U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D) chartered a government paid private plane to travel from Durham, N.C., where he was helping to move his daughter move into college, to Jonesville, VA to begin a swing of meetings with constituents in Southwest Virginia. The trip occurred between August 21-24, 2012.
The flight cost taxpayers $4,680.05. He then flew from Blountville, TN (the airport that serves the tri-cities portion of Southwest Virginia) back to D.C. on another chartered flight. That flight cost taxpayers $6,357.70.
These flights are in addition to the flights attributed to Warner in a USA Today report that outlined chartered air travel by members of the U.S. Senate.
Warner's opponent former Bush aide Ed Gillespie (R) has attacked the incumbent's use of taxpayer funded private air travel as not fiscally responsible.
At first glance the travel appears suspicious because in addition to the travel paid for by the Senate, Warner also lists a hotel charge on his campaign expenditures for $3,000 on August 21st in North Carolina (pg 57 of the document). However a campaign official explained that Warner was not involved in a political event that week. The charge is the remaining balance on his lodging during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, which just happened to be paid at the same time he was in North Carolina.
Warner was in Durham for a personal reason, moving his daughter into Duke University. He paid for the travel to Durham on his own. Then, because he was moving on to official Senate business, he charged the flight to Jonesville to the Senate. The expenditure was cleared through Senate ethics reviewers.
Team Warner has defended his use of private turbo prop planes, many of them 30-40 years old, for Senate travel as the result of the rigorous schedule the Senator maintains, especially when traveling to remote sections of Virginia.
On this particular trip to the Southwest, Warner held 13 different events over three days in 10 different towns. The swing included a trip into an underground coal mine, Buchanan Mine #2, in Oakwood in Buchanan County.
Glade Spring Mayor Tom Coburn (D) said Warner's visits to the region are invaluable.
"Our focus should be that he cares enough to see, first hand the current state of Southwest Virginia, and most importantly, that he asked us, face to face, what he could do to help," said Mayor Coburn in a quote provided through the Warner campaign.
Gillespie's camp argues that commercial air travel would serve the same purpose at a fraction of the cost and often remind voters that Warner is one of the wealthiest members of the Senate. In response to the USA today story, the Gillespie campaign pointed to a similar travel schedule of Warner's fellow Democrat, Sen. Tim Kaine that was conducted all by automobile that was outlined in the report.
But as the USA Today story points out Warner is one of many members of the Senate who take advantage of chartered air travel, which is an acceptable expenditure within the confines of each Senator's office budget. Warner in fact gave back $1.6 million to the Treasury in unspent office and travel funds since 2009.
Warner isn't even the only Senator from Virginia to use chartered air travel to get around the state. According to Senate Disbursement Records, Republican George Allen racked up $104,948 in air travel charges during his six years in the Senate.
Even Gillespie himself could not bring himself to make a pledge to not take chartered air during a conference call on the Warner plane controversy. A point the Warner camp seized on.
"His attack is nothing but hypocrisy," said Warner campaign spokesman David Turner. "Contrary to Gillespie's attacks, Senator Warner has never used a luxury jet for official travel. The fact is, Senator Warner is a careful steward of taxpayer dollars."
Don't expect that to keep the Gillespie camp from using Warner's air travel as a way to dust up his record as a fiscal watchdog and deficit hawk. His campaign has already released a web video called "Air Warner" designed to knock the Democrat's time in the sky.
Both Warner and Gillespie will make campaign stops in the Richmond area on Tuesday.
Warner will attend Richmond's National Night Out Ceremony at 6pm. The event is being held at Abner Clay Park, N. Belvidere St and W. Leigh St. in the city.
Gillespie will also attend National Night Out Ceremonies. He will be in Henrico at the Richmond International Raceway at 4:30pm. He also held a "Women for Gillespie" event at Ball Office Products in Richmond earlier in the afternoon.