Just As I Thought

That home court advantage again

I’ve complained about this before, and now mainstream media is getting into the action:

President Bush is using Air Force One for re-election travel more heavily than any predecessor, wringing maximum political mileage from a perk of office paid for by taxpayers.

While Democratic rival John Kerry digs into his campaign bank account to charter a plane to roam the country, Bush often travels at no cost to his campaign simply by declaring a trip “official” travel rather than “political.”

Even when the White House deems a trip as political, the cost to Bush’s campaign is minimal. In such instances, the campaign must only pay the government the equivalent of a comparable first-class fare for each political traveler on each leg, Federal Election Commission guidelines say.

… It is an advantage that Bush and other presidents before him have enjoyed. President Clinton frequently was criticized by Republicans for his record-setting use of Air Force One in the campaign season, and Bush is exceeding Clinton’s pace.

… Bush has logged more than 68,000 miles this year on Air Force One, all within the continental United States except for a quick run to Mexico in January. With rare exceptions, he confines his travels to the more than a dozen states he and Kerry are fighting hardest for, and to places where he is raising campaign money.

… The White House labeled travel to fund-raisers “political.” Likewise, it deemed as “political” a thank-you mixer with big donors in Georgia, his first campaign rally in Orlando, Florida, and bus tours through Michigan, Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin, meaning his campaign paid a share of the costs.

But of the more than $203 million Bush has raised for his re-election, less than 1 percent has gone to reimbursing the government for travel costs this year.

… It is difficult to say precisely what the Bush campaign is repaying the government per trip. The White House refuses to:

• Provide lists of political aides who travel with Bush and whose travels are financed by the re-election campaign; or say how many political aides go on any given trip, or even offer a range.

• Provide dollar figures on reimbursements for specific trips. Bush’s re-election campaign periodically reports to the FEC lump reimbursement sums for unspecified travel.

• Say how it decides which trips are official rather than political.

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