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    Money Talks
    Flying Those Corporate-Friendly Skies

    By Dwight Morris
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Wednesday, Oct. 7, 1998

    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
    No incumbent senator seeking reelection this year exploits this loophole more than New York Republican Alfonse M. D'Amato. Over the past five and a half years D'Amato's campaign paid 18 reimbursements totaling $21,055 to 15 corporations for using their private jets. Companies that represent tobacco, gambling, wine, transportation, healthcare, wireless telecommunications, cable television, oil and electric utility interests eagerly helped underwrite his travel costs.

    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
    Senate wannabes fortunate enough to have significant prior political experience have also been quick to grab onto the corporate travel perk:

  • Former Arkansas Rep. Blanche Lambert-Lincoln (D), who is vying for the seat vacated by fellow Democrat Dale Bumpers, spent $5,655 of her campaign money to reimburse five corporations for seven trips.
  • Former Gov. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Rep. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), who are also seeking open seats, each took advantage of the perk twice.
  • Rep. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who is challenging Reid, took three corporate charters.
  • Rep. Mark Neumann (R-Wis.), who is challenging Democrat Russell D. Feingold, took two.
  • California state treasurer Matt Fong spent $5,040 for three trips on corporate aircraft in his challenge to Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

    Corporations Pick Passengers Carefully – And Out of State
    In all, 22 candidates seeking Senate seats this year have reimbursed 87 corporations nearly $147,000 for 142 flights. While many of the companies are providing premier travel at cut-rate prices to hometown or at least home-state politicians, many clearly take a broader view.

    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
    In the House, Pennsylvania Republican Bud Schuster is the king of corporate frequent fliers, with 17 trips that cost $36,954. Schuster's campaign paid back a total of $26,202 to Federal Express in exchange for 13 flights aboard the company's jet. Norfolk Southern Corporation, Union Pacific and Hunt Oil Company also put their planes at Schuster's disposal.

    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

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