The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS - The leader of the Indiana National Guard has approved F-16 fighter jet flights for several Democratic contributors or activists since Gov. Frank O'Bannon tapped him for the post.
The Indianapolis Star reported Sunday that in the 21 months since O'Bannon, a Democrat, appointed Maj. Gen. George A. Buskirk Jr., he has allowed 11 civilian flights - most of them for major Democratic contributors or activists.
By contrast, only about half the number of Indiana civilians flew in nearly twice the time under Buskirk's predecessor. And only two of them had donated to Democrats.
Buskirk told the Star there was no connection between donations and the flights on the $21.2 million jet. "I don't try to figure out who's a Republican and who's a Democrat in these things," he said.
Each hourlong flight of the state's only two-seat F-16 - an aircraft that can reach twice the speed of sound - costs $3,559 and serves as pilot training. Civilians ride in the jet's back seat.
Julia Vaughn, policy director for the citizens group Common Cause/Indiana, told the Star it is "curious" that many of the flights were offered to Democratic donors.
"It would seem to be a bit one-sided," Vaughn said. "It just seems like another of those perks that those active in the campaign arena get."
Buskirk, a major contributor to Democrats himself, signs off on the rides.
Since 1997, nine of the 11 riders he has approved have given Democrats $237,557. He also approved a ride to one Republican contributor, who gave $3,639.
The two Democratic donors under the man Buskirk replaced, Maj. Gen. Robert J. Mitchell, gave $24,497.
State Sen. Thomas Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, chairman of the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, said he does not know why Buskirk approved the 11 flights.
"But if it's been done for political payoffs, then it's just an atrocity for the system," said Wyss, an Indiana Air Guard member for 31 years who retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Promotional flights on military aircraft are provided to civilians by all branches of the armed forces and are intended to spread the word about the military and help with recruiting.
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