Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders may not remember much about the rallies they each held last year in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
But officials at Green Bay City Hall sure do. And they’re miffed the three politicos have stiffed them on police protection bills totaling $24,000.
“We appreciate, and we feel honored, when the candidates come to Green Bay,” said Celestine Jeffreys, chief of staff to Mayor Jim Schmitt. “We are also very appreciative when they honor their debts.”
Green Bay is no anomaly.
At least three-dozen municipal governments and law enforcement agencies say presidential campaigns have ignored hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding bills stemming from police security for campaign events — from Vallejo, California, to the University of Pittsburgh. That’s according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal campaign disclosures and municipal invoices, as well as interviews with more than 60 local government officials.
Presidential campaigns asserted in communications with some city governments that they’re not responsible for many security costs. But this widespread failure to pay follows an election season when many presidential candidates — particularly Trump — argued that law enforcement deserved both more resources and more respect.
Trump’s campaign alone hasn’t paid nearly $204,000 worth of police-related invoices, according to municipal billing records obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
And Trump arguably owes more.
That’s because the Trump campaign — despite receiving demand letters and collection notices — doesn’t acknowledge in federal campaign financial disclosures that it owes cities a cent. Nor does the Clinton campaign. The Sanders campaign, in contrast, says in federal campaign filings that it owes $449,409, spread among nearly two-dozen municipalities and law enforcement agencies.
The differing approaches make it difficult to determine just how many security-related bills have been sent to the major White House hopefuls since their campaigns began touring the nation in earnest in mid-2015. The Trump, Clinton and Sanders campaigns wouldn’t comment.
Complicating cities’ collection efforts: local officials often can’t force campaigns to pay unless they signed a formal, contractual agreement with the campaigns, which many have not.
Contract or not, many mayors, police chiefs and city managers say presidential candidates who profess to support law enforcement should back up their words with dollars.
“There shouldn’t be much debate about it — cities across America provided protection at a cost and should be reimbursed for it,” said Mayor John McNally of Youngstown, Ohio, which is still waiting for the Sanders campaign to pay a nearly $6,000 bill for security the city provided at a March 14 campaign event.
‘The City may pursue all of its remedies’
Rhetorically, Trump supports police with aplomb.
“The police in our country are not appreciated. We do not give them the kind of respect that they have to have,” Trump said in a campaign video from February. Several prominent law enforcement organizations later endorsed him.
On Monday, Trump marked National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day by tweeting six pictures of himself standing with police offers and other emergency personnel. “Thank you to all of the men and women who protect & serve our communities 24/7/365!” Trump wrote.
But Tucson, Arizona, officials say Trump owes them $81,837 for security and traffic control services during his “Make America Great Again Rally” on March 19 at the Tucson Convention Center.
Spokane, Washington, is still waiting for Trump’s campaign to pay a bill of $65,124.
And in Wisconsin, where Trump beat Clinton by fewer than 23,000 votes, city officials in Eau Claire want Trump to cough up $47,398. Green Bay leaders are seeking $9,380.
Tucson, which signed a contract with the Trump campaign, is particularly adamant.
The March 18 contract signed by then-Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski and Tucson Convention Center General Manager Glenn Grabski stipulated that the Trump campaign was financially responsible for “security, crowd and traffic personnel” that convention center staff deemed necessary. The contract also stated that convention center staff reserved the right to “increase or change its security arrangements” — and that the Trump campaign “shall promptly comply with such request” and pay any additional fees.
“You are responsible for these payments,” Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin reiterated to the Trump campaign in a Sept. 20 letter, sent six months after the original bill. “If you fail to remit payment in a timely manner, the City may pursue all of its remedies,” including suing the Trump campaign.
In his letter, obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, McGahn disputed Rankin’s interpretation of Tucson’s contract with the Trump campaign and even criticized the Tucson police’s performance at the rally.
The campaign “was, in fact, frustrated by the refusal of Tucson Police to do anything to control the violent and angry protestors outside the Convention Center,” McGahn wrote. “The Campaign has had numerous reports from people who attended the event that the on-site police officers refused to do anything to control protestors or otherwise protect attendees of the event.”
As of early January, Trump’s campaign had not paid its bill, and Tucson officials are still weighing their options.
