Gov. J.B. Pritzker has made four out-of-state trips for official business since taking office in January. Each time, he has traveled on private chartered jets but he has not charged taxpayers, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
On Feb. 21, Pritzker, a Democrat, headed to the National Governor’s conference and a black-tie dinner at the White House. At Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling, he and his wife M.K. boarded a private jet en route to Washington’s Dulles Airport. Four staffers plus a member of the governor’s security detail also boarded a G200 private jet along with a three person flight crew for the two-and-a-half hour flight, according to travel documents obtained in a public records request.
In all, Pritzker has made three official trips to Washington and one to New York.
The governor’s office in a written response noted "The Governor does not charge his travel expenses to the state of Illinois" and said personal and campaign funds were used to rent the jets.
State campaign finance records show a Jan. 18 payment of $54,700 to Flexjet, a Cleveland, Ohio company which promotes itself as providing "first-class service around the clock."
On Feb. 12, $46,139 was paid to Flexjet followed by $45,952 one month later.
A fourth expenditure was made to Executive Fliteways of Ronkonkoma, New York on Feb. 13 for $8,584.
When asked about the privately funded trips, Susan Garrett, a co-founder of the Center for Illinois Politics, said "it’s never been done before in Illinois.”
A former Democratic state senator, Garrett acknowledges the unusual move saves taxpayers money, but she said, "There’s something to be said for public servants who have to work within budgets and rules and guidelines."
A billionaire businessman, Pritzker’s win last November in his first state-wide contest was part of the most expensive political race in Illinois history. A self-funded candidate, he contributed more than $170 million of his own money to win office. State records show in February Pritzker added another $1 million to his campaign account.
Pritzker declined NBC 5's interview request but a spokeswoman, in an email, wrote, “The governor pays himself for his air transport and that of staff members who ride with him.”
As for some senior staff members, Pritzker has boosted their state salaries, again using his own money.
"It feels wrong," said Jay Young, executive director of Common Cause Illinois, who noted the use of private money for public purposes concerns him.
"The folks who could have their own private jet, the folks that can come out of their own pocket and pay additional money for their staff," he said in an interview.
The governor is coming off a huge legislative session with victories fueled by a bi-partisan budget and a successful first step towards changing the state’s tax laws.
As for paying for his own flights, Pritzker’s office says, he’ll keep on doing it.