Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) has accepted perhaps thousands of dollars worth of free flight time in a vintage airplane owned by a contracting firm in his district that also is a major source of funds for Graves’ campaigns.
Graves has never reported on House financial disclosure reports that he has been using the firm’s airplane, and in news accounts of his travels, the airplane — which is decorated with a sticker reading “Sam Graves, Pilot” — is described as his.
Ethics experts say Graves’ failure to disclose the flights as a gift may be a violation of House ethics rules.
In July 2006, Graves flew the vintage barnstorming airplane — a 1943 Boeing “Super Stearman” — to a hobbyist air show in Oshkosh, Wis., telling organizers he planned to browse the show for parts and techniques for his airplane construction projects back home. During the event, Graves also was scheduled to be part of a panel discussing federal user fees for private pilots.
In April 2007, Graves piloted the plane to an aerial event in Chillicothe, Mo., on the west side of his district, where he “put on a brief air show for the enjoyment of the crowd,” according to the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune.
Sources in the state say Graves frequently flies the airplane to events around the district.
According to Federal Aviation Administration records, the airplane is registered to the Herzog Contracting Corp., a transportation contracting firm in St. Joseph, Mo., that also has been one of the largest contributors to Graves. According to Federal Election Commission records, Herzog company employees have provided Graves just more than $72,000 in campaign contributions since 2000, and the Herzog Contracting Corp. PAC has kicked in another $13,000 to Graves’ campaigns.
The company also has donated about $150,000 since 2002 to a state-level campaign committee called the Republican Sixth Congressional District Committee.
Nevertheless, in one photograph the sticker bearing Graves’ name is clearly visible painted under the pilot seat — above the much larger “Bill Herzog” sticker. William Herzog is the president of Herzog Contracting.
Graves spokesman Jason Klindt said the Congressman does not own the plane and does not pay for using it. “He has flown it on occasion to air shows,” Klindt said. “He pays for the gas in it.”
Klindt said Graves “logged less than 10 hours in it this past year.” The Stearman “is a plane that is flown by other members of the regional flying club,” Klindt said. “He is one of a handful of people who borrow it ... it is no different than borrowing somebody’s car for a few hours.” The cockpit decal bearing Graves’ name is simply a removable sticker that “he puts on every plane he flies.”
Ethics experts said that since he is not paying for the use of the plane, Graves may be accepting an improper gift from Herzog.
Planes similar to the Stearman that Graves flies are listed for sale on a hobbyist Web site from $100,000 to $150,000.