FEC relaxes rule on luxury-jet travel by candidates
By Dan Eggen
The Federal Election Commission on Thursday eased restrictions on the use of luxury jets by federal candidates, ruling that Senate and presidential candidates can pay discount prices for private air travel as long as they are not doing so on behalf of their own campaigns.
Campaign-finance reform advocates immediately condemned the decision and said it will severely undermine the impact of 2007 ethics legislation, which was aimed at requiring all federal candidates to pay full freight when riding on private jets owned by corporate sponsors or wealthy donors.
But the FEC, by a vote of 4 to 2, ruled that a candidate is not actually a candidate if they are traveling on behalf of their leadership political action committee (PAC), a party PAC or any other committee not explicitly tied to an individual election campaign. The distinction does not apply to House candidates, who "are generally prohibited from making expenditures for travel on most non-commercial flights," the FEC said.
Election-law experts say the ruling means that candidates for Senate, vice president and president will be free to use corporate jets as a private air service as long as they claim to be traveling for reasons other than their election.
Paul S. Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center said that could include attending fundraisers for friends, their party or their own leadership committee; it would also encompass travel to battleground states like Iowa in preparation for a possible presidential campaign, he said.
"It's ridiculous and preposterous to adopt a rule saying that candidates can engage in non-candidate travel," Ryan said. "It completely guts that part of the law."
The restrictions -- part of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act -- were approved in the wake of widespread outrage over the lavish travel habits of many members of Congress. A 2005 investigation by The Washington Post identified a dozen leaders from both political parties who flew on corporate jets at least 360 times. When former House Speaker Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) traveled home to be arraigned on money-laundering charges, for example, he did so on a corporate jet owned by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
Thursday's ruling is the latest in a series of controversial decisions by the six-member FEC, which has frequently split along partisan lines over the last year. Chairman Steven T. Walther, a Democrat, joined three Republican commissioners in approving the new travel language.
Web Politics Editor
November 19, 2009; 8:07 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , The Green Zone
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