When President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney visited Georgia this year for fundraisers, the political committees that brought them here paid about $55,000 to help defray travel costs.
But the final reimbursement to taxpayers will probably be significantly less, with the rest of the money returned to the Georgia Republican Party and Republican congressional nominee Rick Goddard’s campaign.
Click here to find out more!
That’s a normal practice for such visits and well within the laws governing presidential travel. The initial payment is considered a partly refundable deposit, though even the campaigns themselves may not be aware of this.
The process may give the public a false sense of how much federal taxpayers are paying for presidential and vice presidential fundraising trips, since campaigns typically describe the deposit amount as a reimbursement.
That was the case with this summer’s visits when, despite repeated questioning from The Telegraph about the costs, none of the entities involved revealed that the actual reimbursements might be less than the $40,000 and $15,000 figures quoted at the time.
That includes the Georgia GOP, the Goddard campaign, the Republican National Committee, the White House and the vice president’s office, all of which were contacted by The Telegraph this summer. The concept of a deposit was mentioned only recently, after The Telegraph questioned specific campaign finance records filed after the trips.
The same held true in 2006, when Bush visited Macon for Mac Collins’ congressional campaign. Collins’ campaign wrote a $40,000 check to help pay for the trip, but seven months later about half that amount was returned to his campaign.
“I wasn’t (aware of it) either until I got some of it back,” Collins told The Telegraph last week.
It’s all just part of the system, said Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group that combs through campaign finance reports and breaks them down at www.opensecrets.org.
“To the victor go the spoils,” Ritsch said in an e-mail. “Unless campaigns reimburse the government for the full cost of transporting the presidential entourage and protecting the president — in the air and on the ground — taxpayers will always be subsidizing trips that are primarily political.”
The money flows like this: The local campaign pays the Republican National Committee, which helps coordinate presidential and vice presidential visits for congressional and other campaigns.
The committee holds the money until a federal official tells the RNC how much should be reimbursed for a particular trip. That money is remitted to the federal treasury, and whatever’s left is returned to the local campaign, an RNC spokeswoman said.
This is a standard procedure in place for decades, she said. Policies governing presidential travel reimbursements have been in place since the Carter administration, and they require only that campaigns reimburse taxpayers the cost of first-class airline tickets for political travelers, as opposed to those traveling on official business.
But exact figures are hard to pin down.
For example: For Bush’s trip to Macon on Oct. 10, 2006, records show the Collins campaign paid the RNC $40,000. Then the RNC refunded $20,880 to the Collins campaign in May 2007.
Presumably, that means that $19,120 was forwarded to the U.S. Treasury to offset some costs of the trip. But that is difficult to confirm because payouts from the RNC to the federal government, which are logged in routine Federal Election Commission reports, are identified by date of disbursement and are not pegged to any specific trip.
Final records for this year’s visits to benefit the Goddard campaign and the Georgia GOP are not available. Typically, they’re not published until about six months after a visit, the RNC said, which is usually well after an election is over. The differences may be somewhat irrelevant, though, when put into context of the full cost of bringing the president or vice president to town for a fundraiser.
A federal report from 2000 pegged the hourly cost of operating Air Force One, the plane the president flies in, at about $54,000. The vice president’s plane (Air Force Two) costs about $14,000 an hour to operate, according to the report.
Those figures don’t include the substantial security costs associated with presidential travel or the hotel costs for advance teams that precede the president and vice president.
Since presidential and vice presidential visits often raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a campaign, the visits would be money-making ventures even if the full deposits were kept.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Presidential travel costs
This is the story I ended up writing: