Newspaper: Report Says Big Tobacco Let GOP Use Corporate Jets
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 20) -- The nation's top tobacco companies made their corporate jets available for Republican lawmakers and their committees for dozens of flights last year, The Washington Post reported Monday, citing a report by congressional Democrats.
The tobacco industry provided far more subsidized travel to Republicans than any other industry, according to the report prepared by Democrats on the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
According to the Post, Republicans flew on planes supplied by the Tobacco Institute, the industry's lobbying arm, and three cigarette makers, Philip Morris Companies Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. Much of the travel -- which took GOP lawmakers to destinations from New York City to San Diego -- came at a time when tobacco firms were seeking legislation to protect them from mounting lawsuits, the report found.
The report is to be released by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., one of Congress's leading foes of the tobacco industry, the Post said. Investigators said they found no reports of Democrats
traveling on tobacco company jets between January 1997 and the end of May 1998, the period covered by the study.
Under Federal Election Commission laws, such flights are legal. Lawmakers often used the private jets to arrange campaign travel that would be difficult on commercial flights.
Lawmakers and campaign committees must pay the companies the equivalent of first-class airfare to the same destinations, but private jet travel offered added convenience and luxury, the
If the destination was not served by a commercial airline, the lawmakers paid a charter rate, and the companies picked up the extra costs, the investigators found.
Under FEC laws, committees must report only the amount they paid, the date and to whom and nothing more, making it impossible to learn who traveled and how many flights they made, the Post said.
According to the report, Republican-controlled entitities made 236 payments for travel to corporations during the 17 months of Federal Election Commission disclosures studied, 84 of
which went to the tobacco industry.
Democratic entities made 23 payments to corporations.
Other industries also provide travel on private company jets to lawmakers, including the health care industry, which is involved in a major battle over legislation on Capitol Hill. Other top providers included the insurance industry, casino gaming interests and travel stores.
The report found that the National Republican Congressional Committee, or NRCC, paid the industry about $190,000 for travel in 17 months, the Post said.
Republicans criticized the report. Rep. John Linder of Georgia, chairman of the NRCC, told the paper that he sees "nothing wrong" with the travel. It is "another big perk we get," he said. "I don't apologize for it."
Philip Schiliro, a spokesman for Waxman, defended the Democratic study and told the Post it was "entirely appropriate to investigate the methods the tobacco companies use to influence
Congress and the Republican Party," adding that the study shed light on a "loophole" in the
campaign finance laws.