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Political fight over campaign flights

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The candidates for U.S. Senate are trading accusations that their opponent skirted rules related to the public reporting of charter flights for campaign activity.

(Left) UDALL: Claims trips paid for within rules (Right) WEH: Says he has 'over-reported' if anything

(Left) UDALL: Claims trips paid for within rules
(Right) WEH: Says he has ‘over-reported’ if anything

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall’s campaign says his Republican challenger, Allen Weh, violated FEC reporting rules by not disclosing that his campaign charter flights were booked through Weh’s own charter airline business, CSI Aviation.

Udall’s campaign says not reporting the purchase of flights from CSI Aviation leaves voters in the dark about whether Weh received an illegal contribution or benefit from his corporation.

“Either Allen Weh thinks the law doesn’t apply to him or he’s trying to cover something up,” Udall spokeswoman Jen Talhelm said. “Is it that he’s getting an illegal campaign contribution from his own corporation or the fact that he’s flying all across the state on his own private corporate plane at discount rates?”

Weh is accusing Udall of mixing political work with official Senate duties on at least two taxpayer-funded trips in 2012. The Weh campaign says Udall violated Senate ethics rules by adding political lunch events into the senator’s official travel schedule that included charter flights funded by taxpayers.

“Our (campaign finance) report is correct,” Weh spokesman Tom Intorcio said of the alleged reporting violation. “There is no attempt to cut any corners, and Tom Udall should be far more concerned about his use of taxpayer-funded air travel than he is about the details of our report.”

The Udall trips cited by Weh’s campaign as inappropriate include a trip to Silver City in August 2012 and a trip to Clovis in October 2012. Both trips, for which Udall was reimbursed by the Senate for $8,000 in charter flight expenses, included official Senate work as well as lunches with campaign supporters.

Senate ethics rules allow incidental campaign activity to be mixed with official travel funded by taxpayers, Talhelm said.

“Those trips were packed with events where he met with constituents,” Talhelm said. “All the trips were paid for as required by ethics rules.”

Udall points to multiple charter flights Weh booked through his personal business, CSI Aviation. The campaign said that although Weh reported the air travel, he illegally withheld that the flights were booked through Weh’s corporation.

FEC regulations require candidates who pay for campaign expenses totaling more than $200 to identify the recipient to whom the campaign money was paid.

Weh, the CEO of CSI Aviation, booked five charter flights through CSI Aviation totaling $23,500 during the last 2014 campaign finance reporting period, including campaign trips to Dallas and Midland, Texas, and flights to Otero, Lea and Curry counties in New Mexico, according to Weh’s campaign.

Weh reported the CSI Aviation flights as a personal contribution to the campaign from his personal finances. Weh’s report shows the transaction as a contribution from Weh for airfare but makes no mention the money was paid to CSI Aviation. Intorcio said all charter flights booked through CSI Aviation were paid for entirely by Weh at the retail market price the company would have charged any other customer.

“The fact is that we have over-reported on what is required.” Intorcio said.


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