Private flight spending soars in Democratic presidential race

Private flight spending soars in Democratic presidential race
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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 BidenDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report Giuliani pens op-ed slamming 'unprecedented' impeachment inquiry 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. 

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But Biden isn’t the only one whose charter plane spending surged. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Saagar Enjeti rips Buttigieg for praising Obama after misquote Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment 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 Devi HarrisOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates Poll: Buttigieg leads Democratic field in Iowa Press: Another billionaire need not apply 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 SandersDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Overnight Health Care: Top health official defends contract payments to Trump allies | Vaping advocates confident Trump will turn from flavor ban | Sanders gets endorsement from nurses union Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment 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 BullockPress: Another billionaire need not apply Obama's former chief economist advising Buttigieg The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump says Dems shouldn't hold public hearings MORE, who spent about $40,500; Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharGoogle sparks new privacy fears over health care data Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment Outsider candidates outpoll insider candidates MORE (D-Minn.), who spent about $23,000; and former tech executive Andrew YangAndrew YangOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates Is Andrew Yang's pivot working? New Quinnipiac poll finds Biden leading in New Hampshire 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.