'08 Campaigning on a Jet Plane

Many '08 candidates bypass travel nightmares by flying on corporate jets.

Aug. 24, 2007 — -- As the end of the summer travel season nears, many Americans have an air travel horror story. Delayed or even canceled flights. Lost baggage. Ever-changing security rules. Cramped seats.

Some of the 2008 presidential candidates have bypassed travel nightmares by flying high in style -- either on expensive privately chartered jets or by hitching a ride on the corporate jets of some of the world's wealthiest businesses.

Other White House wannabes fly with the masses on commercial flights -- either because of ethical reasons or simply because they can't afford to travel any other way.

However, with a packed campaign event schedule, large entourages, more hands to shake than ever because of the early primary voting states, criss-crossing the nation on regular commercial flights has become a challenge.

Travel Delays Thwart Presidential Candidates

A delayed flight caused Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. to miss a scheduled campaign event last month in Pittsburgh. The White House wannabe was forced to address supporters by speaker phone.

Early in the campaign McCain pledged he wouldn't take flights on private corporate planes.

Two other presidential candidates, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., saw firsthand how a private jet can speed things along when their commercial flight to Washington from Charleston, S.C., last month was briefly grounded.

The reason? President Bush had landed on Air Force One at the same airport, causing the baggage handlers to be cleared from the tarmac for security reasons.

Many politicians, including Biden, freely admit they would rather fly on a private or corporate jet.

"If I had a plane, I would make 30 percent more appearances in the state of Iowa, in New Hampshire, in Nevada," Biden told Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson last month. "That's where money does make a difference," said Biden, whose fundraising effort lags far below '08 rivals Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

Ann Romney, wife of millionaire Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has also admitted she'd rather fly on a private jet.

"It's hard to travel," Ann Romney told a group of supporters in South Carolina last month. "Most of the time I fly commercial but sometimes I fly private which is really, really terrific," she said.

Ann Romney jokingly vowed that if she becomes first lady, she would do away with the three-ounce liquid restriction on commercial flights.

"You're only allowed three ounces in one of those little tiny quart sized bags, and I just can't make that work," she said, arguing the rule isn't fair to women who carry around more beauty products than men.

Candidates Flying High on Chartered Jets

Cash-rich presidential candidates, like Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., are flying to rallies, debates and fundraisers, using their vast campaign war chests to charter private jets.

Both Obama and Clinton have promised to forgo corporate jets in favor of chartering their own private planes.

But chartering your own private jet can be costly.

A return flight from Washington, D.C., to Manchester, N.H., on a chartered Citation III jet, which seats eight passengers, would cost almost $22,000 return, according to Air Charter, a private jet company based out of Missouri and frequently used by Obama's campaign.

The Obama campaign spent $340,000 on private planes in just February and March of 2007, using Air Charter, according to FEC documents.

Obama has spent the most on travel so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, spending about $696,000 on hotels, private planes, commercial flights and rental cars.

Other White House wannabes have found a way to get those costs down by using corporate jets and reimbursing the owners the cost of a first-class ticket, which is far below the cost of operating a private plane.

Candidates Fly on Corporate Jets at Reduced Rate

Almost half of the Republican and Democratic candidates running for president are traveling at reduced rates on corporate private jets, according to federal election campaign disclosures.

Federal Election Commission rules allow candidates to pay what amounts to a first-class ticket to fly on corporate-owned private jets.

A bill passed in both the Senate and House would close that loophole in federal law but President Bush has yet to sign the bill into law.

"It's been a very good deal for candidates who have access to these jets," said Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics.

"They're essentially getting an in-kind subsidy or contribution for their travel from the people who own these planes and the question is what are the plane owners getting in return?" he said, noting the wealthy owners of corporate planes are eating the bulk of the cost of operating the plane for the candidate.

Other campaign reform groups agree candidates who pay only the price of a first-class ticket instead of full charter fare to ride on a corporate jet are getting an incredible deal -- and other think that could seem unethical.

"Candidates should be paying fair market value for the use of corporate jets," said Fred Worthheimer of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan campaign reform advocacy group that is lobbying for closing the FEC loophole.

"Corporations are providing substantial financial benefits by providing their jets for candidates at first-class airfare which is greatly reduced from the cost of chartering an airplane," Wothheimer said.

Romney, Edwards, Giuliani, Richardson Fly on Private Jets

Early on Romney's campaign actively solicited corporate jets as a way to save money.

The Romney campaign has spent almosy $620,000 in travel expenditures on corporate jets, commercial flights, hotels and vehicles, according to a campaign document filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The Edwards campaign has paid more than $430,000 to Fred Baron for the use of his private plane, according FEC documents.

Baron, a successful asbestos trial lawyer, is a former president of the Association of American Trial Lawyers and is currently the national finance chair of Edwards' '08 presidential bid.

Giuliani has paid more than $175,000 this year for flights on private jets leased by Elliott Asset Management, a company owned by Paul E. Singer, a hedge fund executive.

"Corporate jets are a much easier way to get around the country than commercial jets," said Ritsch. "Anyone who's been to an airport recently knows how difficult it is to get in and out. If presidential candidates had to do that they'd waste a lot of time that they could be spending with voters or with campaign contributors, so thats why they do it," he said.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is running for the Democratic nomination, has gotten into hot water because his campaign has paid almost $16,000 to Foxtrot Partners, a business affiliated with a local developer that had sought business contracts from the state of New Mexico.

Running Into Candidates in the Airport

Many presidential candidates fly on commercial planes to save money, and even to be seen by voters as down-to-earth.

2004 presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was spotted in a New Hampshire airport just one month before becoming the Democratic nominee.

This month former Republican presidential candidate Gov. Tommy Thompson, who recently dropped out of the race because of a poor showing at the Iowa Straw Poll, was spotted on a commercial flight chatting with voters after the ABC News Republican debate.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican presidential candidate, was also spotted on a flight from Iowa following the debate, reading a book about the Islamic prophet Mohammed.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and former Gov. Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee, were also spotted recently on flights back from Iowa after the ABC News Democratic debate.

ABC News' Sunlen Miller, Bret Hovell, Jan Simmonds and Brian Wheeler contributed to this report.