Private flight spending soars in Democratic presidential race

Private flight spending soars in Democratic presidential race
© Getty Images

Spending on private flights by Democratic presidential candidates soared over the past three months, from roughly $680,000 in the second quarter to more than $2.2 million in the third fundraising period of the year. 

Topping the spending list was former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenUS threatens sweeping export controls against Russian industries Headaches intensify for Democrats in Florida US orders families of embassy staff in Ukraine to leave country MORE, who dropped about $924,000 on private air travel in the period between July 1 and Sept. 30, campaign finance reports show. That’s more than three times as much as the $256,000 he spent in the second quarter. 

ADVERTISEMENT

But Biden isn’t the only one whose charter plane spending surged. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Airlines suspend US flights in response to 5G deployment AT&T, Verizon to delay 5G rollout near certain airports MORE spent nearly $479,000 on private flights over the past three months, up from roughly $300,000 in the second quarter. And Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTo stabilize Central America, the US must craft better incentives for trade Majority in new poll say US headed in wrong direction Biden says Roe v. Wade under attack like 'never before' MORE (D-Calif.) used about $253,000 in campaign cash to charter flights, significantly more than the $17,000 she spent in the second quarter.

The Democratic primary field’s leading progressives, Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows - Russia standoff over Ukraine dominates Sanders says Biden can't count on him to support 'almost any' spending package compromise Sanders says Republicans are 'laughing all the way to Election Day' MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenArizona Democratic Party executive board censures Sinema Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Biden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service MORE (D-Mass.), also saw their private air travel spending swell in the three-month fundraising period. Sanders’s spending rose from $18,000 in the second quarter to more than $360,000 in the third. Meanwhile, Warren’s spending jumped from just under $34,000 to more than $132,000.

An aide to Warren’s campaign said that the campaign offsets its carbon emissions from travel, noting that it paid $10,150 to Native Energy, a carbon offset provider, last month. Buttigieg’s campaign likewise spent $1,900 on carbon offsets, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

The increased charter plane spending isn’t entirely unexpected. With the first primaries and caucuses fast approaching, the candidates have ramped up their travel schedules to spend more time in the early voting states that will be critical to securing the nomination.

Still, the flights are expensive. In Biden’s case, more than $1 in every $20 his campaign spent in the third quarter went toward private air travel, campaign finance records show. For Harris, charter plane spending amounted to about $1 in every $50 spent.

A spokesperson for Buttigieg’s campaign said the mayor took commercial flights most of the time, but occasionally chartered planes because of the distance between South Bend and major airports, as well as his increasingly rigorous campaign schedule.

“There aren’t many direct flights from South Bend to places around the country. So when you have as vigorous of a campaign schedule as the mayor has you need to take extra measures to ensure you can fly across the country, that you can be in Iowa and New Hampshire and the other early states,” the spokesperson said.

Other candidates who dropped campaign cash on private flights include Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockDark money group spent 0M on voter turnout in 2020 In Montana, a knock-down redistricting fight over a single line 65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE, who spent about $40,500; Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharWicker: Biden comments on Ukraine caused 'distress' for both parties Effort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum Hillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill MORE (D-Minn.), who spent about $23,000; and former tech executive Andrew YangAndrew YangBottom line American elections are getting less predictable; there's a reason for that Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run MORE, who spent just under $26,000. 

A spokesperson for Bullock’s campaign noted that the Montana governor took two private flights over the course of the quarter, and did so only under “emergency circumstances.” In one case, the spokesperson said, a commercial flight was canceled so Bullock chartered a private plane instead.

A spokesperson for Yang’s campaign declined to comment on his private flights, and spokespeople for Biden, Sanders, Harris and Klobuchar did not respond to The Hill’s requests for comment.