With 13 months until the 2020 U.S. elections, leaders in travel are beginning to pick sides in what will be a pivotal election for the country.

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, and American Airlines CEO Doug Parker have each donated to Responsibility and Freedom Work PAC, a political action committee with a track record of supporting Republican senatorial campaigns including that of disgraced Alabama politician Roy Moore.

The group is nominally associated with Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, according to watchdog group OpenSecrets, but an examination of its spending finds countrywide support for some of the Republican party’s most polarizing figures.

Here is a breakdown of the donations so far from three of aviation’s top leaders.

2019 Donations to Responsibility and Freedom Work PAC
Doug Parker, American Airlines$5,000
Oscar Munoz, United Airlines$2,500
Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines$2,500

Source: FEC

Sharon L. Pinkerton, Airlines for America’s senior vice president of legislative and regulatory policy, has also donated $1,000 according to Federal Election Committee filings. None of the aviation executives have donated to the committee in past election cycles.

The committee’s spending so far this year shows a $60,000 donation to National Republican Senatorial Committee and another $45,000 donation to NRSC Victory, a related committee. It has also sent money to groups affiliated with Republican politicians including John James, Tom Cotton, Jim Inhofe, Joni Ernst, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The committee seems to have attracted the attention of a variety of transportation executives from the U.S. South, with leaders from a handful of railroad and port operation groups also contributing.

It is particularly interesting that these three airline CEOs would donate to this political action committee because their airlines each have associated political action committees that tend to dole out money at about an even split between Democrats and Republicans. Traditional committees representing the workers of the aviation industry, as well, have contributed to the group this year.

2019 Travel PAC Donations to Responsibility and Freedom Work PAC
Airlines For America (A4a) PAC$5,000
Southwest Airlines Co. Freedom Fund$5,000
United Airlines, Inc. PAC$5,000
Air Line Pilots Association PAC$5,000
Hawaiian Airlines INC PAC$2,500
Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association PAC$1,500
NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots (NJASAP)$1,500

Source: FEC

In 2018, the Delta Air Lines Political Action Committee also contributed $5,000 to the group.

Spending from the committee’s 2017-2018 cycle shows a series of contributions to Congressional candidates around the U.S. with divisive views on issues like gay rights and gun control.

In addition to hundreds of thousands in spending to a variety of groups backing Republican candidates, the committee gave $15,000 to Ted Cruz for Senate and $5,000 to Judge Roy Moore for U.S. Senate, the candidate whose anti-Semitism and alleged stalking of underage women made national news.

Going back to the last presidential election in 2016, the group donated more than $200,000 to Republican-leaning groups and backed candidates including Marco Rubio and Kelly Ayotte.

Other airline executives have donated to Republican politicians in 2019, too. Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, has given $2,600 to a committee associated with U.S. Senator David Perdue of Georgia (in addition to $2,800 to Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan).

Robert Isom, president of American Airlines, has donated $2,800 this year to McConnell Senate Committee.

When asked about their policies on political contributions, the airlines involved affirmed a policy of directing funds to political campaigns that will bolster their corporate efforts.

“Southwest has adopted a policy that it will primarily use its affiliated political action committee, the Southwest Airlines Co. Freedom Fund (Freedom Fund), which is financed through voluntary Employee contributions, to support political campaigns, and that Company funds will be limited to supporting selected political campaigns at the state and local level in compliance with the laws of the relevant states and localities,” said a Southwest Airlines representative. “All political campaign contributions from the Freedom Fund or by the Company directly are approved by the Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs and Real Estate and overseen by Southwest’s Executive Vice President, Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer, with an annual summary of those contributions provided to the Southwest Board of Directors. All political contributions are intended to promote the interests of the Company and are not guided by any private political preferences of any Employee.”

United Airlines, as well, said it is up to employees to choose who they donate to.

“United Airlines employees are welcome to make political donations on their own behalf with their own money,” wrote a United Airlines spokesperson.

As the lead up to the next presidential election begins, we will begin to see who leaders of the U.S. aviation sector truly favor.

Photo Credit: Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly on a Boeing 737 Max aircraft. Southwest Airlines