Elected Officials Flying High on The Taxpayer Dime

Michi Iljazi

August 19, 2014

Former Secretary of State Clinton still traveling on taxpayer dime (Wikimedia)

As Labor Day approaches, folks across the United States prepare to to take that one last vacation before the end of summer.  Whether it’s planning a road trip in the car or flying to their vacation spot, Americans carefully plan the financial logistics of where to go and what they can afford.  A new report by the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation shows that current and former federal agency officials and senators don’t have those financial worries as they use taxpayer money to fund their personal travel.

According to data complied by the Sunlight Foundation, nearly 25 percent of the 100 member U.S. Senate spent $1 million in taxpayer money on chartered flights in 2013.  In particular, Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-Va.) four-day trip across the state of Virginia was highlighted by Paul Singer and Donovan Slack in USA Today in writing about the Sunlight Foundation’s findings:

Warner was one of two dozen U.S. senators who flew taxpayer-funded charter airplanes to, from or around their home state last year at a total cost of just under $1 million, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Senate spending records compiled by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.

Senators pay for their official duties from taxpayer-funded accounts set aside for them to cover costs of staff, travel, office supplies and the like. The rules allow them to use these accounts to pay for charter aircraft for official travel when commercial flights “are not such that reasonable schedules may be kept.” Senators decide which way to travel, and some eschewed private jets in favor of flying commercial or simply driving.

In total, chartered flights in 2013 cost taxpayers $920,000 and was bipartisan, with Republicans and Democrats both getting in on the spending. When questioned about the expenses, Senate offices claimed that the schedule dictated that senators charter flights instead of other forms of available public transportation. The flaw in that logic is that with more than a month to spend on vacation, they can certainly find time in their schedule to use other means of transportation to get around their home state.

What should be of greater concern to the public is when the line is blurred and there are possible violations of the law that cost taxpayers money. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who is in the midst of a tough reelection campaign, encountered such a problem last week when it was revealed in a report from CNN that her office charged taxpayers for a chartered flight en route to a campaign fundraiser. The expenditure was in clear violation of federal law. Sen. Landrieu’s office admitted the mistake and said that they would reimburse the funds to avoid any impropriety:

“She was traveling back to D.C. through Dallas, and a fundraiser in Dallas was added to her schedule. Out of an abundance of caution in case there was a cost allocation error connected to this flight, the Senate will be reimbursed for the [Shreveport to Dallas] flight.”

While it is certainly fair to give politicians benefit of the doubt in matters such as this, it becomes more and more difficult when we see continued examples of behavior that seems to showcase the disconnect between Washington and the rest of the country.  For example, Attorney General Eric Holder and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both used taxpayer dollars to fund their personal travel.

Alex Pappas of The Daily Caller detailed Eric Holder’s taxpayer-funded personal travel:

Even for personal trips like this, the attorney general doesn’t fly commercial. For security reasons, Holder — like other top government officials — flies a government plane, though is required to reimburse taxpayers for airfare.

According to records obtained by The Daily Caller through a Freedom of Information Act request, Holder is getting pretty good deal here — especially when he flies a government-owned Gulfstream V jet.

That one day trip to Elmont, N.Y. on June 7, according to records provided to The DC by the Department of Justice, ended up costing the government $14,440.

But Holder only had to reimburse the government $955 for flying him and four passengers to the final leg of the Triple Crown horse races that day.

That’s because he only has to pay the equivalent cost of a coach commercial airline ticket for each non-law enforcement passenger — not the total cost to charter the plane.

While the Taxpayers Protection Alliance is mindful of the security issues for any federal agency head, the rate being discounted and then the rest of the cost being picked up by taxpayers for a personal trip for the Attorney General and his friends is outrageous.

As a former federal agency head, Hillary Clinton’s use of taxpayer money is even more disturbing.  Last week it was revealed that taxpayers actually picked up some travel expenses for her book tour.  According to The Daily Mail:

The expenses included a $3,668 charge for her to enjoy a single night’s lodging in a suite at the posh Four Seasons George V hotel in Paris…

Purchase orders also show that taxpayers footed the bill for a $5,100 rental of three Mercedes-Benz executive limousine vans during a single day in Berlin…

Rental cars for Secret Service agents in Paris totaled a whopping $11,291.

This is particularly frustrating for taxpayers because she is a private citizen using taxpayer money to fund her promotion of a book she was paid millions in advance for writing.

There is very little value for the public when a sitting Attorney General or former Secretary of State use protocol and guidelines to essentially shoulder the cost of personal travel onto taxpayers. There is also little public value when senators on either side of the aisle are chartering flights to get to the next event just a little faster. Maybe taking a train, sitting in coach, or walking the streets is exactly the kind of thing our representatives in Washington need to really connect with their constituents.

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