Presidential Piggybacking: Obama Trips Combine Official, Political Business

PHOTO: Air Force One
Share
Copy

President Obama jets to Florida today for a mix of official and political business that will steal some headlines in the Sunshine State and line his campaign coffers with at least $4 million.

The act of presidential piggybacking -- coupling official duties, in this case a speech on the economy, with political fundraising -- was not pioneered by Obama but is prominently on display this year.

Obama has taken four trips outside Washington, D.C., since Jan. 1, including 18 re-election fundraisers interspersed with various activities related to his duties as president. Most recently, Obama concluded a three-day, three-state swing when he attended eight fundraisers and two official events.

The president's jet-setting has drawn the usual criticisms from his political opponents but also raised the curiosity and questions from taxpayers about who bears the sky-high costs.

Official presidential travel has traditionally been paid for by taxpayers as part of executive branch operations, while political trips and events are to be covered by a candidate's campaign committee. On the occasions that they mix, the costs are to be split.

"Most presidents have doubled up on trips and said they followed the law, which is a complex formula no one really understands," said Brendan Doherty, a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of the forthcoming book "The Rise of the President's Permanent Campaign."

"And even on a fully political trip, the taxpayer ends up paying part of the bill," he said, citing the nature of the American presidency.

As a rule of thumb, an incumbent president's campaign is expected to reimburse the government the cost of a first class commercial airline ticket for each person riding Air Force One to or from a political event, campaign finance experts say.

But that amount doesn't come close to covering the proportional operating cost of Air Force One, or the army of Secret Service agents, White House advance teams, the fleet of Air Force cargo planes transporting the presidential motorcade or the helicopters that often ferry the president from an airport to a remote site.

Air Force One – known in the military as VC-25 – costs $179,750 per flight hour alone in fiscal year 2012, Maj. Michelle Lai of the 89th Airlift Wing told ABC News.

That figure includes fuel, flight consumables, depot level repairs, aircraft overhaul and engine overhaul. Pilot and airmen salaries are not included because they are paid regardless of the plane's use, Lai said.

Obama's trip to Florida and back today will cost at least $674,000 in Air Force One flight time alone.

His three-day, three-state swing that included two official events and eight fundraisers, netting more than $8 million last week, incurred flight costs of $2.1 million, based on the Air Force figure and flight times gathered from press pool reports.

As for how the proportion of that bill is broken down for Obama campaign to pay, experts say the law is murky and the practice of reimbursement somewhat "on your honor."

"At the end of the day the Federal Election Commission has not been abundantly clear about how the costs of mixed purpose travel should be paid for," said Paul Ryan, an expert in FEC law with the Campaign Finance Institute.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...