Let’s say you’re Sen. John Dough. You’re running for re-election. You need money. Often, you have to travel to where the money is to get it. Say, in Los Angeles. So you fly. But you wish to avoid flying commercial. Too much time wasted. Too many hassles, mingling among the proletariat in lines and in the damn crowded plane.
Back in the good ol’ days, you’d merely text your old pal I.B. Loaded, CEO of Amalgamated Rules Bender Inc. Loaded’s given you tons of cash over the years for your campaigns. He, his wife and children, his employees, his vendors — all have seen the wisdom of slipping dough to you, your official campaign committee, and, of course, your “Leadership PAC.”
And, of course, Loaded would have his Gulfstream V (I mean, rather, his corporate-owned private jet) fly into Reagan National to pick you up (after, of course, a taxpayer-paid car and driver deposited you, your luggage, and golf clubs there). Loaded himself would be on the plane to entertain you and see to your every need. After you’d both consumed a few hits from Loaded’s stash of 40-year-old Glen Garioch, he’d probably steer the conversation into an arcane tax-policy issue that would likely benefit Amalgamated Rules Bender Inc. to the tune of millions of dollars.
You’d be the only passenger on a sophisticated jet costing $59 million with an hourly operating cost of about $7,000. Yet, before 2007, you’d only pay the cost of first-class airfare to LA — maybe a grand or less, depending on discounts. Then Congress shut the door to corporate-provided air travel by passing the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.
And this week, those idiots at the Federal Election Commission reopened the door.
The act plainly states “a candidate for election for Federal office … may not make any expenditure for a flight on [a noncommercial] aircraft unless … the candidate, the authorized committee, or other political committee pays … the pro rata share of the fair market value of the flight.”
But the FEC changed that by redefining when a member of Congress is or is not a “candidate.” Here’s the explanation from The Campaign Legal Center:
Yet the FEC today adopted a final rule nonsensically declaring that a candidate is not a “candidate,” for the purpose of this statute, when that candidate “is traveling on behalf of another political committee (such as a political party committee or Senate leadership PAC).” Instead, where a candidate claims to be traveling “on behalf of” their own leadership PAC, or one of the many committees controlled by their political party, or any other political committee—the old rules apply, allowing that candidate to pay the price of a commercial air ticket instead of the price of the private plane the candidate is actually flying on.
To make matters worse, FEC Chairman Walther published a statement explaining his decision to provide the necessary fourth vote for the final rule put forth by his three Republican colleagues on the FEC. Preposterously, Chairman Walther cited comments filed in the rulemaking proceeding by the Campaign Legal Center, together with Democracy 21, suggesting that we support this new rule gutting HLOGA. Chairman Walther wrote: “The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 agreed and indicated their support for ‘retain[ing] the existing reimbursement rate structure for non-candidate travel.’” (emphasis added). While we did support retaining the old rate for non-candidate travel, nowhere in our comments did we suggest that candidates should be considered to be engaging in non-candidate travel through the simple expedient of claiming that they are flying “on behalf of” their leadership PAC or other federal political committee. Chairman Walther should know better.
Candidate travel is candidate travel—period.
The FEC’s new rule illegally contradicts the plain meaning of the statute. Unfortunately, gutting or ignoring federal law—that Commissioners would have written differently themselves—has become a recurring habit for the FEC. In an earlier rulemaking, the FEC gutted the intent of another key aspect of HLOGA, allowing lobbyists to easily evade required reporting of bundled campaign contributions.
Provision of non-commercial travel by corporations (and unions) to members of Congress or federal candidates is simply more legalized corruption.
So I wonder how long it will be before enough members of Congress step up to close this loophole by updating the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. Days? Weeks? Next century?