Officials in Eau Claire are similarly steamed, noting in a Sept. 27 demand letter to Trump’s campaign that his visit on April 2 “incurred a significant amount” of costs for the city of 68,000.
The charges range from calling in help from three nearby police departments to providing cops with pizzas while they stood guard throughout the day.
In Green Bay, officials said the Trump campaign paid a $1,403 police bill for hotel security on March 29 and a $9,550 bill for an event Oct. 17. But the campaign hasn’t settled up on the $9,380 security tab from an Aug. 5 rally, and the city could not explain why.
The Trump transition team did not respond to numerous requests for comment regarding its unpaid police protection bills or how it determined which police bills to pay or not pay.
The Fraternal Order of Police, the world’s largest law enforcement officer organization, which endorsed Trump during the general election, also did not respond to requests for comment.
The Trump campaign in December disclosed having more than $7.6 million remaining in its account. The only debt it reported was a $766,756 campaign polling expense that it labeled as contested in federal filings.
Cities also want Clinton, Sanders to pay
Clinton, like Trump, talked a blue streak about boosting law enforcement.
“I want to support them, our police officers, with the resources they need to do their jobs, to do them effectively, to learn from their efforts and to apply those lessons across our nation,” Clinton said in August during a meeting with law enforcement officials. “Everyone is safer when there is respect for the law and when everyone is respected by the law.”
But Clinton’s campaign, too, has failed to pay some police bills.
Philadelphia officials, for one, sent the Clinton campaign a $2,678 invoice for security surrounding an April 25 campaign rally at Philadelphia City Hall.
Three months later, it sent the campaign a debt collection letter.
Still no response.
Officials are about to try one more time with a “final collection letter” and “additional steps” to contact Clinton’s campaign committee.
If that fails, the matter will be sent to the city’s legal department “for collective action at the appropriate time,” said Ajeenah S. Amir, a spokeswoman for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.
Curiously, Clinton’s campaign did pay Philadelphia’s $8,500 security bill from a Nov. 5 event Clinton conducted with musician Katy Perry at Mann Music Center.
In Wisconsin, Green Bay officials say the Clinton campaign has yet to pay off bills from events in March, September and November totaling nearly $12,800. Eau Claire, Wisconsin, says Clinton won’t pay a $6,812 from a visit in April.
Clinton’s campaign committee has enough money to pay its bills, having last month reported carrying a more than $838,000 surplus on its books. It did not report police bills from Philadelphia, Green Bay or any other locality as campaign debt.
Clinton campaign officials would not talk about the campaign’s nonpayment of police bills despite several calls and emails requesting comment.
In March, as the Democratic presidential primary raged, the pro-Sanders Veterans for Bernie organization chided the Clinton campaign for local news reports indicating Clinton was slow to pay her bills for police protection. It likewise boasted that the Sanders campaign showed “an understanding and respect for the challenges faced by municipalities and local police departments” by reimbursing local governments for police protection.
Many police departments would disagree: The Sanders campaign in December reported to the Federal Election Commission that it owed 23 local governments and law enforcement agencies a combined $449,409 for “event security.” In its filing, the Sanders campaign doesn’t dispute the debts.
The cities of Santa Monica, California ($117,047), Irvine, California ($67,000), Tucson ($44,013), Spokane ($33,318) and Vallejo, California ($28,702) are listed as Sanders' campaign’s top creditors.
Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs declined to comment, referring questions to the Secret Service.
But Sanders campaign lawyer Brad Deutsch, in responding to a demand letter from Tucson, argued that the Sanders campaign shouldn’t have to pay bills for services that the Secret Service — not the campaign itself — requested. Tucson assigned 76 police officers to staff Sanders’ March 18 campaign rally at Tucson Arena.
“The Campaign did not contract for, not did it request or arrange for the Tucson Police Department to provide public safety at the Campaign event,” wrote Deutsch, who declined to speak on the record for this story. “The level of security or public safety requirements anticipated for any particular event were not dictated by the campaign.”
In Pennsylvania, Chief Mark Toomey of the Upper Providence Township Police Department attempted to convince Sanders’ campaign to pay a $25,620 invoice related to a Democratic primary campaign event in April.
