Two Democratic lawmakers are urging the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to adopt a rule change that would limit the influence corporations have on legislators by requiring federal candidates and officials from their leadership political action committees and campaigns who fly on non-commercial jets to pay the full charter cost.
Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who were instrumental in including a corporate jet provision in a lobbying and ethics reform bill passed in September, filed a joint comment letter this week to the FEC, which will hold a public hearing on the proposed rule change Nov. 15.
The change would implement sections of The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, which restricted, and in some cases prohibited, candidates for federal office from using campaign funds for non-commercial air travel. Under current law, Senate candidates must reimburse the owners of corporate jets the full charter rate, as opposed to the first-class rate for similar travel. House candidates are generally prohibited from flying on non-commercial flights.
Feingold and Obama wrote that the new rule should keep the intent of Congress intact by making a candidate’s authorized committee pay the entire charter rate, regardless of how many representatives of non-candidate committees are on the flight.
“Any other rule would allow evasion of the clear intent of Congress by allowing the corporate jet’s owner or the candidate to invite people to fly with the candidate in order to reduce the amount the candidate must reimburse the owner for the flight,” the comment stated.
If more than one candidate is flying on the same jet, the proposed rule would require the full cost to be divided between them. The same would hold true if a person were traveling on behalf of the candidate, even if the candidate were not on board.
The FEC also received comments from the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, respectively, which expressed concern that the Commission might exceed its authority by expanding the rule to include all types of political committees.
“The Act … is clear that it applies to House, Senate, and presidential candidates, and candidates’ authorized committees — nowhere does the statute suggest or contemplate extending the full charter reimbursement rate to parties outside those specified in the Act,” the RNC wrote.
Both organizations expressed support for an alternative that would retain the current reimbursement rate structure for all campaign travelers not traveling on behalf of a candidate or that candidate’s authorized committee.