President Obama demonstrated the power of his office this week, shifting seamlessly in a span of just over 30 hours from commander- in-chief in a dangerous war zone to campaigner-in-chief on the trail in D.C.
Fresh back from Afghanistan, Obama attended two private, $40,000-a-plate fundraisers Wednesday at the exclusive W Hotel, raising at least $2 million for the 2012 campaign, Democratic officials said.
The big money events, coming ahead of Obama’s first public campaign rallies on Saturday, are the latest reminder of how the president is padding his war chest at an unprecedented rate.
Obama has headlined 132 re-election fundraisers for his campaign and the Democratic Party since early last year, according to tracking by ABC News and U.S. Naval Academy political scientist Brendan Doherty.
President George W. Bush attended 86 fundraisers for his re-election campaign, the Republican Party or both groups during his first term. Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush appeared at a total of 70 and 24, respectively.
And as Obama travels the country – or across the street, as was the case last night – taxpayers foot most of the bill, experts say.
“The taxpayer always pays for all of the advance work that goes into a trip, the logistics that accompany the president, the transport of the motorcade and Marine One, the security, the communications equipment, all of the mobile White House that accompanies the president,” said Doherty.
Presidents of both parties have engaged in fundraising activities and political travel. But as the costs of campaigns have soared, each American president has had to fundraise more in order to remain competitive, Doherty said.
An incumbent’s campaign committee picks up part of the tab for travel to and from fundraisers and other political events, but it’s a complicated — and secret — government formula.
“They all say that they’re following the law and they follow the formula,” Doherty said. “The opposite party always says that the president is campaigning on the taxpayer’s dime.”
The White House and Democratic campaign officials insist that Obama is abiding by all laws and precedents for cost reimbursement, even if the sheer number of events is higher than ever before.
“As you know, we follow all the rules and regulations to ensure that the DNC or other relevant political committee pays what is required for the president or first lady to travel to political events,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters late last month.
Still, the payments do not fully offset the true cost of presidential travel.
Air Force One, for example, costs an estimated $180,000 per hour of flight time, according to figures provided by the Defense Department.
By law, the Obama campaign pays the government based on what it would cost to charter a Boeing 737. Previous presidential campaigns have reimbursed taxpayers the value of a first class commercial airline ticket per passenger.
Obama has logged roughly 41,000 flight miles on Air Force One since Jan. 1to domestic official and political events, according to figures kept by ABC News.
Where the president has traveled is also telling about the election-year dynamics. Of the 27 outside-the-beltway “official” events Obama has held in 2012, 21 were in battleground states.