As the Senate debates whether to effectively end politicians' travel aboard corporate jets, senators don't have far to look for examples of how the system has worked.
New Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) tops the list of current lawmakers who have most frequently been jetted around the country aboard the luxurious private jets of corporate America. Lott reimbursed companies, including tobacco giant UST and phone giant BellSouth, for 18 such trips in 2006 alone, Federal Election Commission records show. And from 2001 to 2005, he reimbursed companies at least $166,908 for at least 123 such trips, according to PoliticalMoneyLine. Lott's office did not return several calls seeking comment.
The trips are a boon for lawmakers, giving them door-to-door service without the hassles of commercial air flight. And they have to pay only a portion of the actual cost of the jet.
For companies, it's a great chance to bend the ear of lawmakers. "BellSouth allowed its corporate jets to be used by members of Congress because of the unique opportunity it gave the company's lobbyists to spend time with the member. Often the industry issues were discussed and this provided an opportunity for a detailed discussion of complex issues," said Bill McCloskey, a spokesman for BellSouth, which last month completed its merger with AT&T. BellSouth has provided at least 11 flights to Lott since 2001.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) was also a regular passenger aboard corporate jets, frequently at the behest of Las Vegas casino and entertainment giants. But last week he introduced a proposal that could effectively end the practice.
-- John Solomon