Tennessee governor candidate rode plane tied to donor she helped
Rep. Diane Black rode a private plane linked to a Tennessee-based trucking company for which she helped extend a federal emissions loophole.
Black, a leading Republican candidate for governor, also accepted $225,000 in campaign contributions linked to the Fitzgerald Glider Kits company.
Black helped convince Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to continue exempting rebuilt diesel engines used by Fitzgerald Glider Kits trucks. "Glider kits" include a truck chassis and cab assembly without a new engine.
According to The Tennessean , campaign spokesman Chris Hartline said Black rented the plane at fair-market value, which will be disclosed in campaign finance reporting. She and staffers flew to last month's Paris Fish Fry and Hamilton County Reagan Day Dinner.
The plane is registered to Dale Hollow Aviation LLC, which shares an address and registered agent with Fitzgerald Glider Kits. The Fitzgeralds, who founded the glider kit company, were officers of Dale Hollow Aviation LLC in recent years, according to filings with the Tennessee secretary of state's office.
Joe DePew, an attorney with Fitzgerald Glider Kits, said the company doesn't own the plane.
Black approached Pruitt with a Tennessee Technological University study funded by Fitzgerald that downplays the trucks' pollution problems. Fitzgerald also promised to build the university a new research center on land owned by the company.
Two former EPA administrators urged federal officials to withdraw the proposed trucking emissions exemption, saying it's based on flawed scientific analysis.
Carol M. Browner, who served under President Bill Clinton, and Christine Todd Whitman, who served under President George W. Bush, wrote Pruitt in March, saying the university's president said the study should not be cited pending an investigation of potential research misconduct.
Black's campaign has said the congresswoman fights to support the few companies trying to keep rural Tennessee manufacturing jobs.
Though Federal Election Commission rules generally prohibit U.S. House candidates from taking non-commercial campaign flights, there's no such ban in Tennessee law, which would govern the governor's race.
Hartline said the fish fry and Reagan dinner flights were the only times she's flown on that plane. He said the campaign usually uses a service that offers annual memberships for private charter flights.
Black has flown on a private plane nine times since the start of 2017, and paid for it each time, Hartline said. She has flown commercial 112 times and rode Air Force One with President Donald Trump twice over that time frame, Hartline added.
"While Diane usually drives across the state, important events on opposite sides of the state simply don't allow that," Hartline said.