Senator Mark Warner, Road Runway Warrior

by Jim Geraghty

The office of Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, periodically issues press releases informing his constituents that he’s “on the road” or “hitting the road.” It evokes images of the senator out riding like Jack Kerouac.

Apparently “the road” refers to the short drive to the nearest airport, where Warner meets his chartered airplane, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

USA Today offered a graphic, contrasting Warner’s private plane rides with the actual car rides of his fellow Democratic senator, Tim Kaine:

His spokesperson defended his travel, saying: “Sen. Warner is a road warrior, and he insists on a schedule that goes from dawn to dusk.”

Road warrior, runway warrior… easy to mix that up.

The Virginian Pilot editorial board wrote Saturday, “All explanations aside, chartering a plane when a car would suffice is precisely the kind of spending that makes Americans furious with the federal government. Virginia isn’t Alaska. Or Texas. It’s less than 400 miles from D.C. to Bristol.”

The campaign of Warner’s rival, Ed Gillespie, identified at least six other instances when Senator Warner has touted in a press release that he’s “on the road”… when he was actually chartering private luxury planes and charging them to taxpayers:

1.       On April 18, 2011 Senator Warner charged taxpayers for $3,586 in chartered flights to travel 140 miles to West Point when he said in a press release he was “on the road.”

2.       On August 16, 2011 Senator Warner charged taxpayers $3,160 in chartered private air travel to the Eastern Shore while notifying the press in a release that he was “on the road.”

3.       On July 20, 2012 Senator Warner charged taxpayers for $5,837 in chartered flights from DC, Danville, Lynchburg, and back home to DC while trumpeting in a press release he was “on the road” to the same destinations.

4.       A month later on August 22, 2012, Senator Warner said he was back “on the road” to talk about tough choices in the federal budget, on a trip that actually started with taxpayers footing the charter plane bill for Warner’s return from moving his daughter in to college in North Carolina, as reported by NBC12. The total cost of multiple luxury charters for this trip was $11,037.  

5.   USA Today reported on Warner embarking last year on what “his office trumpeted as a four-day, 1,000-mile trip across his state, with press releases noting he ‘woke up early to hit the road,’ making stops at a minor league ballpark, a craft brewery and a Roanoke rail yard, among others.

But for several hundred of those miles, Warner was not hitting the road — he was flying a chartered plane at a cost totaxpayers of $8,500.”

6.    When Senator Warner reported to his email list that he was back “on the road” a month later, September 20 last year, it that time cost taxpayers $7,551 in charter luxury jet fees from Senator Warner’s favorite charter company, Zen Air.

7.     And when Senator Warner purported to be “on the road” in a press release January 20 of this year, a few days after Ed Gillespie announced his Senate campaign, taxpayers later got the bill for a $3,462 chartered luxury flight.  

It’s all perfectly legal, although some may ask if it’s such a good use of taxpayer money, and a rather inconvenient habit for any lawmaker who wants to claim to be a fiscal conservative or populist.

It’s probably too much to expect Warner to cover these costs himself; he’s only the second-wealthiest member of Congress, with a net worth estimated at $257 million.