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Pence’s Tucson rally is another reminder of deadbeat police bills

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President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with law enforcement officials from around the country as Vice President Mike Pence looks on in the diplomatic reception room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on February 11, 2019.

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images


  • Vice President Mike Pence is headlining a ‘Cops for Trump’ reelection rally in Tucson, Arizona, as city officials say the Trump campaign has refused to pay a police bill it sent in 2016.
  • Tucson officials accused the Trump campaign of violating a license agreement associated with a March 2016 campaign rally. The Trump campaign said Tucson police ‘refused to do anything to control protesters or otherwise protect attendees.’
  • Trump’s campaign has refused to pay at least $1.82 million worth of bills sent to it by numerous municipal governments in connection with political rallies. The campaign says it’s under no legal obligation to pay.
  • Trump regularly presents himself as the president of ‘law and order’ and a strong supporter of police.
  • Democrat Joe Biden’s campaign has refused to say whether it will pay police bills if it begins conducting in-person campaign events between now and Election Day.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to conduct a “Cops for Trump” rally Tuesday morning in Tucson, Arizona, where he’ll “highlight the Trump Administration’s strong actions to support law enforcement.”

But Tucson officials say President Donald Trump still hasn’t paid an $81,837 police services invoice they asked his campaign to pay following a rally there in March 2016.

Tucson is one of 14 cities across the nation — many in critical swing states — that say the Trump campaign has stiffed them on police and public safety bills following campaign events. Total tab: nearly $2 million.

Also among them: Mesa, Arizona, which billed the Trump campaign $64,467 in October 2018. Pence is slated to participate in a “Latter-day Saints for Trump” coalition launch Tuesday afternoon in Mesa.

Trump’s 4-year-old police billing dispute with Tucson is particularly messy. 

In a September 2016 demand letter, Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin accused the Trump campaign of violating a license agreement that specified the campaign would cover “costs incurred for all services, equipment and personnel provided by the City of Tucson for security and for crowd and traffic control.”

But Don McGahn, Trump’s future White House counsel and then the Trump campaign’s general counsel, shot back in his own letter — disputing the bill and blasting the Tucson Police Department’s performance.

“The Campaign has had numerous reports from people who attended the event that the on site police officers refused to do anything to control protesters or otherwise protect attendees of the event,” McGahn wrote. “To the contrary, police officers told those who requested assistance that their orders were to stand down and not engage.”

Earlier this year, Tucson spokesperson Lane Mandle said the Trump campaign’s police bill payment would help it grapple with a municipal budget ravaged by a recession and coronavirus-related costs.

“What the City of Tucson needs, like every major municipality, is a direct infusion of cash from the federal government that can be put toward our general fund to offset the millions currently being lost in sales tax revenue,” Mandle added.

Tucson officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The Arizona Police Association, which also could not immediately be reached for comment, is expected to endorse Trump at Tuesday’s rally in Tucson, according to a Trump campaign advisory.

A ‘Cops for Trump’ tour

Pence’s Arizona events come 12 days after the vice president conducted a “Cops for Trump” event in the small city of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where he stood in solidarity with local law enforcement and dismissed liberals’ calls to “defund the police.”

Trump’s campaign has so far refused to pay a combined $1.82 million in police and public safety bills sent to it by 14 local governments, including Spokane, Washington and Wildwood, New Jersey, according to the Center for Public Integrity and Insider. Trump’s excuse is that his campaign isn’t legally required to pay.

“I fully expect them to stiff Greensburg and Westmoreland County taxpayers with the bill for this rally,” Pennsylvania state Rep. Austin Davis, an area Democrat, said of the Trump campaign.

Lately, some city governments haven’t bothered trying to recoup costs for Trump events, presuming his campaign won’t pay. Trump campaign events are often scheduled on short notice and require cash-strapped municipalities to spend money they can barely spare.

Trump rally protests and counter protests routinely necessitate significant host city resources at the behest of the US Secret Service, which says it won’t reimburse municipal governments because Congress hasn’t appropriated money for such a purpose. Widespread demonstrations and civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer have exacerbated tensions surrounding Trump reelection events.

