- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign has reaped a huge taxpayer subsidy worth millions of dollars as he hop-scotched the country in Air Force Two for the past year to pursue donations and publicity to support his candidacy, according to Defense Department sources.
Mr. Gore's use of Air Force Two a Boeing 747 dedicated to the White House that costs $26,250 an hour to fly has already saved his campaign enormous sums to charter planes, as presumptive presidential Republican candidate George W. Bush has done at a cost of more than $130,000 a week.
The vice president logged more than 375 flight hours for continuous coast-to-coast political travel in the White House jet since April 1999, at a cost of about $10 million to the Pentagon budget, according to sources close to the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, home of the air fleet that transports the president and other top government executives.
Under laws permitting White House and congressional incumbents to use government aircraft for reimbursable nonofficial travel, Clinton administration bookkeepers had billed Mr. Gore's campaign just $831,103 for use of the aircraft up to the end of May, according to his campaign finance reports to the Federal Election Commission.
Government regulations require Mr. Gore to pay just the cost of a first-class airline ticket for each passenger on a political trip aboard Air Force Two, or the cost of chartering a plane to any airport destination that does not provide first-class air service.
"It is the strong recommendation of the Secret Service that they use military aircraft for their transportation," said James Kennedy, Mr. Gore's White House spokesman.
"Whether it is a Democratic or Republican administration, they have all abided by that. The campaign is billed. That is all done according to regulation and legal procedures," Mr. Kennedy said.
Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for Mr. Bush, Texas governor, said his GOP presidential campaign spent $6.9 million on air travel between April 1999 and June 1. He said the Bush campaign had no quarrel with Mr. Gore's use of government aircraft as vice president, but that political travel should be fully reimbursed to the government.
"We hope that the travel is calculated properly and reimbursed properly, and that this privilege is not abused," Mr. Sullivan said.
Mr. Kennedy said he could not provide a listing of Mr. Gore's flights and air time for political travel aboard White House aircraft over the past 15 months. "It would be difficult to obtain information on hours flown or the number of trips. I haven't compiled anything," the spokesman said. "His schedule is public."
A review of Mr. Gore's air travel by The Washington Times shows that he has used Air Force Two for at least 130 trips throughout the country since April 1999, including repeated visits to key battleground election states.
He has flown to California and New York 10 times each; Michigan and Pennsylvania, five times each; Florida, Illinois and Ohio, three times each; New Hampshire every month for 11 months before the key primary there; and Iowa every month for eight months before the key caucuses in that state.
President Clinton also has flown 69 political trips on Air Force One since 1998, plus 54 other trips where official and political events were mixed in states throughout the country. Mr. Gore accompanied the president on many of those trips mainly for Democratic fund-raising events.
Members of Congress also are permitted to fly aboard military aircraft for official or reimbursable nonofficial political travel, and so incumbent members of both parties have supported the practice for many years.
But the issue sparked controversy on Capitol Hill this year in reaction to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's use of presidential aircraft as part of her campaign to win a Senate seat in New York.
The House Appropriations Committee found that Mrs. Clinton had taken more than 115 political trips to the state aboard 12-seater Gulfstream executive jets assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing, at a cost of more than $182,000 to taxpayers and commenced a probe to determine whether the first lady had abused her access to presidential aircraft.
The committee found that administration bookkeepers had billed Mrs. Clinton's campaign just $36,685 for the flights through March 1 and questioned whether she might have been underbilled because certain trips were classified as official in her capacity as first lady, rather than political trips.
"Taxpayers should know about it, since it's their property, and also know what the amount is being reimbursed," said Bob Moran, legislative director for Rep. John E. Peterson, Pennsylvania Republican, a member of the panel who has introduced legislation to require full disclosure of government air travel by congressional candidates.
In the case of Mrs. Clinton's travel on White House planes, in her capacity as first lady but in pursuit of her Senate candidacy, "we don't know what rates and what formulas are being used [by the president's bookkeepers] to bill her campaign," Mr. Moran said.
"The FEC has clearly put out guidelines that they must reimburse for each passenger at the first-class rate, and if there is no first-class airfare to that area, at the charter rate. We can't say the White House is following the FEC guidelines."
Last August, the General Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog, reviewed reimbursement practices by users of the federal air fleet at Andrews AFB. The GAO told the Senate Appropriations Committee that the Defense Department was often late in billing users and that some travel was not reimbursed for six years.

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