WASHINGTON — Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York ranked ahead of all other U.S. senators in tax dollars spent on charter plane flights last year.
Schumer ranked No. 1 and Gillibrand ranked No. 2, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Senate spending records compiled by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation. The two lawmakers regularly use charter planes to visit cities around the state when Congress is not in session. Each makes a point of visiting all 62 counties in the state each year.
Schumer claims to have made at least 100 stops in upstate cities and towns in 2013.
Gillibrand, meanwhile, made what she called "a fly-around'' on Friday, July 25, stopping in Corning, Binghamton and the Columbia County community of Chatham accompanied by Small Business Administration Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet to hold roundtables with local small businesses.
Gillibrand did a similar fly-around on April 11 with Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg in Syracuse, Niagara Falls and the North Country community of Ogdensburg along the St Lawrence River. They held roundtables to discuss how businesses can use the bank's financing to increase their exports.
"Senators have an office budget and you can prioritize that budget however you see fit," said Gillibrand's spokesman, Glen Caplin. "And the senator places a priority on talking directly to her constituents in all 62 counties around the state.''
Gillibrand uses air charter company Zen Air and typically flies out of Reagan National Airport in northern Virginia on a small charter jet.
Schumer typically uses Air Charter Express based in Teterboro, N.J. not far from Manhattan to make day trips around the state on a four-seat propeller plane.
Only 24 of the 100 members of the Senate used charters last year, with the remaining senators relying solely on commercial aircraft, cars or trains to visit with constituents.
Schumer topped the field, with $298,276 spent on charters, more than three times the $93,098 spent by Gillibrand.
Schumer's spending on charter flights during the 2013 calendar year increased 17 percent over the amount he spent during the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2011. Schumer's office paid $254,636 for 49 charters during the earlier period, according to a 2012 analysis by the Gannett Washington Bureau.
Gillibrand's spending on charter flights in 2013, however, dropped 52 percent from the earlier 12-month period, when she spent $194,797 on 30 flights.
Both senators also use commercial aircraft. Schumer typically takes a shuttle from Reagan National Airport to return home to Brooklyn.
"As everyone knows, no senator travels his state more regularly and thoroughly than Chuck Schumer,'' spokesman Matt Dworin said in an email Thursday. "It is not possible to keep this rigorous a schedule by flying on commercial airlines alone, so he also travels on a small, four-seat propeller plane that's not even big enough to stand up in and has no bathroom."
Another Schumer spokesman, Matt House, offered an almost identical explanation in a 2012 email.
"As everyone knows, no senator travels their state more aggressively than Chuck Schumer," House said. "It is not possible to keep this rigorous a schedule by flying on commercial airlines alone, so he also travels on a small, four-seat propeller plane with no bathroom that's not even big enough to stand up in."