Gov. Charlie Crist insisted once again Tuesday that he follows the letter of the law in determining whether the cost of his airplane flights are paid by the state, the Republican Party or out of his own pocket. That's good. But a governor who prides himself on transparency and public openness should go further and disclose the names of the wealthy donors and special interests who own the private jets he relies upon for political travel.
Some of the Republican fundraisers who provide planes for the governor are known. Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo of the Times/Herald capital bureau reported this week that they include Harry Sargeant of Boca Raton, a major defense contractor who has faced a congressional investigation about contracts to send fuel to troops in Iraq; Dick Mandt of Tampa, a former publisher of newspaper shoppers; and Mori Hosseini, a Daytona Beach builder. But they are not the only ones. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Crist has used private jets more than 100 times during the past two years. Who owns those jets, why were they so eager to make them available to the governor, and who traveled with him?
Those answers cannot be determined from public records. Political parties are required by state law to publicly account for how they spend money and receive donations. But they are not required to link the private flights they pay for or receive in donations to the politicians who use the planes. That's a giant loophole, and it needs to be closed.
There is nothing to suggest that Crist improperly bills taxpayers for political travel or private trips. He personally paid to fly commercially to Barack Obama's inauguration in Washington, which reflects his cautiousness. But a governor with such a strong commitment to operating in the sunshine ought to voluntarily lift the cloud around who owns the private jets he often relies upon.