WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) has made frequent use of corporation-owned aircraft to fly to events as he campaigns for the GOP presidential nomination, a top campaign aide said Friday.
The Dole campaign said the practice, in which Dole solicits the use of a business jet in return for paying first-class air fare for himself and his entourage, will end when Dole officially announces his candidacy, probably next month.
"We've planned all along to begin using charter planes at about the time he announces," said Scott Morgan, counsel for Dole's exploratory committee, "and we may start before that."
Jet Use Not Illegal
The use of such jets is not illegal, but it raises ethical questions about whether the practice amounts to contributions to candidates by corporations, which are barred from making direct campaign donations. Even the first-class air fares, which a campaign must pay to comply with Federal Election Commission regulations, frequently do not make up the operating cost of a corporate jet.
Dole's use of the jets was first disclosed by Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, which noted that the firms providing the jets are involved in grain, oil, insurance and other industries that would benefit from legislative help from Dole, who, in addition to his leadership role, is a key member of the Senate Finance and Agriculture committees.
Morgan said Friday that Dole had routinely used middle-sized executive jets owned by such corporations as General Mills, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and Warner Lambert Co. to whisk him from Washington to campaign events around the country.
A majority of Dole's campaign trips are now taken aboard such planes, Morgan told Newsday. He defended the practice as a means of enabling Dole to keep up his attendance at Senate sessions, which might have been more difficult given the delays and inconveniences that beset commercial flights.
Dole's principal opponent, Vice President George Bush, flies on Air Force Two, a government-owned plane provided for security reasons. When it is used for political trips, the vice president and his party pay first-class fares to the government.
Spokesmen for other candidates in both parties acknowledged occasional reliance on corporate aircraft for campaign purposes but maintained they did it only as a last resort.
John Buckley, press secretary for Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), said it was "campaign policy not to accept subsidized rides on corporate jets." He said Kemp now campaigns on chartered planes "almost 100% of the time." He conceded, however, that Kemp last year made at least one campaign trip at first-class rates on a corporate jet.
Haig 'Goes Commercial'
Another GOP contender, former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., "usually goes commercial," but has used corporate jets for "maybe 5% of his travel," according to Dan Mariaschin, Haig's communications director.
An aide to Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, a contender for the Democratic nomination, said Dukakis had traveled on corporation-owned planes three times in August, but he offered no estimate for earlier months. Former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who also is running for the Democratic nomination, rode only once on a corporate jet during the entire campaign, an aide said.
Mark Johnson, a spokesman for Democratic Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, said his candidate flies "infrequently" on private planes but "will use a private plane if he has to, and he doesn't see anything wrong with it."