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The perks of presidential travel

From Mark Rodeffer and Claire Brinberg
CNN Political Unit

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President has edge on campaign travel
YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
George W. Bush
Federal Election Commission
White House
Scott McClellan

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the price of a first-class airplane ticket, a U.S. president can practically turn Air Force One into his own private re-election express.

It's not really that simple, but there's no denying that incumbency has its advantages in a re-election campaign, as this week's "How it Works" explains.

"If there are political events, they are paid for out of campaign funds," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, referring to the distinction between public and campaign funds.

When a president uses Air Force One to travel to a campaign event, his campaign must reimburse the government the approximate cost of a first-class ticket for the president and all the political aides traveling with him.

Although Air Force One's operating costs per person far exceed the cost of even a first-class commercial ticket, the logic is that it's unfair to charge the president's campaign for the full cost of operating Air Force One because he has no choice but to fly on the presidential plane for security reasons.

"One hundred seventy million dollars would not be nearly enough for the president to run for re-election if he had to reimburse the full cost of traveling on Air Force One," Federal Election Commission spokesman Bob Biersack said.

Officials from President Bush's campaign have said they plan to raise around $170 million for his re-election effort.

The Bush campaign declined to specify how much Bush's travel costs. But whatever the costs, they are worth it, McClellan said.

"This president believes it's important to get outside of Washington, D.C., and visit with the American people, and hear their concerns and talk to them about what we are doing to address those concerns," McClellan said.

Biersack said a common misperception is that when the president mixes official and political business on the same trip, his campaign can halve its reimbursement to the government.

"The campaign must pay for travel to any destination where campaign activity takes place, regardless of what else happens at the destination," Biersack said.

But when the trip involves only official presidential business, Bush's campaign doesn't pay a dime -- even if the president benefits from the exposure. During such trips, Bush can't explicitly campaign for re-election.


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