Sunday, April 22, 2012

Taxpayer-funded presidential campaigning

The NYT talks about the difficulty separating out what is a political campaign trip vs. a presidential trip and how to figure out whether the taxpayer or the campaign should pay for the enormous costs of moving the president around the country.
Facing 5,000 enthusiastic students at Florida Atlantic University, President Obama rolled up his sleeves and raised his voice to chastise Republicans for their spending cuts and “broken-down theories,” evoking chants of “Four more years!”

And that was the nonpolitical stop on Mr. Obama’s swing-state itinerary for that day early this month. The president sandwiched the 34-minute speech, billed as an official address on his so-called Buffett Rule for a minimum tax rate for the wealthiest Americans, amid three overtly partisan fund-raisers that accounted for the bulk of his time along the south Florida coast.

Mixing policy and politics, Mr. Obama is picking up the pace of his travel with that ultimate incumbent’s perk — unlimited use of Air Force One. The trips are mostly to about a dozen swing states that will decide the election and to two reliably Democratic states, New York and California, for campaign money.

And Mr. Obama is not the only frequent flier with a re-election agenda. Both Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the first lady, Michelle Obama, are increasingly stumping around the country as the campaign seeks to repeat its fund-raising success of 2008 and counter a building wave of G.O.P. cash.

The trips yield a payoff not only in donations — collected at small-crowd, big-dollar events in the sumptuous homes of donors and at small-dollar, big-crowd rallies — but also in local headlines trumpeting Mr. Obama’s message of the day. Taken together, they raise the quadrennial question of how much of a president’s travel should be paid for by taxpayers and how much by his party.

“It’s very opaque,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group. “You’re kind of left in the position of, ‘Trust us; we’re doing it right.’ ”
This comes up any time an incumbent is running for reelection as well as when he travels around the country to campaign during off-year elections. While it's certainly nice to have a president come to one's hometown, in this day of easy mass communications, is the expense really necessary. Does he really need to travel to every swing state to make routine announcements about policy that could have been made from the very nice house and garden that the people already provide for the president. My suggestion is that, just as we limit the franking privilege for incumbent congressmen, we should limit traveling privileges for the incumbent president, vice president, and his surrogates who are on the public payroll. If they want to travel more, fine. Just let his campaign pay the whole freight for his travel on Air Force One. As a concession to what is necessary for moving a president compared to a non-incumbent candidate around, the taxpayer can pay for other related costs.
Expenses are not limited to Air Force One, which costs $179,750 an hour for “fuel, flight consumables, depot repairs, aircraft overhaul and engine overhaul,” according to the Pentagon. For years, presidential travel has included at least two other aircraft: a backup plane and a military cargo plane to ferry Secret Service vehicles, helicopters on occasion and the president’s customized limousine, nicknamed “the Beast.”
Sure, such spending limits might cut back on how much a president can travel to campaign around the country, but hey, he gets a very nice Rose Garden backdrop available any time he wants to make headlines. He has a very nice office to which he can invite reporters and conduct interviews that would be sure to make the local news of any any swing state.

Let's just end this charade of the president traveling around the country making clearly political speeches which the taxpayers have to fund.