Senator and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton trotted out the vague and loose rules of the Senate and Federal Election Commission Wednesday as a rationalization for accepting rides on a private jet from a fatcat contributor.
"Whatever I've done, I complied with Senate rules at the time. That's the way every senator operates," Clinton claimed in an interview with Associated Press reporter Kathleen Hennessey.
Clinton, however, refused to discuss whether the rules are too lax.
"Those were the rules. You'll have to ask somebody else whether that's good policy," she said.
Her actions, however, stand in sharp contrast to her stated positions on Senators taking such trips or on the overt influence of corporate money on politics.
Election reform advocates say the rules regulating use of private planes allow for widespread abuse and that payments from candidates, usually the equivalent of first class air fare, does not begin to cover the actual cost of use of such planes.
Clinton's travel, along with and consulting fees paid to her husband, the former president, have come to light recently in a lawsuit against Vinod Gupta, a Clinton contributor and chief executive of the data company, InfoUSA Inc.
The lawsuit by company shareholders accuses Gupta of excessively spending millions of dollars, including $900,000 worth of travel on the Clintons.
Sen. Clinton, who complained about corporate America's largesse and skyrocketing executive pay during campaign events Wednesday, said she did not believe her message was undermined by her acceptance of the private flights. In line with Senate rules then in effect, Clinton's campaign has said she reimbursed Gupta at the cost of a first-class flight, typically a significant discount off the expense of a private jet.
The Senate earlier this year voted to change the rules to require senators, their staff and candidates for federal office to pay the charter rate for flights on corporate jets. All the presidential candidates serving in the Senate, including Clinton, voted for the change.
Clinton struck several populist notes Wednesday in a speech at a union hall and at a town hall appearance at a North Las Vegas high school with large number of minority and low-income students.
The senator told members of the Culinary Workers Union, a group that represents casino and hotel workers, that it should be made easier for unions to organize and that private equity firms should honor union contracts after buyouts. Both issues are important to the union, whose endorsement is considered key to winning Nevada's Jan. 19 caucus.
The senator made light of her own personal wealth.
"I know a lot of rich people. My husband and I never had any money … now all (of a) … sudden we're rich," Clinton said. "I have nothing against rich people. … but what made America great is the American middle class."
Clinton declined to comment on two unreleased biographies that, according to press accounts, describe the former first lady's road to her candidacy in unflattering terms. She said she wasn't familiar with the books.
Clinton acknowledged an assertion reportedly contained in one of the books: that she did not read a National Intelligence Estimate before voting to authorize the president to go to war in Iraq.
"I don't believe that I did or that vast majority of my colleagues did because we were briefed repeatedly about everything that was in it," she said.