“They said [the bill] was exorbitant and too high, and that they didn’t ask for the manpower,” Toomey said. “What if I said, ‘Look, you’re on your own, have fun,’ and a fight breaks out, or something terrible happens? I’m the one who gets skewered — the negatives are endless.”
Ultimately, the Sanders campaign gave the Upper Providence Township Police Department $2,250, and the two sides settled, Toomey said. Toomey added that he considered taking the Sanders campaign to court for nonpayment but decided against it.
“Who wants to get bogged down in that?” he asked. “My goal is to make sure the candidate gets in and out — regardless of money or who they are — safely.”
Sheriff John R. Gossage of Brown County, Wisconsin, wasn’t pleased when Casey Sinnwell, Sanders’ national director of scheduling and advance, told him to contact the Secret Service to collect on a $2,883 event security bill.
“I am concerned that the campaign was overly selective as to what service/organization they would reimburse for protective services rendered,” Gossage wrote back, noting that the Sanders campaign did pay one of its bills — all $11,472 of it — that Green Bay’s city government sent it.
What happened then?
“I received no reply,” Gossage said.
Two-thousand miles away, Deputy Sheriff Christine Castillo of the Solano County Sheriff’s Office in California says the Sanders campaign never once responded to the more than $22,100 worth of invoices it sent after staffing campaign events before the state’s Democratic primary on June 4.
“We, of course, would like them to pay the invoices that we sent previously,” she said.
Sanders could conceivably pay all his police bills immediately: His campaign in December reported having more than $4.71 million cash on hand.
Who should pay for candidate safety?
When a barnstorming presidential candidate sweeps into a city for a campaign rally, often on just a few days notice, if that, it’s often unclear who’s financially responsible for securing the event.
Here’s how events typically unfold: Before a campaign event, the US Secret Service, which is primarily responsible for ensuring the safety of presidential candidates, asks local police departments or other public safety agencies to assist them.
Local governments almost never refuse. They’ll then deploy officers to serve a variety of functions: crowd control, perimeter patrols, closing streets, escorting dignitaries.
After the candidate comes and goes, the host city sometimes bills the presidential campaign for police officer overtime and other related costs.
Why bill the campaign and not the Secret Service?
Because the Secret Service doesn’t reimburse local police jurisdictions, even when it asked for the help.
So … why not?
“The U.S. Secret Service is not funded during the appropriations process to reimburse state and local police departments assisting the Secret Service in protective operations,” Secret Service spokeswoman Cathy L. Milhoan said in a statement.
Senate Appropriations Committee spokesman Stephen Worley concurred, noting that Congress also does not provide funding to reimburse state and local law enforcement agencies for presidential visits, heads of state or other high-level dignitaries.
“The prevailing argument has been that state and local law enforcement are responsible for protecting public safety in these circumstances, just as they would around any other event,” Worley said.
It’s a situation that, for Mayor Dwight Jones of Richmond, Virginia, is perplexing.
When Trump conducted a last-minute rally on June 10 in Richmond, the city coughed up more than $41,000 for public safety efforts and police personnel. In a July letter to Douglas Mease, special agent-in-charge of the Secret Service’s Richmond Field Office, Jones argued that his city should be compensated for the “coordinated and massive planning and operational effort by a number of local public safety agencies.”
Richmond has yet to recoup its money.
During presidential candidate events, police forces and municipalities arguably provided governmental services for which campaigns — absent a contract or other security services agreement — aren’t financially responsible, said Eric Wang, a Washington DC-based election lawyer at Wiley Rein LLP and former counsel to current Federal Election Commission Vice Chairwoman Caroline Hunter.
“Reasonable people could certainly dispute whether there is any disputed debt to be reported here,” Wang said. “Just because the local police departments and governments may want the campaigns to reimburse them for the additional security costs doesn’t necessarily mean that, as a matter of law, there is a ‘debt.’”
After all, if candidates had to pay (or at least publicly disclose as “debt”) any bill they received, what would stop someone, particularly scam artists or unscrupulous political actor, from attempting to bleed a campaign of money it doesn’t owe?
Federal law doesn’t offer much clarity.
There’s a “significant amount of ambiguity” in FEC regulations regarding what candidates must publicly disclose as debt, said Brett Kappel, a DC-based election lawyer at Akerman LLP.
Deciding whether to fight
A city government’s decision to invoice a presidential campaign for police and security services depends on the city government itself.
