In Wisconsin, Green Bay officials say the Clinton campaign has yet to pay off bills from events in March, September and November totaling nearly $12,800. Eau Claire, Wisconsin, says Clinton won’t pay a $6,812 from a visit in April. Spokane wants $2,793.
Clinton’s campaign committee has enough money to pay its bills, having last month
reported carrying a more than $838,000 surplus on its books. It did not report police bills from Philadelphia, Green Bay or any other locality as campaign debt.
Clinton campaign officials would not talk about the campaign’s non-payment of police bills despite several calls and emails requesting comment.
( A former Clinton campaign official, who declined to be named because he is no longer associated with the Clinton campaign committee and does not speak for it, said in an email that “any security-related questions should be referred to U.S. Secret Service. [Hillary for America] did not control and therefore did not request any additional security.” Update, 1:08 p.m., Jan. 12, 2017:
In March, as the Democratic presidential primary raged, the pro-Sanders Veterans for Bernie organization chided the Clinton campaign for local news reports indicating Clinton was slow to pay her bills for police protection. It likewise
boasted that the Sanders campaign showed “an understanding and respect for the challenges faced by municipalities and local police departments” by reimbursing local governments for police protection.
Many police departments would disagree: The Sanders campaign in December
reported to the Federal Election Commission that it owed 23 local governments and law enforcement agencies a combined $449,409 for “event security.” In its filing, the Sanders campaign doesn’t dispute the debts.
The cities of Santa Monica, California ($117,047), Irvine, California ($67,000); Tucson ($44,013), Spokane ($33,318) and Vallejo, California ($28,702) are listed as Sanders campaign’s top creditors.
Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs declined to comment, referring questions to the Secret Service.
But Sanders campaign lawyer Brad Deutsch, in
responding to a demand letter from Tucson, argued that the Sanders campaign shouldn’t have to pay bills for services that the Secret Service — not the campaign itself — requested. Tucson assigned 76 police officers to staff Sanders’ March 18 campaign rally at Tucson Arena.
“The Campaign did not contract for, not did it request or arrange for the Tucson Police Department to provide public safety at the Campaign event,” wrote Deutsch, who declined to speak on the record for this story. “The level of security or public safety requirements anticipated for any particular event were not dictated by the campaign.”
In Pennsylvania, Chief Mark Toomey of the
Upper Providence Township Police Department attempted to convince Sanders’ campaign to pay a $25,620 invoice related to a Democratic primary campaign event in April.
“They said [the bill] was exorbitant and too high, and that they didn’t ask for the manpower,” Toomey said. “What if I said, ‘Look, you’re on your own, have fun,’ and a fight breaks out, or something terrible happens? I’m the one who gets skewered — the negatives are endless.”
Ultimately, the Sanders campaign gave the Upper Providence Township Police Department $2,250, and the two sides settled, Toomey said. Toomey added that he considered taking the Sanders campaign to court for non-payment but decided against it.
“Who wants to get bogged down in that?” he asked. “My goal is to make sure the candidate gets in and out — regardless of money or who they are — safely.”
Sheriff John R. Gossage of Brown County, Wisconsin, wasn’t pleased when Casey Sinnwell, Sanders’ national director of scheduling and advance, told him to contact the Secret Service to collect on a $2,883 event security bill.
“I am concerned that the campaign was overly selective as to what service/organization they would reimburse for protective services rendered,”
Gossage wrote back, noting that the Sanders campaign did pay one of its bills — all $11,472 of it — that Green Bay’s city government sent it.
What happened then?
“I received no reply,” Gossage said.
Two-thousand miles away, Deputy Sheriff Christine Castillo of the Solano County Sheriff’s Office in California says the Sanders campaign never once responded to the more than $22,100 worth of invoices it sent after staffing campaign events before the state’s Democratic primary on June 4.
“We of course would like them to pay the invoices that we sent previously,” she said.
Sanders could conceivably pay all his police bills immediately: His campaign in December
reported having more than $4.71 million cash on hand.
Who should pay for candidate safety?
When a barnstorming presidential candidate sweeps into a city for a campaign rally, often on just a few days notice, if that, it’s often unclear who’s financially responsible for securing the event.
Here’s how events typically unfold: Before a campaign event, the U.S. Secret Service, which is primarily responsible for ensuring the safety of presidential candidates, asks local police departments or other public safety agencies to assist them.
Local governments almost never refuse. They’ll then deploy officers to serve a variety of functions: crowd control, perimeter patrols, closing streets, escorting dignitaries.
After the candidate comes and goes, the host city sometimes bills the presidential campaign for police officer overtime and other related costs.
Why bill the campaign and not the Secret Service?
Because the Secret Service doesn’t reimburse local police jurisdictions, even when it asked for the help.
So … why not?
“The U.S. Secret Service is not funded during the appropriations process to reimburse state and local police departments assisting the Secret Service in protective operations,” Secret Service spokeswoman Cathy L. Milhoan said in a statement.
Senate Appropriations Committee spokesman Stephen Worley concurred, noting that Congress also does not provide funding to reimburse state and local law enforcement agencies for presidential visits, heads of state or other high-level dignitaries.
“The prevailing argument has been that state and local law enforcement are responsible for protecting public safety in these circumstances, just as they would around any other event,” Worley said.
It’s a situation that, for Mayor Dwight Jones of Richmond, Virginia, is perplexing.
When Trump conducted a last-minute rally on June 10 in Richmond, the city coughed up more than $41,000 for public safety efforts and police personnel. In
a July letter to Douglas Mease, special agent-in-charge of the Secret Service’s Richmond Field Office, Jones argued that his city should be compensated for the “coordinated and massive planning and operational effort by a number of local public safety agencies.”
