Via FrequentFlying, Delta has been giving out elite status to favored politicians: the Governor of Georgia gets comped Diamond status and the Lieutenant Governor, state House Speaker and state Senate President all get Platinum Medallion status.
Programs routinely comp status to special friends, whether program partners or influentials that they wish to ingratiate themselves with. There’s less of this with Members of Congress where ethics rules tend to be stricter and scrutiny greater (though the 2007 “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007” carves out specific exceptions to allow Senators to play golf for free). Still, while explicit gifts are rare treatment for politicians is still better than for others — members of Congress created their own legislative deal to score free close-in parking at National Airport and when US Airways was struggling financially early in the last decade and announced significant layoffs, Ted Kennedy intervened to “protect” two jobs at DCA — the special services reps who took care of important politicians such as himself.
It’s one thing when an airline or hotel chain offers status to important customers to sway business, or to leadership of firms they’re doing business with. It’s another thing entirely when they’re offering these perks to politicians and bureaucrats. Mind you, I don’t blame the travel provider one bit. It’s how business is done, especially in highly regulated industries. Politicians hold a great deal of sway over a company’s profitability. It’s called crony capitalism. Delta was noted to have provided the Georgia governor with top tier elite status after he signed a $30 million tax break. By any measure that makes the governor important to Delta. There’s no suggestion of quid pro quo here, but Delta is reliant on the good will of political favors, and they treat their politicians well when they can.
It’s entirely to be expected as long as politicians influence fortunes of private companies, and crusading against special perks for politicians misses the point. Still it does rather anger me if I’m trumped out of an upgrade by a politician doling out dollars they’ve taken out of income (or if I’m trumped out of that same upgrade by an air marshall…)