A tax activist group has urged Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich to suspend his Secret Service protection to save taxpayer dollars.
"For a guy who for all intents and purpose, and isn't doing a lot of campaigning, needs to suspend his Secret Service detail," said David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance in Alexandria, Va. "He needs to do what's right for the taxpayer and say, 'I'm done with Secret Service protection."
Gingrich, who has had secret service for about a month, has vowed to stay in the race until presumptive nominee Mitt Romney reaches the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination. Gingrich has the "Camp David" package of Secret Service, which includes but is not limited to six cars, six federal agents, four state troopers at a campaign stop, four local agents when the candidate arrives and a press agent if there is a press bus, a person with knowledge of the Gingrich campaign said.
Although the cost to keep the Secret Service detail on the Gingrich campaign couldn't be determined, it includes agents' meals, hotel stays, transportation and salary. The person with knowledge of the Secret Service and the campaign said Gingrich's protection might be helping him stay in race because the cost is borne by taxpayers.
The campaign has no intention of changing course, however. "Where does he not qualify for secret service? Has Mitt Romney secured the nomination?" Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond asked.
Hammond said the Secret Service spends the same amount of money to cover Romney. "As a government, we provide protection to our candidates, visiting dignitaries, presidential families," Hammond said. "There are a lot of people who would like to see him not in the race. There's an entire class of pundits who make a living offering up their opinion, but pundits don't pick the president, people do."
The costs associated with several components of a campaign are covered when it is under the veil of Secret Service protection.
With Secret Service, the campaign doesn't have to pay for vehicle transportation, which includes gas, drivers and staff. Before receiving Secret Service, the campaign had to rent cars, pay for gas and also keep staff members on the road to drive the vehicles.
With Secret Service, the campaign also does not have to pay for private security for Gingrich. Private security alone can total $50,000 a month. Even after receiving Secret Service, the campaign did keep private security for Gingrich's wife, Callista, who is not covered by the Secret Service detail for the candidate.
Another big cost saver for campaigns with Secret Service is that the campaign doesn't have to pay advance staff to travel ahead of the group and secure the site to ensure it is acceptable for Gingrich's arrival. There are usually two Secret Service agents who are at the site before the candidate's arrival. Even after receiving Secret Service, the campaign did pay a private advance staff to prepare the sites. The advance staff was cut when Gingrich released one-third of his staff to save money.
Gingrich has seen his share of "Occupy Wall Street" protestors while campaigning, one of whom leaped toward him and was tackled by Gingrich's private security team in Iowa. And a student stood up and shouted at Gingrich as he spoke in North Carolina last week. There have been other incidents, several sources said, although Hammond said the campaign does not comment on security matters.