IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Gov. Kim Reynolds dismissed criticism Thursday of her decision to travel to Iowa State's bowl game for free on a plane owned by a longtime and controversial state vendor.

Reynolds told reporters that she saw nothing wrong with her flight to Memphis on the plane owned by Sedgwick, which administers claims for workers' compensation benefits filed by injured state employees. She noted that she had received written approval from the ethics board director to take a donor-funded flight with her husband and two other family members to the bowl game in order "to campaign."

Reynolds said that the trip was a legitimate campaign expense, saying that she met with donors and potential voters.

"It was an opportunity to get in front of Iowans and share the excitement of Iowa State making a bowl game," she said.

The ethics board director, Megan Tooker, has said that she wasn't aware that a state vendor owned the plane. Sedgwick CEO Dave North has said that he and his wife reimbursed his company for the costs of the flight, which the Reynolds' campaign reported as a $2,880 in-kind contribution from the Norths.

Reynolds dismissed arguments that accepting the flight was out of step with the humble, small-town image that she has sought to build. "There were a lot of small town girls that were down there" at the game, she said.

Her comments came as the Iowa Democratic Party criticized the trip by the Republican governor as an example of poor judgment and "pay-to-play" politics. Reynolds is running in the Nov. 6 election against businessman Fred Hubbell.

Iowa's gift law bars public officials and their family members from accepting anything worth $3 or more from contractors and lobbyists. But that prohibition doesn't extend to campaign donations.

Meanwhile, Iowa State confirmed Thursday that Reynolds paid for her family's tickets to the game at face value with a personal check dated Jan. 27, nearly one month after the game. University spokesman John McCarroll said that it was "normal procedure" to provide the tickets upfront to the governor and send an invoice that she paid later.