COLUMBIA — House Speaker Bobby Harrell recently moved to block his flight records from his personal plane from public view, though he said he will release information about his political travel.
Harrell, a Charleston Republican, attributed his decision to hide his flight records to a desire to keep private flight information private.
“After personal and vacation flights of mine have been publicly reported in the media, I have decided to no longer have my personal information available,” Harrell said in a statement.
“Just as all campaign expenditures and contributions are publicly disclosed, any political flights reimbursed by my campaign will be available in campaign disclosure reports. Personal flights will remain private as they should.”
The step is authorized under a program approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and it mirrors moves made by other public figures and companies that have faced questions about their private plane flights, according to ProPublica and other news organizations.
In some cases, the flight-blocking program has served as a refuge for plane owners who have faced bad publicity, including a televangelist who faced a congressional inquiry and the administration of former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, ProPublica’s 2010 review found.
Advocates of the program say it protects competitive information for companies and helps individuals maintain needed privacy.
But opponents contend flight records shouldn’t be secret because taxpayers help fund the general aviation system that private flights are a part of.
Last year, Harrell faced questions about flight reimbursements he paid himself from his campaign account.
To date, Harrell has provided little information on which flights he has reimbursed himself for.
On campaign disclosure forms, he has provided only short explanations of the reimbursements, such as “reimbursement for legislative travel,” and the amount of the reimbursement.
An investigation by The Post and Courier found that Harrell had reimbursed himself more than $280,000 from his campaign coffers since summer 2008.
Much of that total was for reimbursements for flights on Harrell’s private plane, which his office has said were related to his official duties, but several S.C. watchdog and political groups have questioned that.
According to his latest disclosure filing, Harrell did not reimburse himself for legislative travel in the fourth quarter of last year.
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