When the president comes calling, who pays?




Posted on October 20, 2010 at 4:31 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 20 at 5:15 PM

OLYMPIA - When President Barack Obama came to Washington state in August, that was  a campaign event to boost the election chances for Democratic Senator Patty Murray, who is locked in a tight race with Republican Dino Rossi.

It was the same for Vice President Joe Biden's Visit to Tacoma on October 8th.

Same for Former President Bill Clinton in Seattle early this week.

But while the cameras are trained on the big political stars and the candidate seeking support, few people are focused on the costs and who pays.

KING 5 News has been investigating the question of who pays for these presidential campaign visits.  And the news: It's not the White House. 

"When the Secret Service asks us to help protect the president, we help protect the president," said Bob Calkins, the head spokesman for the Washington State Patrol.

The State Patrol is affected anytime a high ranking official, even a family member, visits the state and primarily provides motorcade escorts and traffic management.

The Secret Service says it has no mechanism for reimbursing police.  But if you're thinking this is just an issue with the Democrats, think again.

In 2004, during a $2,500 a plate fundraiser headed up by then-President George W. Bush,  the small Hunt's Point Police Department spent four percent of its budget on just this one visit.  It wasn't compensated.

State and local budgets are tight with the recession, but the White House is reimbursed for these campaign stops. A White House spokesman saying If a stop is purely a campaign visit, it's 100 percent paid back by the campaign.  It might also be paid back by the Democratic National Committee, or in the case of the former president, the Republican National Committee.

If it's a mixed visit part campaign part official, the campaign can pick up as much as 50%.

The White House says they reimburse for a wide range of costs, including things like hotels and meals.   The cost of flying Air Force One  estimated  between $60,000 to $70,000 an hour.
What the Washington State Patrol can't tell us is how much these vists have cost them in the past.   The Patrol tries to limit costs by using on-duty officers and working with officers to voluntary shift their schedules.  But there can be overtime, which is considered hard money.  

Calkins says the patrol can find out the costs, but only through a time consuming process of  going back over those days and determining who worked and for how long doing what.  That's about to change.

"We are beginning the process of trying to track that cost," said Calkins.

Using the state's time sheet system that already tracks other costs using a series of codes, new codes will soon be assigned for presidential visits. 

For example, state patrol officers working traffic during a flood, like the one in Chehalis in 2007 that put I-5 underwater, will enter a code for that. 

By coding, the patrol can present its costs to the Federal Emergency Management Agency seeking reimbursement.  But even if they start marking codes for presidential campaign visits, there's little optimism that campaigns will begin reimbursing local police agencies any time soon.