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Posted at 12:14 PM ET, 03/20/2012

Candidates’ airline-debt disclosure might end


Airlines must report how much political candidates owe them. (Tomohiro Ohsumi - BLOOMBERG)
An obscure monthly report showing how much political candidates owe the airlines for their travel might be Washington’s best-kept secret—-but only because no one seems to care.

It’s so under-the-radar that most of the people responsible for monitoring such debts don’t know the report even exists, and now it might disappear completely: the agency keeping tabs on candidates’ red ink is wondering whether it should even bother.

Every month, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, a particularly wonky organ within the already wonky innards of the Department of Transportation, gets reports from the major airline carriers. The carriers list pertinent statistics like ticket prices, wait times on the tarmac and the like. Among the figures is an odd little factoid—the amount they are owed by political candidates.

Airlines must disclose which candidates owe them money and how much, but only if it’s more than $5,000 and is overdue by a month. DOT does nothing with that information—a spokesman says the records live in a file cabinet—and instead passes it along to the Federal Election Commission.

The FEC doesn’t seem to have much use for it, either. An initial response to our call to the FEC’s public affairs office was “Are you sure we keep that?”

Turns out they do, but it’s almost never used—for anything.

That’s not to say there’s nothing interesting in it. According to the most recent filing, an entity called “Republic Hdqtrs” owes $6,831.25 to United Airlines.

Even bona fide political-money experts are blissfully unaware of the data. “I think you might be the only one who knows about this,” says Fred Wertheimer, the guru from watchdog group Democracy 21.

The airline debt reporting might go the way of the dodo bird. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics is seeking public comment on its “continuing need and usefulness,” according to a notice in the Federal Register.

The sound of crickets that will doubtless greet this query might speak louder than words.

By  |  12:14 PM ET, 03/20/2012

 
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