By Dwight Morris
Just imagine: a corporate jet at your disposal 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Imagine knowing you could use that jet without having to pay more than the cost of a first-class airline ticket. Imagine that someone else would even pick up the cost of that first-class ticket. Sound too good to be true? Then you've never been a member of the United States Congress.
Since 1907, laws have forbidden members from soliciting campaign contributions or anything of value from corporations, yet many routinely accept the use of jets owned by companies that lobby them. Finance law allows this travel strategy as long as candidates repay the corporations an amount equal to a commercial first-class ticket to the destination du jour. Campaign money pays for the trips, and since the actual cost of operating the jets is many times the required reimbursement, the practice amounts to nothing less than a thinly disguised corporate campaign donation.
Senators Pros at Taking to the Air
And D'Amato is far from alone. Georgia Republican Paul Coverdell spent $18,804 of his campaign funds to reimburse companies for using their aircraft. His 15 trips included excursions on planes owned by Georgia-based firms such as AFLAC, Flowers Industries and Atlanta Gas & Light Resources, as well as on planes owned by Philip Morris of New York and AmSouth Bank of Montgomery, Ala.
Democrats take their share of almost-free rides as well. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle reimbursed eight corporations for 14 flights on their jets. Integrated Health Services of Owings Mills, Md., has been Daschle's favorite corporate carrier; he reimbursed them four times for a total of $5,462. But he also rode in jets owned by Archer Daniels Midland of Decatur, Ill.; Federal Express of Memphis, Tenn.; HealthSouth Corporation of Birmingham, Ala.; U.S. Strategies of Alexandria, Va.; United States Sugar Corporation of Clewiston, Fla.; and Exxon and Dougherty Financial Group, both of Houston.
Louisiana Democrat John Breaux racked up $17,472 traveling on corporate jets, and he dipped into his campaign treasury 18 times since his 1992 reelection to pay for it. Nevada Democrat Harry Reid spent $11,665 on 14 corporate flights. Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, frugal by comparison, took 14 corporate flights, costing his campaign only $7,306.
Hopefuls Buckle Up As Well
Corporations Pick Passengers Carefully And Out of State
Neither Nevada candidate has used the jet owned by Las Vegas casino giant Circus Circus, perhaps because the company cannot afford to risk having backed the eventual loser in this closely contested race. Circus Circus made its jet available to D'Amato.
Some corporations are taking a bipartisan approach as well. Federal Express lent its jet not only to Daschle, but also to Republican incumbents Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) and John McCain (Ariz.). HealthSouth provided its plane to Republicans Shelby, Bunning and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, in addition to Democrats Daschle and Breaux.
House Members Hitchhike Too
While not nearly in Schuster's league perhaps because he has been in Washington much less time or does not chair the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rhode Island Democrat Patrick Kennedy grabbed only six flights aboard corporate jets owned by the Cafaro Company of Youngstown, Ohio, Raytheon Corporation, G-Tech, David Nutt & Associates of Jackson, Miss., and the law firm of Ness, Motley & Loadholt of Providence.
As many others on Capitol Hill can attest, members of Congress never really worry about overbooked flights.
© Copyright 1998 Campaign Study Group