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    Money Talks

    Dole Loves Those Corporate Jets

    By Dwight L. Morris
    March 17, 1996

    Corporations have been barred from contributing money directly to political campaigns since 1907. But I suspect that – if detailed records were available – one would discover that by 1908, corporate money had found a way around those restrictions.

    When it comes to exploiting one such modern loophole – the use of corporate jets – Sen. Bob Dole is the undisputed king.

    While federal law prohibits direct corporate contributions, it permits candidates and their representatives to use aircraft owned by corporations or labor unions, as long as the campaigns reimburse the organization an amount equal to the first class airfare charged by commercial airlines serving their destination. In the case of travel to a city where regularly scheduled commercial service is not available, the candidate is supposed to pay "the usual charter rate." Since the cost of operating these planes, including the cost of the pilot and fuel, is considerably more than the cost of first class air fare, flying aboard corporate jets amounts to nothing less than a thinly disguised corporate contribution.

    Since January 1, 1995, Senator Dole's presidential committee has reimbursed 34 corporations a total of $498,613 for the use of their planes.  Topping the list of his corporate sponsors is American Financial Corporation, an insurance and diversified financial conglomerate headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.

    American Financial's chairman, Carl H. Linder, contributes well over $100,000 annually to the political system, much of it in the form of so-called "soft money" donations to political party committees for use in "party building" efforts. Linder routinely covers his bets by giving to both Republican and Democratic committees and candidates.

    As chairman and CEO of Chiquita Brands International, Linder may have been particularly grateful to Dole for his strong opposition to trade agreements that weakened Chiquita's position in the international banana market. More cynical observers might interpret Dole's use of American Financial's jet as a quid pro quo – something Dole would vehemently deny. In any event, it's a nice way for American Financial to make legislative friends.

    Second on the list of companies providing the Dole campaign with first-class travel at bargain basement prices is the American International Group (AIG). Headquartered in New York, AIG is the largest commercial insurance company in the United States. With subsidiaries in Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, China, Great Britain, France, the Philippines, Russia, Switzerland, and Taiwan the company's interests in foreign trade agreements are enormous. The firm, which is one of only two foreign insurers allowed to operate in China and has 5,000 agents in Shanghai alone, was thrilled when the United States stood alone among major industrial nations and refused to sign a 1995 World Trade Organization agreement that would make it easier for insurance companies, banks, and securities companies to operate in world markets. Perhaps not coincidentally, while Dole espouses open markets in his stump speeches, he has also called for a moratorium on new trade agreements.

    During the past 15 months, the Dole campaign has reimbursed Federal Express $43,023 for the use of its corporate jets.

    Connecticut-based United States Tobacco, which manufactures both chewing and smoking tobacco products, has received nine payments from the Dole camp totaling $40,583.

    Looking for every opportunity to help a friend of the defense industry, Textron has put its jet at Dole's disposal frequently enough to warrant reimbursements totaling $34,673.

    None of this is unique to Dole's 1996 presidential bid. He's been flying through this loophole for years.

    During the six-year election cycle that culminated with his reelection to a fifth Senate term in November 1992, Dole made frequent use of jets owned by many of the same companies that appear on his 1996 campaign roster, all of which have strong legislative agendas. He paid agribusiness giant Archer, Daniels, Midland $52,834; ConAgra, $24,991; Torchmark Corporation, $24,495; Federal Express $14,635; Chambers Development Company; $10,725; and United States Tobacco, $7,383.

    During his unsuccessful 1988 presidential bid, Dole's campaign paid 15 corporations a total of $54,265 to cover the cost of 26 trips. In the course of its routine audit of the campaign following the election, the Federal Election Commission found that the payments had not been made in advance of the travel, as required by law. The $54,265 travel bill included one case in which the Dole campaign had repaid $2,475 less than it was billed for the use of a regular charter service. After a five-year negotiation over numerous campaign violations, those findings became part of a conciliation agreement in which the Dole campaign agreed to pay a $100,000 civil penalty.

    Dole is certainly not alone in his use – or misuse – of corporate aircraft, but he has absolutely no equal.

    On the presidential campaign trail, former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander made much more limited use of such jets, running up bills of $72,998 during his 16-month campaign.

    As of January 31, 1996, Patrick Buchanan had not used corporate aircraft a single time.

    Blessed with a jet of his own, neither had millionaire publisher Steve Forbes.

    Use of corporate jets is not limited to presidential candidates and senators. During the 1994 election cycle, 44 House incumbents who sought reelection availed themselves of this handy perk at least once.

    Led by Republican Rep. Bud Shuster, who reimbursed companies $19,774 for the use of their planes despite the fact that his Pennsylvania district is a scant two-hour drive from Washington, the 44 members' combined spending on such travel amounted to $92,468 – just 19 percent of the Dole campaign's outlays since January 1, 1995.

    Proving that the phenomenon is bipartisan, then-Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt's (D-Mo.) 1994 corporate charter tab was $10,460.

    This article originally appeared on the ElectionLine Web site.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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