Hillary Clinton Faces Scrutiny for Use of Private JetsJonathan Allen
Hillary Clinton took more than 200 privately chartered flights at taxpayer expense during her eight years in the U.S. Senate, sometimes using the jets of corporations and major campaign donors as she racked up $225,756 in flight costs.
Clinton, 67, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, reported the travel in official filings with the Senate. The records were provided to Bloomberg News by a Republican operative.
Some of the companies whose planes she used included Coca-Cola Co., Citigroup Inc. and Saban Capital Group Inc.
While the flights fell within congressional rules and were not out of the ordinary for senators at the time, they could play into the emerging Republican line of attack that Clinton’s wealth and years in government office have left her out of touch with the voters she’ll court on the campaign trail.
Republican Mitt Romney, who is considering another bid for president, took a swipe at Clinton’s suggestion to voters that “corporations and businesses” don’t create jobs when he spoke in Starkville, Mississippi, last night.
“How can Secretary Clinton provide opportunity for all if she doesn’t know where jobs come from in the first place?” said Romney, who battled similar charges due to his wealth in his earlier campaigns. Clinton later revised her remarks by saying she meant that tax breaks that reward businesses for moving operations overseas don’t create jobs in the U.S.
An unnamed aide to Romney told multiple news outlets this week that Clinton would have a hard time portraying Romney as out of touch in a 2016 campaign when she owns multimillion dollar houses and seldom flies commercial.
Nick Merrill, a Clinton spokesman, said she flew on chartered planes to make it easier to visit her constituents, one reason the Senate allows lawmakers to use private jets.
“As a cornerstone of her tireless work on behalf of New York, she constantly crisscrossed the state to meet with the people she represented,” Merrill said in a statement. “As anyone in the Senate representing a large state knows -- and as reported down to the penny in public filings -- that means going to hard-to-reach places, not just those conveniently located near major airports.”
Clinton took all forms of transportation to get around the state and her constituents rewarded her for it, Merrill said.
“She did whatever it took to get to where the people of New York actually lived and worked,” he said. “Based on her resounding re-election, that’s exactly what her constituents expected of her.”
Members of the Senate spent $1 million in taxpayer money on privately chartered flights in 2013, according to a report in USA Today. The practice became a political issue last year for Democratic Senate candidates, including Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, who lost, and Virginia’s Mark Warner, who won a closer-than-expected battle for re-election.
Landrieu spent $47,000 on charter flights in 2013 and Warner spent $8,500 on a tour around his state that year, USA Today reported. While some senators don’t charter flights at all, Clinton’s eight-year average of $28,125 per year falls within the range of other lawmakers.
Still, Clinton is facing criticism from Republicans for flights she took more than six years ago.
“The examples of how out of touch Hillary is continue to rack up,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “Hillary’s love of private jet travel doesn’t even stop at taxpayer dollars.”
In Clinton’s case, private air travel involved jets owned by companies including Coca-Cola, Citigroup and Abbott Laboratories.
There is no evidence her Senate trips, which ranged in cost from less than $200 to upwards of $3,000 per flight, ran afoul of Senate rules, which were tightened by a 2007 ethics law. Before the law was changed, senators were required to pay the cost of a first-class ticket to ride aboard a private jet -- or, in some cases, even less. In Clinton’s final two years in the Senate, lawmakers who flew on private or chartered planes had to pay their proportional share of the cost of the flight based on the number of passengers.
The figures don’t include money spent for aides who accompanied her, which are also a public record.
Clinton also reported traveling on jets owned by a handful of private companies and investment groups, including InfoUSA, now known as InfoGroup Inc., Avenue Capital Group LLC and Saban Capital Group.
The latter firm was founded by longtime Clinton campaign financier Haim Saban, who, along with his wife and their family foundation, contributed between $10 million and $25 million to the Clinton Foundation through 2013.
Last year, he told Bloomberg Television that he will spend “as much as needed” to help elect Clinton president in 2016.
Clinton turned to friends and donors for help getting from place to place as she campaigned for re-election to the Senate in 2006, and for the presidency in 2007 and 2008.
When she criticized President George W. Bush’s use of the powers of the presidency at a women’s leadership forum in Providence, Rhode Island, on April 8, 2006, she flew round trip on Avenue Capital Group’s plane at a cost of $408. The firm, run by Clinton campaign benefactor Marc Lasry, later hired Chelsea Clinton, Hillary’s daughter. Chelsea Clinton worked there until 2013, when she turned her focus to the Clinton Foundation.
Three days after the trip to Providence, Clinton told the Economic Club of Chicago that the public and private sectors must work together to build a stronger economy. She flew back to Washington on an Abbott Laboratories plane at a cost of $475.93.
“We do have a choice about how we deal with globalization and the competitive threat that it poses,” she said. “We can choose to unleash the power of innovation and enterprise in ways that promote our economic growth and our values so that all Americans share in the prosperity.”
Clinton flew from White Plains, New York, to Washington to pick up top aide Huma Abedin on the way to Charleston, South Carolina, on December 30, 2005, according to records kept by the Senate. They rode aboard InfoUSA’s jet, which company founder Vinod Gupta, a close family friend, often used to transport and entertain the Clintons and other recognizable figures, according to court filings. Hillary Clinton billed the Senate for $858 to fly on his company’s plane.
Bill Clinton made more than $3 million as an adviser to InfoUSA after leaving the White House in January 2001 and also was given options on 100,000 shares of stock, which were never exercised. In 2010, Gupta paid a $7.4 million settlement after the Securities and Exchange Commission charged him with misappropriating company funds, and he later paid a larger sum to settle a shareholder suit.
As first lady and as secretary of state, Clinton traveled mostly on government-owned planes, including Air Force One and a Boeing 757 used by the nation’s top diplomat. With few exceptions, they weren’t available to her when she was a senator from 2001 through early 2009 or on the paid-lecture circuit after she left the State Department in February 2013.
After her tour as the nation’s top diplomat, Clinton required groups to pay for private air travel when they booked her to speak. And fellow Democrats paid $1.5 million from political accounts to fly Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to campaign events in the 2014 election cycle, according to Politico.
The bulk of Clinton’s Senate flights were chartered through Aircraft Services Group Inc., which boasts two Gulstream IV jets and a 16-seat Embraer Legacy among its managed fleet.
The president and chief executive officer of Aircraft Services Group, George Reenstra, donated $500 apiece to Clinton’s Senate and presidential campaigns in 2006 and 2007, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Clinton charged taxpayers $14,801.86 for 11 privately chartered trips she took between the time she announced her first presidential bid in early 2007 through the end of the Democratic primary in June 2008. In each case, she flew between Washington and New York or between cities within her home state.
The issue isn’t so much whether Clinton added to government spending, said Steve Ellis, vice president at the Washington nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense. The money came out of her Senate office budget, which is a fixed sum. Rather, Ellis said, it’s a question of how her use of that budget reflects on the way she would allocate the larger federal spending pie.
“It’s important to see where lawmakers think they should be spending their resources,” he said.