Presidential candidates stiff cities

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders may not remember much about the rallies they each held last year in Green Bay, Wis. But officials at Green Bay City Hall sure do. And they're miffed the three politicos have stiffed them on police ...

Superior police monitor protesters at a rally for then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump in April. While many communities haven’t been reimbursed by the candidates for police protection during campaign events, Trump’s campaign reimbursed the city almost $2,790 for protective services beyond those needed by the Secret Service for its safety plan in connection with the rally in Superior. Jed Carlson/

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders may not remember much about the rallies they each held last year in Green Bay, Wis.

But officials at Green Bay City Hall sure do. And they're miffed the three politicos have stiffed them on police protection bills totaling $24,000.

"We appreciate, and we feel honored, when the candidates come to Green Bay," said Celestine Jeffreys, chief of staff to Mayor Jim Schmitt. "We are also very appreciative when they honor their debts."

Green Bay is no anomaly.

At least three dozen municipal governments and law enforcement agencies say presidential campaigns have ignored hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding bills stemming from police security for campaign events - from Vallejo, Calif., to the University of Pittsburgh.


That's according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal campaign disclosures and municipal invoices, as well as interviews with more than 60 local government officials.

Presidential campaigns asserted in communications with some city governments that they're not responsible for many security costs. But this widespread failure to pay follows an election season when many presidential candidates - particularly Trump - argued that law enforcement deserved both more resources and more respect.

Local cops also found themselves in the midst of numerous unruly, even violent, Trump rallies, with Trump himself sometimes directing security to eject protesters and hecklers.

Trump's campaign alone hasn't paid nearly $204,000 worth of police-related invoices, according to municipal billing records obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

And Trump arguably owes more.

That's because the Trump campaign - despite receiving demand letters and collection notices - doesn't acknowledge in federal campaign financial disclosures that it owes cities a cent. Nor does the Clinton campaign. The Sanders campaign, in contrast, says in federal campaign filings that it owes $449,409, spread among nearly two dozen municipalities and law enforcement agencies.

The differing approaches make it difficult to determine just how many security-related bills have been sent to the major White House hopefuls since their campaigns began touring the nation in earnest in mid-2015. The Trump, Clinton and Sanders campaigns wouldn't comment.

Rhetorically, Trump supports police with aplomb.


On Monday, Trump marked National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day by tweeting six pictures of himself standing with police officers and other emergency personnel. "Thank you to all of the men and women who protect & serve our communities 24/7/365!" Trump wrote.

But Tucson, Ariz., officials say Trump owes them $81,837 for security and traffic control services during his "Make America Great Again Rally" on March 19. Spokane, Wash., is still waiting for Trump's campaign to pay a bill of $65,124.

And in Wisconsin, where Trump beat Clinton by fewer than 23,000 votes, city officials in Eau Claire want Trump to cough up $47,398. Green Bay leaders are seeking $9,380.

Officials in Eau Claire also want reimbursement, noting in a Sept. 27 demand letter to Trump's campaign that his visit on April 2 "incurred a significant amount" of costs for the city of 68,000. The charges range from calling in help from three nearby police departments to providing cops with pizzas while they stood guard throughout the day.

In Superior, where a Trump held a rally April 4 at the Bong Airport, the city billed Trump's campaign almost $2,790 for police protection beyond the Secret Service security plan. According to assistant finance director, Chris Bronson, the Trump campaign did pay the bill.

In Green Bay, officials said the Trump campaign paid a $1,403 police bill for hotel security on March 29 and a $9,550 bill for an event Oct. 17. But the campaign hasn't settled up on the $9,380 security tab from an Aug. 5 rally, and the city could not explain why.

The Trump transition team did not respond to numerous requests for comment regarding its unpaid police protection bills or how it determined which police bills to pay or not pay.

The Trump campaign in December disclosed having more than $7.6 million remaining in its account. The only debt it reported was a $766,756 campaign polling expense that it labeled as contested in federal filings.


Cities also want Clinton, Sanders to pay

Clinton, like Trump, talked a blue streak about boosting law enforcement, saying during an August meeting with law enforcement officials that she supported providing police "with the resources they need to do their jobs." But Clinton's campaign, too, has failed to pay some police bills.

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 says Clinton won't pay a $6,812 bill from a visit in April.

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.

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.

Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs declined to comment, referring questions to the Secret Service.

Sheriff John R. Gossage of Brown County, Wis., 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 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.

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?


"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, saying "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."

Some cities don't charge

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, Fla., for example, said their municipalities generally do not bill presidential campaigns for police protection they provide at campaign events staged within their cities' limits.

Superior provides mutual aid to the Secret Service to implement its security plan and only charges candidates' campaigns when additional police protection is requested beyond that plan.

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.

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.


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 as debt.

For his part, Mayor Dan Devine of West Allis, which twice hosted Trump campaign events last year, wishes all presidential candidates would just pay up. 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."

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C. This story was distributed by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The Superior Telegram contributed to this report.

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