While some do, others don’t even bother.
Officials in Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Detroit; Kansas City, Missouri; Milwaukee; Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida, for example, said their municipalities generally do not bill presidential campaigns for police protection they provide at campaign events staged within their cities’ limits.
Some officials explained that the exercise is pointless, as campaigns over the years have rarely paid them back. Others consider police protection of political events part of their taxpayer-funded responsibilities — similar to policing a holiday parade, or a peaceful public protest.
“In the interest of public safety and managing traffic, we just do the job,” said Steve Hegarty, spokesman for the Tampa Police Department in Florida.
Another reason for not sending bills: Local officials don’t want to dampen the economic benefits — full restaurants, busy storefronts, happy hoteliers — of an event attracting thousands of people. Some local officials said they feared the campaigns might go elsewhere if they haggled over bills.
Mayor Paul Finley of Madison, Alabama, estimated that his little city provided the Trump campaign $30,000 worth of city services related to a large rally in February. But officials chose to not bill the Trump campaign for them. (The Trump campaign paid up front and in full when renting Madison City Stadium.)
City Manager Tom Barwin of Sarasota, Florida, says his city also chose not to bill presidential campaigns for police protection they provided to Trump when he twice visited last year.
Offering presidential candidates security while they speak publicly to city residents is “part of our basic public safety mission,” Barwin said.
“We are also, however, not averse to being reimbursed,” he added. “We do realize that our communities face unique circumstances and costs may start to become oppressive in today’s world in which all communities around the globe harbor concerns over foreign and/or domestic terrorism.”
Just ask New York City. Since Election Day, it’s been in a fight with the federal government to recoup what it says are the roughly $500,000-per-day costs of securing Trump Tower in Manhattan, where the president-elect conducts much of his transition business.
While the financial condition of US cities is returning to pre-Great Recession levels of health, municipal governments last year ranked public safety costs among factors that most negatively affect their budgets, according to the National League of Cities’ 2016 City Fiscal Conditions report.
Many municipal governments “face great difficulty in purchasing necessary public safety equipment because of budget constraints,” the National League of Cities further asserted in a resolution aimed at newly inaugurated federal lawmakers.
New duties placed on law enforcement related to federal homeland security mandates, as well as difficulty securing federal funds, have also constrained city budgets, the National League of Cities wrote.
It should be the purview of individual municipalities to decide whether they want to bill presidential candidates for police services they provide the candidates, said Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents top police officials in the United States and Canada.
And if a city government decides to bill a presidential campaign for its campaign-related police work?
“The campaigns ought to respect a city’s decision, whatever it may be,” Stephens said. “The campaign should pay for the services.”
‘Morally, it’s the thing to do’
One presidential campaign that municipal officials across the country consistently lauded for paying its local police-related bills was that of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Back in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for example, which continues to wait for Trump, Clinton and Sanders to pay up, the Cruz presidential committee long ago settled a nearly $1,200 security bill related to Cruz campaign events in March and April, according to city records.
Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier declined to comment on the other presidential candidates’ debt situations, but said Cruz, who quit the presidential race in May, put “a high value on running an organized campaign” that promptly paid vendors and creditors.
Through November, Cruz’s still-technically-operational presidential committee reported owing no money to anyone, including municipal governments.
It had nearly $255,000 remaining it its account.
Many past presidential candidates, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Sen. Rick Santorum, the Rev. Al Sharpton and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, remain in debt to a variety of non-law enforcement creditors. And it’s impossible to know how many presidential candidates of yore never paid police bills they received — and never reported them as debt.
“The senator wants to treat people well,” Frazier said, noting that paying bills “is ultimately a reflection on him.”
For his part, Mayor Dan Devine of West Allis, Wisconsin, which twice hosted Trump campaign events last year, wishes all presidential candidates would follow suit.
Devine notes that candidates often conduct campaign fundraisers before and after public events, and they receive municipal police services for them, too.
While West Allis, population 60,000, didn’t bill presidential candidates for event security costs during the 2016 election, Devine says he’ll push to change that.
“Morally, it’s the thing to do,” he said of candidates paying for local police protection. “City resources are already stretched thin without presidential candidates visiting. I’ll definitely be doing my homework before late 2019.”
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington DC.