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 BidenBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally 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. 


But Biden isn’t the only one whose charter plane spending surged. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegLGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress Buttigieg says it's time to 'turn the page' on Trump administration Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 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 HarrisTrump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally Overnight Defense: US, Russia closer on nuclear treaty extension after Moscow accepts warhead freeze | Khashoggi's fiancee sues Saudi crown prince | Biden nets hundreds more national security endorsements Democrats make gains in Georgia Senate races: poll 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 SandersOcasio-Cortez rolls out Twitch channel to urge voting Calls grow for Democrats to ramp up spending in Texas The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Tipping point week for Trump, Biden, Congress, voters MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenJustice Department charges Google with illegally maintaining search monopoly Overnight Health Care: Trump takes criticism of Fauci to a new level | GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci | Birx confronted Pence about Atlas Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing 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 BullockPandemic politics dominate competitive governor's races Judge tosses land management plans after ousting Pendley from role Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big MORE, who spent about $40,500; Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDurbin signals he isn't interested in chairing Judiciary Committee Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing MORE (D-Minn.), who spent about $23,000; and former tech executive Andrew YangAndrew YangPelosi spars with CNN's Blitzer over COVID-19 aid: 'You really don't know what you're talking about' The shape of guaranteed income Biden's latest small business outreach is just ... awful 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.