McCain Saved Money, Legally, on Charter Jets!

John McCain (who, as we all know, is the beneficiary of kid gloves treatment from the mainstream press while the two contenders for the Democratic nomination are constantly getting unfair coverage) has been targeted with another non-scandal scandal by his good friends at the New York Times.

Given Senator John McCain’s signature stance on campaign finance reform, it was not surprising that he backed legislation last year requiring presidential candidates to pay the actual cost of flying on corporate jets. The law, which requires campaigns to pay charter rates when using such jets rather than cheaper first-class fares, was intended to reduce the influence of lobbyists and create a level financial playing field.

But over a seven-month period beginning last summer, Mr. McCain’s cash-short campaign gave itself an advantage by using a corporate jet owned by a company headed by his wife, Cindy McCain, according to public records. For five of those months, the plane was used almost exclusively for campaign-related purposes, those records show. Mr. McCain’s campaign paid a total of $241,149 for the use of that plane from last August through February, records show. That amount is approximately the cost of chartering a similar jet for a month or two, according to industry estimates.

The senator was able to fly so inexpensively because the law specifically exempts aircraft owned by a candidate or his family or by a privately held company they control. The Federal Election Commission adopted rules in December to close the loophole — rules that would have required substantial payments by candidates using family-owned planes — but the agency soon lost the requisite number of commissioners needed to complete the rule making.

So . . . McCain backed a law that allowed him to do exactly what he later did — and which was legal before the law was passed, too — and he then did it. The FEC would have passed a regulation that changed the law (how, exactly, I don’t know because bureaucratic agencies lack the authority to override legislation) but, alas, it didn’t.

Like Roger Kimball, I don’t see what the story is here.

Josh Marshall agrees that there’s probably nothing wrong here but considers this “gaming” the system and using unnecessary “roundabout” to disguise what was going on.

MyDD‘s Josh Orton calls the story a “blockbuster” which “exposes two more broken McCain pledges: to not to fly on corporate jets, and to not exploit his wife’s wealth for campaign advantage.” Amanda Terkel of Think Progress agrees. But McCain objection to corporate jets was that said corporations might thereby gain undue influence; surely, that’s not a consideration when the corporation is owned by his wife? And it’s rather different to use your wife’s airplane or another existing, durable asset than to accept millions in cash, no? The jet, after all, remains an asset whereas cash is spent.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    The dog that didn’t bark in the story was that the reason the FEC didn’t change the law was because they lacked a quorum. The reason they lacked the quorum is because the democratic controlled senate won’t vote on the nominees.

    So the real scandal revealed by the NYT is the story they didn’t cover. Namely that the democrats aren’t doing their part of the job in keeping the machinery of government running.

  2. tommy jonq says:

    but, wouldn’t it worse if he and his wife (or her company) were getting rich off his campaign?

  3. floyd says:

    So, you’re saying we have a guy smart enough to be president without breaking the law![lol]
    Now that’s a novelty!

  4. Wendy says:

    How responsible is it for all of our presidential candidates to zip around in private jets given the impact on the environment? I understand the need for convenience but it does seem ironic given the populist platforms they all have been running on.

    Presidential Planes: The Candidates and their Private Jets

  5. you’re saying we have a guy smart enough to be president without breaking the law???