Youngkin borrowed Altria’s jet. No one will say where he went.
Public records show the governor's taken a total of at least 19 out-of-state trips in the past year.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin flew on Altria’s private jet to and from an undisclosed location at an unknown time, according to campaign finance records. Neither his campaign committee nor Altria will say who else was on board or give any other details about the trip.
It’s one of a handful of times Youngkin has benefited from donors who’ve given him at least $365,000 worth of unspecified “flight services” as part of his political work.
Youngkin’s political action committee, Spirit of Virginia, reported the Altria donation Aug. 17. State law requires PACs to report contributions of more than $10,000 within three business days of receiving them.
Altria is a major player in Virginia politics and the General Assembly, where it employs one lobbyist and keeps 13 more on retainer, according to state records compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. The flights, valued at $55,000, are a drop in the bucket compared to the roughly $1.8 million the company has given Virginia politicians on both sides of the aisle since Jan. 1, 2020.
Former Gov. Ralph Northam, Terry McAuliffe and Bob McDonnell all had flight or travel costs covered by donors during their campaigns. Once in office, McDonnell continued to accept flights from a number of donors, including Star Scientific, a supplement company run by McDonnell donor Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
Altria spokesperson Steve Callahan said in an email the company provided “limited use of our corporate plane to accommodate a travel request from the Spirit of Virginia PAC.” He confirmed the plane was used on one occasion and that the company reported the fair market value for the flight, but declined to give its itinerary or say if Altria executives, board members or staff were on board.
Youngkin, like past Virginia governors, has blocked reporters’ access to his full calendar. VPM News filed public records requests related to Youngkin’s bodyguards to try to learn his whereabouts.
The records don’t show any travel in the first three weeks of August. But they do show 19 out-of-state tripssince Sept. 1, 2022, including trade missions to France, Taiwan and Japan, as well as separate, previously undisclosed travel to Scotland, Italy, a private island resort in Georgia and Jackson Hole, Wyoming (ethics disclosures indicate Youngkin owns a home in nearby Teton Village).
The list documents some trips where his Virginia State Police bodyguards didn’t incur costs, like a 2022 trip to Arizona to support Republican Kari Lake’s unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign.
Virginia Democrats have repeatedly criticized the travel, arguing it shows Youngkin is preoccupied with a possible presidential bid, rather than state issues.
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in an email that the trips were a mix of the governor’s personal and professional travel, but declined to provide a breakdown of which trips fell into either bucket. She noted the governor pays for his personal travel, as well as for costs incurred by VSP’s executive protection unit.
“These events include two foreign trade missions, supporting Virginia’s commitment to advancing economic growth opportunities across the Commonwealth,” Porter said.
Dave Rexrode, senior advisor to Youngkin, said in a statement that the PAC follows campaign finance laws. Spirit of Virginia did not respond to follow-up questions related to the Altria trips or donor-funded flights.
Other donors who have provided free air travel to Youngkin since he’s been in office include Lynchburg-based Banker Steel Company; Charlottesville-based Smith, Vicars & Company; aviation executive Michael Stoltzfus; attorney John Rocovich Jr.; Fredericksburg businessman Luke Curtas; and Dallas investment banker Ray Washburne.
Neither Dan Banker, the CEO of Banker Steel, nor Washburne responded to emails from VPM News. While Smith, Vicars & Company has minimal web presence, LinkedIn profiles indicate it shares at least three employees with the family foundation of Charlottesville philanthropist and University of Virginia donor Hunter Smith. None of the three employees responded to messages sent through the site or emails seeking comment.
Bob Roberts, a James Madison University professor who specializes in ethics in politics, said it’s perfectly legal under Virginia’s relatively lax ethics and campaign finance laws for governors to take privately-funded flights.
Roberts said the trips would likely fuel ammunition among Youngkin’s left-leaning critics that the governor is beholden to special interests. Conservatives, he argued, increasingly view ethics debates — like recent ones related to donor-funded travel by Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — as ideological attacks. The net result, Roberts said, was weakening ethics rules across the country some 50 years after the Watergate scandal.
“If you look back to Watergate, we've gone in the opposite direction,” the JMU professor said. “We're in a Dodge City type situation, where almost anything goes unless you cross the line whereby the money can be tied to a specific action you take in favor of a donor.”