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April, 2004

Bush's Re-election Campaign Is Costing You Money
By Karen Nakamura

Now that the presidential campaign is in full swing, John Kerry and George Bush have stepped up fundraising efforts across the country. It's not unusual for the President to pick up several million dollars at each stop. Fundraising on these trips has been so lucrative that the media commented on a stop that yielded only $500,000. What puzzles many Americans is why Bush and Company needs more than the $150,000,000 already raised, especially when that fund can only be used prior to the Republican convention in the summer.

What are the costs to taxpayers of transporting the president to these countless fundraisers?

Let's focus on the costs of running Air Force One and it's obvious fundraising use. Rules set in 1982 require that the government pay for all costs associated with the President's official business. In an article published by the Washington Post, May 20, 2002, Mike Allen wrote, "And because Bush is always the president -- whether acting as commander in chief or head of the Republican Party -- taxpayers pay the full $57,000-an-hour cost of flying Air Force One regardless of the trip's purpose."

It's hard to determine true expenses because they are divided among Pentagon, Treasury, White House and other budgets. However, the White House web site estimates the flying per hour costs at $10,000 while the Government Accounting Office, (GAO), say it comes in at $35,000. The government also pays for the majority of his entourage and for the military security that accompanies him. That may be where Allen is getting his higher estimate. Other costs, such as fundraising events, are proportionally charged to the President's party according to how much of the trip was political and how much was official government business.

The White House pays for 46% of its hotel room costs, rental cars, advance teams, hall rentals, lighting and other such expenses during visits. The government pays 54%. Members of the media are billed the equivalent of a first class round trip ticket. Records show that the average trip's reimbursement from the Republican Party is around $5,000-6,000 per trip. If the total costs $10,000 an hour for four hours, then $6,000 is still pretty low. That $5000-6000 represents the amount of reimbursement averaged by the Republican National Committee's own numbers.

As Allen stated "The effect is a deep taxpayer subsidy of presidential political trips, because the parties or candidates pay far less for the total visit than does the government."

Readers will remember that President Clinton and Al Gore were widely criticized for not separating fundraising events from official functions during Air Force One trips. It was an important ingredient of the congressional investigation into the Buddhist temple fundraising fiasco. The temple visit was supposed to be the official portion rather than a political event. A line had been crossed.

Despite vigorous criticism leveled by Republicans against Clinton and Gore, President Bush rarely goes anywhere that doesn't include a fund-raiser. There are reports that the White House plans official events to wrap around important fundraisers rather than the other way around. Implicit in this is that official presidential business is supposed to be the main reason for charging taxpayers for costs and why they agreed to pay. Fundraising is secondary, an add-on.

State Republican Party committees, often socked with the Republicans' share of costs, have been reported as saying they knew about fundraisers far before the corresponding official event. White House officials have said fundraising plans drove the schedules for several recent trips according to some sources.

How much, then, are Americans paying for building the Bush-Cheney Campaign war chest? Exact costs are hard to gage. The White House hasn't answered questions about costs and has little on its official site. The Air Force One site doesn't either. Because the GAO has a reputation of usually being close to the mark, we'll use its figure of $35,000. A typical day trip aboard Air Force One might run four hours total, an hour total for take off and landing, an hour each way, an hour on the destination's tarmac. That makes $140,000 per excursion. A two-day trip to the West Coast would average $1,680,000.

During his first 16 months in office, Bush took 28 political trips. That's easily a cool million. The pace has increased greatly with the coming election. Since January of this year, Bush has traveled extensively. He's taken two trips West and at least ten day-trips. Amazingly, he even appeared in several states a day or two after the Democratic primary. Again, using GAO figures, the cost to American taxpayers for the first quarter could conservatively run over $5,000,000.

While the Bush Administration has once again shown how it can do things "on the cheap", once again it hasn't been cheap for the American taxpayer.

 

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