DID SC SPEAKER OVERSTATE HIS TRAVEL COSTS?
S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s campaign reimbursement scandal just won’t die. In fact the more people dig into the numbers surrounding the scandal, the more questions they have.
Last month, reporter Renee Dudley of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier dropped a bombshell on the Palmetto political landscape when she reported that Harrell – a powerful “Republican in Name Only” from the Lowcountry – had reimbursed himself more than $325,000 from his campaign account over the last four years. That’s controversial because it means Harrell is personally benefiting from a fund that’s supposed to exclusively finance campaign activity – a fund that’s loaded with contributions from special interests seeking to influence Harrell’s official actions.
(To read Dudley’s story, click here).
Harrell has basically acknowledged his guilt as it relates to at least $23,000 of the reimbursements – returning this money to his campaign account. But there may be other problems on the horizon for the embattled big government backer.
For example, in responding to the original story about these dubious reimbursements, Harrell’s office told the Post and Courier that the Speaker’s campaign reimbursed him in the amount of “$800 or $900 a leg” for flights on his Cirrus SR22. However, Harrell’s office never provided any information regarding how it calculated that figure – which is now being called into question by sources familiar with this aircraft.
According to a 2008 aircraft comparison guide prepared by Cessna – and provided to FITS by one of these sources – the “total cost per flight hour” associated with a Cirrus SR22 was $131.03 (or $140.21 adjusting for inflation). That price includes fuel, labor, parts and maintenance.
The SR22 has a range of 1,207 miles and a cruising speed of 213 miles per hour – meaning that Harrell’s “per leg” estimates seem high even if we assume that every “leg” he took maximized the plane’s capabilities.
Harrell has yet to provide the public with detailed flight logs from his campaign-related travel … which means there’s no way to conclusively prove that he has overstated the value of these flights for the purpose of providing himself with an exorbitant reimbursement.
And as we’ve noted previously, it’s clear that no one is going to even investigate him … let alone hold him accountable for his actions.
Harrell is by no means the first South Carolina politician to (allegedly) play fast and loose with the value of airplane flights. A year ago, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley was busted for undervaluing the cost of political travel provided to her by wealthy donors.
Former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford also came under fire extensively for his travel practices in the wake of a sex scandal that nearly brought down his administration. For example, in 2009 it was revealed that Sanford failed to report dozens of private flights, obtained improper upgrades to first class seats on numerous state trips and misused the state plane for personal and political reasons.
AIRCRAFT COMPARISON GUIDE (.pdf)