Taxpayers footing bill for Obama's trip to the West Coast

Story highlights

  • It's standard practice for presidents, both Democratic and Republican
  • There is little transparency in determining the cost of presidential travel
  • Taxpayers also pay for travel to campaign events that rally support rather than raise money
During President Barack Obama's three-day swing through the states of Washington California and Colorado, he fielded questions at a town hall meeting in Silicon Valley and visited a high school in Denver. Two official events to promote his jobs plan.
Compare that to seven fundraisers he headlined, raising at least $8 million for his re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Who paid for the trip? You did. And so did we. Taxpayers are footing the bill for almost the entire trip, which also cost millions of dollars.
It's standard practice for presidents, both Democratic and Republican, to go on predominantly fundraising trips with taxpayer's paying for most of the travel costs. It's completely legal. Do some official White House business on the trip and -- voila! -- the president's re-election campaign and party shoulder very little of the cost.
"Usually, a political party only covers a fraction of the costs of presidential travel, usually in the single digit percentages," says Pete Sepp with the National Taxpayers Union, a nonpartisan nonprofit group against wasteful government spending. "Most of the money raised really comes at a free cost to the parties. They only reimburse for a few hundred thousand dollars, on a given trip, if tax payers are lucky."
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The price tag on presidential travel is exorbitant. Air Force One costs $181,757 per flight hour to operate, according to the Air Force. There's a C-17 military support plane to fly the president's limousines to his destination, perhaps another if Marine One will be used during the trip.
And the personnel: the salary costs of a Secret Service detail and dozens of White House staffers who also required meals, transportation and hotel rooms. There are also local security costs like overtime pay for police officers who escort the presidential motorcade or provide security along the travel route.
There is little transparency in determining the cost of presidential travel. A White House spokesman declined to say how the White House and the DNC divided the cost of Obama's western trip, citing security concerns. Other administrations have declined to comment on the same grounds.
A report conducted by the Democratic-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee while President George Bush was in the White House concluded taxpayers paid for about 97% of presidential travel, the Republican Party just 3%.
Sepp says there's no reason to believe the breakdown is much different with the Obama administration or other White Houses.
"Ever since Ronald Reagan's administration, presidential travel has carried with it a lot of controversy over cost as well as politics," Sepp says. "Even Richard Nixon was cited for having traveled a great deal abroad, when he was having domestic political troubles."
In 1995, President Bill Clinton attended eight fundraisers in four days on a cross-country swing.
Taxpayers often pay for travel to campaign events that rally support rather than raise money, like Bush's dramatic entrance into a baseball stadium in Fort Myers Florida less than a month before his re-election in 2004. Call it a perk of the presidency, something a mere candidate does not enjoy.
"And that's the point when the parties themselves have to pay for the cost of the pomp and the circumstance," Sepp says. "The pomp and the circumstance gets a lot smaller, a lot more modest."