Kelly’s all-expenses-paid trip was bad form

There is no doubt voters today hardly need another reason to be cynical about politics. But a heavy dose of cynicism is precisely what St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly seems intent on giving them.

Last April, the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board ruled that Kelly improperly accepted free gifts and ignored potential conflicts of interest when he flew to Denver, free of charge, for a hockey game. The mayor’s all-expenses-paid trip, which included first-class seats in a private jet and luxury-box seats at a playoff game, came courtesy of Glen Nelson, part owner of the Minnesota Wild and Gopher State Ethanol. That St. Paul residents have spent years battling the smell and noise coming from the ethanol plant apparently escaped Kelly’s attention.

Kelly should have taken the board’s advice last year and reimbursed his benefactors for the $1,400 trip cost. Instead, he responded with the kind of defensive posturing that has turned more than a few voters away from the political process over the years.

Insisting such gifts are necessary if he is to promote the state’s interests without taxpayer expense, Kelly argued that taking in the playoff game was actually advance work for this year’s NHL All-Star game in St. Paul. Now the mayor is appealing the board’s ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

There are no serious charges that Kelly accepted a bribe when he jetted off to Denver last year. But state campaign finance laws take aim at more than quid pro quos and backroom deals. They also seek to eliminate even the appearance of impropriety – the very appearances that give politics a bad name.

There might be good reasons for cynicism when it comes to national politics. But the mayor of St. Paul is not the president of the United States, and this is not Washington. Some of us still believe honesty and integrity are the norm in our statehouses and city halls. Kelly can protect those beliefs by giving the money back and dropping his appeal.