Corporate Jet Ban and 2008: Spreading the Pain?
Democrats are quietly planning to insert language into their ethics reform plan that would forbid anyone who is seeking federal office from accepting discount rides on corporate jets, a move that would put all 2008 candidates for the White House on the same playing field.
Under the current ethics plans passed separately by the House and Senate this month, the corporate jet rules would apply to senators and representatives but not to other candidates, people like former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R), former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).
In addition, some Democratic strategists are pushing for a revision in campaign finance law that would require an incumbent president running for reelection to pay the full cost of what it takes to fly to campaign events on Air Force One, which would dramatically raise the price for whoever wins the Oval Office next year and presumably seeks reelection in 2012.
If the corporate jet ban is enacted and applied to the '08 campaign, the cost of running for president -- already estimated at $50 million to $100 million just for the primary season -- would go up substantially. The longstanding practice on Capitol Hill now is for a lawmaker to pay the equivalent cost of a first-class ticket when they use a jet provided by corporations, law firms or other big-money interests.
According to an outside adviser to congressional Democrats, expanding the jet ban will be accomplished during the upcoming House-Senate conference on the two ethics reform packages. While the House and Senate set their own rules independently, any changes in federal campaign finance law must be hashed out and then sent to the White House for President Bush's signature.
Feinstein declined to spell out what rules House and Senate Democrats would seek to apply to any federal candidate, but she said that addressing the imbalance of having some presidential candidates paying for expensive charter jets and others potentially flying at a discount rate would be eliminated in some fashion.
"We will discuss it in the (House-Senate) conference, that's for sure, if I have anything to say about it," she said.
The corporate jet issue is an important one considering that candidates often have no other choice but to charter private jet flights as they attempt to jump around the nation during the increasingly packed primary and caucus calendar.
The costs can be dramatically different. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination, used to be a frequent flier aboard corporate jets even as he cultivated a reformist image. In his 2000 bid, he flew on more than a dozen corporate jets, including some owned by companies like BellSouth Corp. that were regulated by laws and agencies overseen by McCain in his former capacity as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
In late 2005, on his own, McCain forbid himself from flying on any more discounted corporate jets. The results were dramatic in terms of his expenses in 2006, when he jetted around the nation on a charter jet service campaigning for House and Senate candidates. According to Democratic estimates, McCain's Straight Talk America PAC spent more than $1.5 million on travel, most of it on the charter service.
Meanwhile, Giuliani and Romney combined didn't spend half as much as McCain on travel in the '06 cycle.
As for the Air Force One issue, requiring incumbent presidents to pay for the full cost of flying the Boeing 747 to campaign events is a much trickier deal. Democrats are still smarting over the fact that the 2004 campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) spent so much more on travel than President Bush's campaign.
But even Feinstein said she was afraid to start monkeying around with presidential travel in a time of war. "I'm really not for that," she said.
Not to mention the fact that while their party is currently out of the White House, Democrats may find one of their own living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue two years from now.
-- Paul Kane
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