Have you ever gotten that call from a Member of Congress asking to use your private corporate aircraft to fly them from Washington to a speech or event that the Member is participating in, whether or not your company has anything to do with the event? Stunningly, Congress took away this perk for Members of the House and made it more costly for Members of the United States Senate.
Back in January 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives changed its internal House Rules to prohibit members of the House from flying on private corporate aircraft that are not used for commercial air services. When the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA) was signed in September, this change became law. While the Senate did not go quite as far as the House, under HLOGA, Senate Members must now pay charter rates in order to use private aircraft for personal or political activity. The details of the rules follow:
What to Do When a Member of the U.S. House Calls—Just Say No.
Even though the Federal Election Commission Regulations would have permitted you to charge candidates and leadership PACs first-class airfare for travel on private corporate aircraft, HLOGA overrode that law. Thus, unlike in the past, HLOGA prohibits House candidates and leadership PACs from using your private aircraft for campaign travel. Through rule changes adopted earlier this year, the House also bans the use by Members and staffers of private aircraft for personal and official purposes. Furthermore, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has interpreted the new rules to prohibit Members and staffers from using private aircraft for officially connected travel such as fact-finding trips (which themselves have been severely curtailed). The Committee has indicated that it may allow the use of private aircraft in exceptional circumstances. (See www.house.gov/ethics/Travel_Guidelines.pdf.) It is safe to assume that these calls will not be clogging the air traffic routes any longer.
What to Do When a Member of the U.S. Senate Calls, or Even Some of the Many Presidential Candidates—Find Out Why They Want to Use the Plane!
Campaign or Political Travel: Congress did not ban travel on private aircraft by senatorial and presidential campaigns. Instead, HLOGA disposes of the previous first-class/charter-rate calculation and mandates that the campaigns pay the owner of the aircraft the normal and usual charter rate for a comparable plane of comparable size. If more than one candidate is using the aircraft at the same time, then each campaign pays the cost divided by the number of candidates. This is not likely to happen very often, if at all. The payments must be made to the aircraft's owner or lessee within a commercially reasonable time, but we always recommend advance payment so that you do not make a prohibited corporate contribution to a candidate. This rule became effective on September 14, 2007.
Personal Travel: The Senate has established a charter-rate-based reimbursement scheme for the use of private aircraft for personal travel by Senators and staff. The new rule became effective immediately and replaced the old valuation system that often used first-class airfare as the reimbursement rate. Here again, we recommend advance payment so that you do not make a prohibited gift to a candidate, especially since these gift rules now apply to the giver as well as the recipient. The reimbursement rate now for private travel by Senators and Senate staff is determined by dividing the normal and usual charter fare for a comparable aircraft of comparable size by the number of members, officers, or Congressional employees on the flight.
Privately Sponsored Travel or Fact-Finding Trips—Just Say No: The Senate Ethics Committee issued its guidance for Privately Sponsored Travel or Fact-Finding Trips on November 13, 2007. In its materials, the Senate pronounced that "[t]ransportation on a private or charter aircraft is not permitted for privately sponsored travel under any circumstances." (See www.ethics.senate.gov/downloads/pdffiles/private%20sponsor%20travel%20cert.pdf.) Thus, no calculation is required here since you cannot allow the use of your private aircraft for these trips.
For those of you who are commercial carriers, you simply continue to charge Members of Congress the going rate for a seat on your plane, just like every other air traveler. If you do that, you will not be making a gift under the ethics laws or a prohibited contribution under the campaign finance laws.