'High-flying Hillary': Why the Clintons' campaign travel costs may top $1 million

Bill and Hillary Clinton's combined travel expenses for campaign rallies and fundraisers is likely to exceed $1 million, according to state and federal finance reports.

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) joins U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) at a re-election campaign rally for Senator Shaheen in Nashua, N.H. November 2, 2014. Sen. Shaheen won reelection.

Talk may be cheap, but politics isn't.

Just ask the Clintons. This year, Bill and Hillary Clinton's combined travel expenses for campaign rallies and fundraisers is likely to exceed $1 million, according to Buzzfeed, which analyzed available state and federal campaign finance reports.

Not surprisingly, Mrs. Clinton already taking heat for it.

The Republican National Committee seized on the Buzzfeed article and quickly came up with a new nickname for the possible 2016 presidential candidate: "high-flying Hillary," and her travel costs are the subject of an email sent by the RNC.

"The Clintons were already under fire for their lavish campaign travel tabs for weeks," the email says, according to The Hill. The RNC also points to a Bloomberg report that it cost more than $50,000 to fly the Clintons to the Harkin Steak Fry in September, when Hillary Clinton made her high profile return to Iowa.

What's behind the rising Clinton travel costs?

"Bill and Hillary Clinton were the most sought after surrogates in the Democratic Party this year," reports Buzzfeed. (That's largely because President Obama was considered a toxic surrogate in some states and races.)

And the Clintons were busy this election season. Hillary Clinton headlined 45 events in 19 states in a span of 54 days for the Democrats, between Sep. 9 and Nov. 1, according to the Washington Post.

The numbers are impressive: Bill campaigned for more than 47 candidates, Hillary for 26. Together, they headlined some 75 rallies and fundraisers and logged about 50,000 miles doing so. The average cost for each trip was about $21,000, and the total spent on airfare so far is $699,000.

And the Clintons don't fly economy class. They fly private, with multiple members of their Secret Service security detail. According to reports, Hillary Clinton often travels with about four people from the security detail and at least three aides from her personal staff. 

When the last of the Federal Election Commission filings come in – many of Hillary Clinton's trips were late in the midterm campaigns and filings haven't yet been reported – the total travel expenses will likely top $1 million, reports Buzzfeed.

Who's paying the bill?

Not the Clintons. Legally, the candidates for whom they are campaigning – in this case, a slew of Democratic House, Senate, and gubernatorial candidates – are required to pay for such "surrogate" campaign travel or report the costs as an in-kind contribution.

The Clintons' travel expenses are just a fraction of the estimated $4 billion spent on midterm elections this year, making these the most expensive midterms in history.

It's so much money it's hard to wrap one's head around it.

"That kind of money could...buy 25 F-18 fighter jets, pay for more than 12,000 students' K-12 education and have enough left over to produce a summer blockbuster," reports CNN.

For the Democratic candidates, was it worth it?

The power couple helped raise millions of dollars for candidates at fundraisers, easily surpassing the Clinton travel expenses the candidates' campaigns had to cover.

And the free media attention they helped bring to state and local races was campaign gold for candidates.

Of course, the Clintons benefited, too. The former secretary of state was gathering supporters, building a network, and reintroducing herself to voters this fall, all valuable should she run for president in 2016.

Still, for all that time and money, it turns out the Clintons' candidates didn't do too well. Only 22 candidates backed by either Clinton won, compared with 32 who lost, according to an analysis by Politico

But the continuing media focus may remain on their travel, rather than the results. Politicians' travel expenses typically attract media scrutiny and sometimes get politicians into hot water.

Vice President Joe Biden was criticized for stonewalling a Freedom of Information Act request to see his travel costs. His trips, which include multiple daily flights between Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, Del., cost taxpayers nearly $1 million between January 2009 and March 2013, according to Air Force records. 

Biden got flack for one alleged habit.

“Every three or four weeks when it’s warm, Biden gets up there on Saturday and then will fly back on Air Force Two,” a Secret Service agent told Ronald Kessler, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote a book on the Secret Service, The First Family Detail. “While Air Force Two is sitting on the tarmac at Andrews, he goes up and plays golf with the president at Andrews Air Force Base, gets back on the plane, and flies back to Delaware. Let me tell you something, that is egregious.”

The Obamas have also taken heat for travel expenses, with The Daily Caller tallying their travel expenses thus far at $44 million and the National Taxpayer Union Foundation, called the President "the most well-traveled, expensive" president in our nation's history.

And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's more than $152,000 in flight expenses between 2012-2013 also drew fire from his home state.

Of course, there are some parsimonious politicians.  Sen. Rand Paul, who was on the road nearly every week this fall on behalf of Republicans, according to Buzzfeed, often flies commercial – and in coach. He travels alone or with just one aide.

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