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Santorum charter flight tab broke $400K

| Thursday, July 2, 2015, 7:54 p.m.
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, speaks during the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Friday, June 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, speaks during the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Friday, June 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum began his presidential campaign in May by emphasizing his blue-collar roots and promising to “take money and power out of Washington.”

But as a member of the Senate, Santorum, a Republican, spent more than $400,000 on taxpayer-funded charter flights, more than half of that for flights to and from the home he bought in the Northern Virginia hunt country in 2001, Senate spending records analyzed by USA Today show.

Senators are given a budget each year for staff, travel and other expenses and are allowed to allocate those expenses as they see fit. There is no prohibition on senators using charter flights, and USA Today has tracked the charter flights of other 2016 candidates, including Hillary Clinton, who spent more than $500,000 on charters during her eight years in the Senate.

Before Santorum bought the $640,000 house in Leesburg, Va., in November 2001, he had spent only $64,265 on charters in his prior six years in the Senate. In the following five years, he spent $369,905 on charter flights, $248,055 of which included Leesburg on the itinerary.

By comparison, Sen. Arlen Specter, who served alongside Santorum from 1995 to 2007, had two charter service flights, one for transporting his staff, at the cost of $1,257 over the same time frame.

Santorum's successor, Sen. Robert Casey, a Democrat, has taken 48 trips on charters for $45,095 since he took office in 2007. And Sen. Patrick Toomey, a Republican, serving alongside Casey, has taken nine charter trips for $18,097 since he took office in 2011.

“As Senator Casey travels Pennsylvania, he travels by car, train or commercial flight whenever possible,” said John Rizzo, Casey's communications director.

E.R. Anderson, Toomey's communications director, said most weeks the senator takes the train from Philadelphia's 30th Street Station or Wilmington.

Santorum's charter costs are partly attributable to the fact that he visited all 67 counties of Pennsylvania each year that he was senator, said spokesman Matt Beynon. Much of the state is rural with no easily accessible commercial transportation options.

“For him to visit most major metro areas, Senator Santorum would have either needed to drive in excess of four or five hours or take private transportation. For instance, visiting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre — Pennsylvania's third largest metro area — would have either required the senator to take several connecting flights or drive over four hours because there was not direct air service between any Washington-area airport and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre,” Beynon said.

But Santorum took several costly charter flights from Washington to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, cities with ample commercial transportation options.

He took six trips from Washington to Philadelphia, costing $13,906, and six trips from Washington to Pittsburgh, costing $24,515. When he took commercial transportation to those two cities, the cost to taxpayers was generally less than $500. Santorum took 10 charter flights from Leesburg to Philadelphia and back at a cost of just over $26,000.

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