Campaign

Private flight spending soars in Democratic presidential race

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 Biden, 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 Buttigieg spent nearly $479,000 on private flights over the past three months, up from roughly $300,000 in the second quarter. And Sen. Kamala Harris (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 Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (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 Bullock, who spent about $40,500; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who spent about $23,000; and former tech executive Andrew Yang, 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.

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