Richmond has yet to recoup its money, and Jones has now
During presidential candidate events, police forces and municipalities arguably provided governmental services for which campaigns — absent a contract or other security services agreement — aren’t financially responsible, said
Eric Wang, a Washington, D.C.-based election lawyer at Wiley Rein LLP and former counsel to current Federal Election Commission Vice Chairwoman Caroline Hunter.
“Reasonable people could certainly dispute whether there is any disputed debt to be reported here,” Wang said. “Just because the local police departments and governments may want the campaigns to reimburse them for the additional security costs doesn’t necessarily mean that, as a matter of law, there is a ‘debt.’”
After all, if candidates had to pay (or at least publicly disclose as “debt”) any bill they received, what would stop someone, particularly scam artists or unscrupulous political actor, from attempting to bleed a campaign of money it doesn’t owe?
Federal law doesn’t offer much clarity.
There’s a “significant amount of ambiguity” in FEC regulations regarding what candidates must publicly disclose as debt, said
Brett Kappel, a D.C.-based election lawyer at Akerman LLP.
Deciding whether to fight
A city government’s decision to invoice a presidential campaign for police and security services depends on the city government itself.
While some do, others don’t even bother.
Officials in Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Detroit; Kansas City, Mo.; Milwaukee; Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida, for example, said their municipalities generally do not bill presidential campaigns for police protection they provide at campaign events staged within their cities’ limits.
Some officials explained that the exercise is pointless, as campaigns over the years have rarely paid them back. Others consider police protection of political events part of their taxpayer-funded responsibilities — similar to policing a holiday parade, or a peaceful public protest.
“In the interest of public safety and managing traffic, we just do the job,” said Steve Hegarty, spokesman for the Tampa Police Department in Florida.
Another reason for not sending bills: Local officials don’t want to dampen the economic benefits — full restaurants, busy storefronts, happy hoteliers — of an event attracting thousands of people. Some local officials said they feared the campaigns might go elsewhere if they haggled over bills.
Mayor Paul Finley of Madison, Alabama, estimated that his little city provided the Trump campaign $30,000 worth of city services related to a large rally in February. But officials chose to not bill the Trump campaign for them. (The Trump campaign paid up front and in full when renting Madison City Stadium.)
City Manager Tom Barwin of Sarasota, Florida, says his city also chose not to bill presidential campaigns for police protection they provided to Trump when he twice visited last year.
Offering presidential candidates security while they speak publicly to city residents is “part of our basic public safety mission,” Barwin said.
“We are also, however, not averse to being reimbursed,” he added. “We do realize that our communities face unique circumstances and costs may start to become oppressive in today’s world in which all communities around the globe harbor concerns over foreign and/or domestic terrorism.”
Just ask New York City. Since Election Day, it’s been in a
fight with the federal government to recoup what it says are the roughly $500,000-per-day costs of securing Trump Tower in Manhattan, where the president-elect conducts much of his transition business.
While the financial condition of U.S. cities is returning to pre-Great Recession levels of health, municipal governments last year ranked public safety costs among factors that most negatively affect their budgets, according to the National League of Cities’
2016 City Fiscal Conditions report.
Many municipal governments “face great difficulty in purchasing necessary public safety equipment because of budget constraints,” the National League of Cities further asserted in a
resolution aimed at newly inaugurated federal lawmakers.
New duties placed on law enforcement related to federal homeland security mandates, as well as difficulty securing federal funds, have also constrained city budgets, the National League of Cities wrote.
It should be the purview of individual municipalities to decide whether they want to bill presidential candidates for police services they provide the candidates, said Darrel Stephens, executive director of the
Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents top police officials in the United States and Canada.
And if a city government decides to bill a presidential campaign for its campaign-related police work?
“The campaigns ought to respect a city’s decision, whatever it may be,” Stephens said. “The campaign should pay for the services.”
‘Morally, it’s the thing to do’
One presidential campaign that municipal officials across the country consistently lauded for paying its local police-related bills was that of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Back in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for example, which continues to wait for Trump, Clinton and Sanders to pay up, the Cruz presidential committee long ago settled a nearly $1,200 security bill related to
Cruz campaign events in March and April, according to city records.
Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier declined to comment on the other presidential candidates’ debt situations, but said Cruz, who
quit the presidential race in May, put “a high value on running an organized campaign” that promptly paid vendors and creditors.
Through November, Cruz’s still-technically-operational presidential committee reported owing no money to anyone, including municipal governments.
It had nearly $255,000
remaining it its account.
Many past presidential candidates, including Wisconsin Gov.
Scott Walker, former Sen. Rick Santorum, the Rev. Al Sharpton and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, remain in debt to a variety of non-law enforcement creditors. And it’s impossible to know how many presidential candidates of yore never paid police bills they received — and never reported them as debt.
“The senator wants to treat people well,” Frazier said, noting that paying bills “is ultimately a reflection on him.”
For his part, Mayor Dan Devine of West Allis, Wisconsin, which twice hosted Trump campaign events last year, wishes all presidential candidates would follow suit.
Devine notes that candidates often conduct campaign fundraisers before and after public events, and they receive municipal police services for them, too.
While West Allis, population 60,000, didn’t bill presidential candidates for event security costs during the 2016 election, Devine says he’ll push to change that.
“Morally, it’s the thing to do,” he said of candidates paying for local police protection. “City resources are already stretched thin without presidential candidates visiting. I’ll definitely be doing my homework before late 2019.”
Versions of this story appear on NBC News, Public Radio International, the Buffalo News, WisconsinWatch.org, VTDigger.org, the Janesville (Wis.) Gazette , the Superior (Wis.) Telegram and Urban Milwaukee .
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