Candidate Jet Use Under Microscope

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New rules governing the accounting of private jet use by political candidates have Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry on the defensive, and others in the race are undoubtedly hoping to learn from his experience. Despite the negative rhetoric from Washington disdaining their use, private aircraft are the transport tool of choice for high-level campaigns and all candidates use them. But The New York Times has questioned whether Perry's use of Texas businessman Brian Pardo's Citation X at a rate of about $2,300 an hour contravened rules that say candidates must pay fair market value for flights, regardless of who owns the airplane. A quick look at rates from a variety of charter operators suggests the going rate is about $4,000 an hour.

The rules were enacted to prevent supporters from making back-door donations by allowing the underfunded use of their airplanes by candidates. The old rules used to require reimbursement based on the first-class airfare that would be charged for each flight. Under the new rules, calculations get a lot more complicated and subjective when the relationship of those occupying the seats to the campaign are taken into consideration. For instance, if there are media along, a candidate wouldn't have to include their portion of the theoretical charter rate in the reimbursement. How that might apply to family members, ancillary staff (like security) or others not directly involved in the campaign will undoubtedly be the subject of much head-scratching in the next year. For his part, Pardo said he asked Perry staffers to pay him whatever the rule said he was owed and he relied on them to do the math. The Times says the Perry campaign has now referred the matter to a team of outside lawyers and accountants to see if they did it correctly.