisers with Obama at the Warner Theatre and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The events raised more than $3 million. On March 31, he was the keynote speaker at the Woman's National Democratic Club in Washington.

On May 2, he spoke to North Carolina Democrats at their Jefferson-Jackson dinner. On May 8, he held a "listening session" at a gay and lesbian community center and later a fundraiser, both in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. On May 19, he did DNC work in Atlanta during a gubernatorial trip. On May 20, he held a meet-and-greet in Dallas for Organizing for America, a group that pushes Obama's agenda. On May 30, he spoke to Florida Democrats at a Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Miami Beach.

On June 2, he did DNC work while he was in New York on gubernatorial business. Last Thursday, he was in Cincinnati. On Friday, he participated in a roundtable on health-care reform and a fundraiser for Organizing for America, both in Kansas City, Mo.

Staff writers Rosalind S. Helderman and John Wagner and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company