Miller campaign’s private plane usage raises concerns

In this photograph, Huntington businessman Chris Miller is seen engaged in conversation with Secretary of State Mac Warner before a debate for Republican candidates for governor at The Resort at Glade Springs near Beckley in February. The image captures the moment of interaction between the two individuals, showcasing their engagement and involvement in the political discourse.

Huntington businessman and Republican candidate for governor of West Virginia, Chris Miller, has reportedly utilized a private airplane to attend approximately 40 campaign events both within and outside the state. Surprisingly, none of these flights are documented in his campaign finance reports.

An anonymous complaint was filed on Feb. 9 with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office and the State Election Commission, alleging that the Miller campaign has violated multiple election and campaign finance laws by not reporting the flights on their quarterly reports for 2023.

The authors of this letter have brought to our attention a series of significant legal violations and improprieties surrounding the activities of Chris Miller. According to the letter, Candidate Miller has flagrantly and substantially violated the law in relation to his use of a private airplane.

The Miller campaign issued a statement on Thursday afternoon, contesting the allegation that they had deliberately violated the law. They expressed their intention to collaborate with the secretary of state’s office in order to ensure that they fully adhere to the campaign expenditure regulations.

The campaign stated that they are confident in their adherence to all rules. They also expressed their commitment to provide clear and comprehensive reporting in order to address any lingering doubts. Their aim is to shift the focus of the campaign towards the important issues that resonate with the voters of West Virginia, rather than engaging in baseless political attacks from their opponents.

The Beech Baron Model 58 airplane, allegedly used by the Chris Miller campaign to campaign for governor of West Virginia, has sparked complaints from individuals who claim that the campaign failed to disclose the costs of the flights on its campaign finance reports. (Photo courtesy of Airmart)

The complaint alleges that the Miller campaign utilized a 2000 Raytheon/Beechcraft Beech Baron Model 58 airplane with tail number N732P, which is registered to Airmart, a company located in Lexington, Ky. With a seating capacity of up to six individuals and a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour, the Beechcraft Model 58 is a versatile aircraft. Interestingly, the very same aircraft is currently listed for sale on Airmart’s website at a price of $749,000.

The Miller campaign utilized Tri-State/Milton J. Ferguson Field near Huntington as their primary airport for flying to and from destinations. To investigate their travel patterns, the complainants relied on FlightAware.com. They cross-referenced the flight records with Miller’s campaign events and appearances from February 11, 2023, to December 11, 2023. In total, they identified 40 distinct flights, accounting for almost 32 hours of flight time.

According to Aircharteradvisors.com, the cost of renting the same model of aircraft ranges from $800 to $1,150 per hour. Taking into consideration the estimated hourly rate and the duration of the plane’s usage by the Miller campaign, the total expense could be in the range of $25,600 to $36,800.

According to a thorough analysis of Miller’s quarterly campaign finance reports for 2023, it is evident that there have been no disbursements from the campaign to cover the costs of private flights. West Virginia Code 3-8-5 mandates that political candidates and their campaign treasurers must submit comprehensive quarterly campaign finance reports, which disclose their donations, in-kind contributions, fundraisers, loans and debts, as well as expenditures.

The complainants expressed their concern about Candidate Miller’s use of the Private Airplane for political and campaign purposes. They pointed out that despite his frequent use of the aircraft, he has consistently failed to disclose his expenditures for its use in his campaign finance reports. They described this failure as a blatant violation of state law, emphasizing its material, gross, and substantive nature.

Miller’s campaign finance reports do not indicate any direct or in-kind contributions from Airmart or its owners, Grant and Kimberly Sutherlin. According to State Code 3-8-5C, political candidates can only receive up to $2,800 in direct and in-kind donations during the primary and general election.

State Code 3-8-7 criminalizes the intentional submission of incomplete or inaccurate campaign finance reports. This includes the deliberate inclusion of false or misleading information and purposeful omissions.

The complainants expressed their concerns about Candidate Miller’s repeated failures to disclose his political and campaign expenses involving the use of the Private Plane on his campaign finance reports. They emphasized that the dollar amounts involved are significant and found the lack of transparency to be truly shocking.

The complainants have shared email correspondence between themselves and the secretary of state’s office. However, the representative from the secretary of state’s office could not confirm or deny whether an investigation has been initiated or referred to the State Election Commission. According to State Code 3-9-8(i), the office is prohibited from disclosing information about active investigations, including the initiation of any investigation, to anyone other than formal complainants.

The Miller campaign released a statement on Thursday, stating that his plane travel in 2023 served multiple purposes. He utilized it to visit his various business interests, engage in charitable work, and campaign. In his 2023 financial disclosure report with the West Virginia Ethics Commission, it was revealed that Miller is the owner of 26 businesses, including the Dutch Miller auto dealership chain. Additionally, he holds a position on the Marshall University Board of Governors.

According to the campaign, Chris Miller, who oversees dealerships across the state, utilizes a plane to visit his establishments and engage with his 600 employees. Additionally, he is known for his generous contributions to West Virginia communities and often travels to attend charitable events on behalf of Dutch Miller. This has been a longstanding practice for him, even during his current campaign.

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MBS Staff
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