Did Sen. Kelly Loeffler take advantage of a Trump tax loophole to write off campaign jet?

Records suggest Loeffler may have deducted a jet she used on campaign trips, letting the government eat the cost

Published November 10, 2020 5:00AM (EST)

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (Paras Griffin/Getty Images)
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia Republican now seeking to hold her seat in a crucial runoff election, has been hopping between campaign stops in a multimillion-dollar private jet that she and her husband bought soon after Gov. Brian Kemp appointed her to the Senate last December.

Despite her campaign's claims that she uses the plane to "save taxpayer money," Loeffler, a former asset management executive, may well now have joined the "frenzy" of Wall Street money managers who leapt at a loophole in President Trump's 2017 tax bill that turns private jets into flying tax shelters.

Embedded in that bill is a provision that permits a company to write off the full price of a new or used airplane against the company's earnings. It is not clear how much Loeffler paid for the jet, a 2010 Bombardier Challenger 300 that she has used for campaign travel, but an online listing asks $9.7 million for the same model and year.

Loeffler's federal financial disclosures put the value in the range of $5 million to $25 million, and indicate that the plane is jointly owned by Loeffler and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, chair of the New York Stock Exchange.

A Loeffler aide told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last February that Loeffler had paid for the airplane "out of her pocket," but these disclosures suggest that isn't true. 

Individuals cannot write off the purchase of a jet; only businesses can. However, the ownership arrangement for this particular jet is opaque. For one thing, the couple chartered the plane under a company called TVPX Aircraft Solutions, which provides an "owner trust" that, among other things, offers anonymity. According the aircraft tracking site Flight Aware, that airplane is "not available for public tracking per request from the owner/operator."

A Federal Aviation Administration lookup for a mandated two-year regulatory test that Salon conducted shows that the plane's operator is not listed as an individual, but as a company, Descante Capital Holdings.

Loeffler's financial disclosures list several versions of Descante Capital LLC companies, which serve as holding companies for her primary residence, "Descante," her $10.5 million Atlanta mansion. However, those disclosures do not list a company called Descante Capital Holdings.

Loeffler and Sprecher appear to have put their Atlanta house on the market this July, at a $19 million asking price.

A Loeffler campaign spokesperson did not respond to multiple detailed questions for this article.

Loeffler has taken the plane, which she bought last December, on campaign flights as short as an 18-minute hop from a central Georgia hot dog stand to Savannah, as well as between the Peach State and Washington, D.C.

Loeffler's husband also owns a Fulton County jet hangar worth $1 million, which pulls in anywhere between $100,001 and $1 million annually in rent, according to the senator's federal disclosures.

Loeffler's former Republican rival in this year's Senate race, Rep. Doug Collins, frequently invoked the plane to paint Loeffler, the wealthiest member of Congress, as out of touch with Georgia voters.

"Who buys a $30 million jet in secret then posts a picture with their new KIA on Facebook around the same time?" a Collins spokesperson told the Journal Constitution. "That's all you need to know about Kelly Loeffler."

"Yes, like other senators and candidates, Sen. Loeffler has a plane," a Loeffler spokesperson told the Journal-Constitution. "She uses it to best serve Georgians and save taxpayer money in an effort to see as many of her constituents as possible."

Previously, buyers of new planes could deduct at least 50% in the first year, while used airplane purchasers had to take it more slowly. Trump's loophole, which offered an immediate 100% deduction for used or new purchases, was a hit with corporate owners.

According to Bloomberg, Thrive Capital Management, the venture capital firm owned by Joshua Kushner — the brother of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner — bought a used Bombardier Challenger 300 in 2019. Hedge fund manager Harsh Padia scooped up a used Bombardier Global Express in 2018. Matthew Bronfman, of BHB holdings, registered a used Bombardier 600 around Christmas that year.

"It's like a frenzy out there," Bill Papariella, chief executive of Jet Edge International, which helps clients buy and manage planes, told the Wall Street Journal in 2018. Suzanne Meiners-Levy, who runs a Florida-based boutique tax firm that helps companies buy planes, told the outlet that her firm saw a 30% increase in new clients in 2018, and that 80% of people mention the tax bill.

If a buyer sells their plane, however, they must repay that write-off in full.

Loeffler and Sprecher themselves have made a number of sales this year, most notably several million in stock trades months ahead of the coronavirus pandemic. Those sales drew the attention of Justice Department investigators, who eventually cleared Loeffler.

But Loeffler's financial disclosures reveal that she and her husband have continued selling off millions in assets over the course of the year, as she poured money into her campaign. In September, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., called Loeffler out for seemingly bribing Trump with $50 million in exchange for helping her knock out Collins, her Republican opponent.

Loeffler edged out Collins on Election Day, and now faces a runoff against Democratic challenger Dr. Raphael Warnock in January. Together with another Georgia runoff between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, this will decide whether Democrats or Republicans hold a Senate majority.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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Corruption Elections Georgia Gop Tax Bill Kelly Loeffler Reporting Republicans