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Republicans complain taxpayers fund Obama political travel

MYT 10:15:00 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans are complaining to a U.S. government watchdog that President Barack Obama's trips for official business are little more than campaign stops funded with taxpayer dollars, a claim dismissed by the White House and Obama's campaign team.

In a letter on Wednesday to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) comptroller general requesting a formal inquiry, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus alleged a "misuse of government funds" relating to certain presidential travel, especially to November battleground states.

U.S. President Barack Obama steps from the Marine One helicopter as he returns to the White House in Washington April 25, 2012. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

"One incident of this might be an error that is easily remedied. But it is a pattern of behaviour that is worsening," Priebus said.

The complaint noted that government watchdogs, like the GAO, should be sensitive to any spending practices that might raise questions, and more so now with a travel scandal engulfing the General Services Administration (GSA).

Priebus underscored Obama appearances on college campuses this week in key states of Colorado and North Carolina meant to support student loan legislation that were "widely reported to be equivalent to campaign rallies."

Republicans also noted a string of fundraisers in Florida two weeks ago that included one short official event to plug the proposed Buffett tax rule on the wealthy.

"This speech was high on class warfare, slogans and divisive campaign-style rhetoric," Priebus complained.

The White House noted that presidential travel has always been magnified during election years.

Previous presidents from both parties fended off similar complaints about certain travel that critics contended should have been paid for with campaign funds.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz noted that Obama's travel this week was part of his "official responsibility to get outside of Washington" and address issues personally with the public.

"When there is political travel, we follow all rules and regulations that all other administrations have followed," Schultz said.

The Obama campaign also dismissed the assertion.

"We're not going to get hot and bothered by ... RNC stunts," senior Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod told reporters on a conference call.

(Reporting by John Crawley; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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