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 BidenSuspect in FedEx shooting used two assault rifles he bought legally: police US, China say they are 'committed' to cooperating on climate change DC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is 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 ButtigiegWhite House says gas tax won't be part of infrastructure bill The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden meets with bipartisan lawmakers for infrastructure negotiations Senate Republicans label Biden infrastructure plan a 'slush fund' 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 HarrisDC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is Florida nurse arrested, accused of threatening to kill Harris Oddsmakers say Harris, not Biden, most likely to win 2024 nomination, election 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 SandersWorld passes 3 million coronavirus deaths Sirota: Biden has not fulfilled campaign promise of combating union-busting tactics Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWorld passes 3 million coronavirus deaths Poll: 56 percent say wealth tax is part of solution to inequality Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents 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 BullockBiden set to pick conservation advocate for top land management role Montana governor signs bill banning sanctuary cities Progressives' majority delusions politically costly MORE, who spent about $40,500; Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after pushback from Klobuchar, Lee Lobbying world MORE (D-Minn.), who spent about $23,000; and former tech executive Andrew YangAndrew YangYang expands lead in NYC mayor race: poll Evelyn Yang pens children's book on sexual abuse, reveals she was sexually assaulted as a child Yang pitches plan to revive Broadway, live performances in New York 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.