In his bid for governor, Casey Cagle has run as a fiscal conservative — but he regularly bills the state for air travel between Atlanta and his hometown 55 miles away, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has found.
Records show that, when taking flights for state business, Cagle regularly had the state plane add extra legs to its trip in order to pick him up or drop him off in Gainesville, where he lives. Cagle had the plane fly from Atlanta to Gainesville to pick him up at least 59 times since 2010, and on at least 57 occasions, he had it drop him off in Gainesville before flying back to Atlanta, usually carrying other staffers from his office back to the capital.
Overall, Cagle and his staff took at least 413 state-funded flights between January 2010 and June 2018, according to a review of records kept by the Georgia Aviation Authority and the Georgia Department of Public Safety, racking up $264,999 in costs.
Nearly all those flights took off and landed within Georgia. The average length of flights taken by Cagle’s office is about 41 minutes, and at least 96 of the flights, including legs of larger trips, were shorter than 20 minutes.
In a statement to the AJC, Cagle’s campaign manager, Scott Binkley, said that Cagle’s air travel was necessary to meet with voters across the state. Cagle’s office has a policy of driving distances shorter than four hours, but Binkley said the office sometimes makes exceptions due to scheduling constraints.
Binkley also defended the fact that Cagle has added additional legs to pick him up or drop him off in Gainesville.
“The fact that the state’s air contractor flies out of Atlanta doesn’t mean state officials should only fly out of Atlanta,” Binkley said. “Usually when he flies out of Gainesville it’s because he’s leaving very early in the morning and returning home late at night.”
Cagle’s flying habits have drawn scrutiny in the past. In 2012, a Channel 2 Action News reporter confronted Cagle about his tendency to fly between Gainesville and Atlanta.
At the time, Cagle said he had no idea his office was billed for adding the extra legs to flights, but his flying habits did not change: Since then, Cagle has taken dozens of flights with added legs to drop him off in Gainesville.
When reached for comment by Channel 2 for a report in March about elected officials taking flights, Cagle told the network he was not personally responsible for booking the flights.
Sara Henderson, the executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, said she finds the lieutenant governor’s spending on air travel troubling.
“The optics to the voters are that you would rather spend our money to fly rather than do what normal people do, sit in traffic,” Henderson said. “Elected officials have to be as close to voters as possible, and it’s hard to do that from the sky. …
“The legality of this isn’t the point — he should be working as lieutenant governor to restore the faith of voters who already think that everyone in office is corrupt.”
While most of Georgia’s travel expenses come from car rentals and mileage reimbursements, the state’s constitutional officers and top lawmakers are allowed to use air travel for official business. Most state flights are chartered through private companies, but the state still owns and uses some helicopters. Governor Nathan Deal also takes a large number of state flights, and state planes have picked Deal up and dropped him off in Gainesville, where he also lives.
In some cases, Cagle took taxpayer-funded flights to cities where he raised money for his gubernatorial campaign. On Nov. 10, 2016, for example, Cagle used a state plane to fly to Savannah and, the same day, the Cagle-aligned group Georgia Conservatives Fund raised $211,900 from donors in Savannah, eliciting a complaint from an ethics watchdog activist.
He also took a state flight to Thomasville on May 16, 2017, where he met with local business leaders, according to WCTV. Campaign finance records show that Cagle raised over $10,000 in donations from Thomasville residents that week. Binkley said that Cagle was in Thomasville primarily to discuss “rural broadband needs” in his capacity as lieutenant governor.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is running against Cagle for the Republican nomination for governor, slammed him for his use of state flights. Kemp, who has been in office since 2010, has taken 11 taxpayer-funded flights in total. However, Kemp is one of two state officials granted a car allowance worth more than $7,000 per year, and secretaries of state typically take fewer state flights than governors and lieutenant governors.
“Career politician Casey Cagle flies around the state in private planes and helicopters, then sticks hardworking Georgians with the bill. Even worse, he’s used state aircraft multiple times to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign” Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney said. “Cagle needs to be held accountable for his extravagant living and shameful behavior.”
Cagle and Kemp will face off in the primary runoff election July 24, and early voting for the race opened Monday. The nominee will face Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams in November.