Local officials closed streets and monitored protesters in Greensburg, which has a population of about 14,000 and an annual city budget of about $12 million. But because Pence’s campaign event was designed to be a relatively small affair, Greensburg City Councilman Donnie Zappone, a Republican, says he expected local expenses are minimal. Audience members were numbered in the hundreds, not thousands. 

Greensburg’s municipal government recently laid off some city employees as it, like cities across the nation, struggles to plug budget holes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mainly, we just want to keep everyone here safe. If we do incur a cost, it would be nice if they would pay back,” Zappone said.

He added that the local economy has at least received a modest boost from Secret Service officials and Trump campaign staffers spending at hotels and restaurants. 

Republican state Sen. Kim Ward said that the vice president’s visit will “put a spotlight” on a part of Pennsylvania often overlooked nationally and highlight the work of local law enforcement who are “true professionals.”

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U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) gesture during a campaign rally on Dec. 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States.

Photo by Lev Radin/Ana dolu Agency via Getty Images


Trump campaign ‘took advantage’ of Wisconsin city

Don’t expect any Pence campaign visit to be worth it, said Mayor Theodore Grant of Ripon, Wisconsin, which advertises itself as the “birthplace of the Republican Party.”

Grant estimates his city government spent an unexpected $5,000 to $10,000 on labor costs when Pence spoke in Ripon on July 17. That’s as much as two-thirds of the city’s $15,000 emergency fund, which it tapped for Pence’s visit.

Grant added that he was initially inclined to invoice Trump’s campaign, but other city officials advised him that Trump probably wouldn’t pay. Many cities that have hosted Trump rallies since 2015 have likewise opted against billing or simply consider protecting campaign events within the normal scope of their work.

“Any committee, any campaign of any party would be welcome in town if they’re willing to pay for costs, but the Trump campaign took advantage of all our police and firefighters here,” said Grant, whose office is nonpartisan. “We’re just going to have to run a little lean.”

In January, two Wisconsin state legislators proposed legislation that would have required presidential candidates to pre-pay municipal costs when making in-state campaign visits, but it failed to pass. (The Wisconsin cities of Green Bay and Eau Claire have previously billed the Trump campaign for public safety costs.)

Trump, who earlier this month won the National Association of Police Organization’s endorsement, consistently touts his support for police.

“My Administration remains committed to ensuring our Nation’s Federal, State, local, and tribal law enforcement officers have the resources and support they need to perform their duties safely and effectively,” Trump wrote May 8 during Police Week.

More colloquially, Trump tweeted in June: “Sleepy Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats want to “DEFUND THE POLICE”. I want great and well paid LAW ENFORCEMENT. I want LAW & ORDER!”

At the Greensburg rally, which was delayed a few minutes because of two minor motorcade traffic accidents en route, Pence told revelers that Trump has “stood without apology for the men and women of law enforcement” and that “law enforcement isn’t the problem, law enforcement is the solution.”

Calls to “defund the police” have been a rallying cry among many young liberals in the aftermath of the death of Floyd and other Black people in the hands of law enforcement. While the term does not call for abolishing the police but rather redirecting some of its funds to social services and other government functions, it has emboldened Trump and conservatives’ stance on law enforcement officials.

“Many Democrats want to Defund and Abolish Police Departments. HOW CRAZY!” Trump said in another tweet.

The Trump campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In April, it said in a statement that it’s “the U.S. Secret Service, not the campaign, which coordinates with local law enforcement. The campaign itself does not contract with local governments for police involvement. All billing inquiries should go to the Secret Service.”

Among the cities that want the Trump campaign to pay public safety costs: El Paso, Texas ($569,204); Minneapolis ($542,733); Albuquerque, New Mexico ($211,175); Battle Creek, Michigan ($93,338).

Will Joe Biden pay police bills?

Presidential candidates’ records on voluntarily paying police bills vary. 

Throughout the 2020 campaign, some presidential candidates, including Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, promptly paid cities’ public safety bills from their campaign rallies. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, made it a point of pride that his 2016 presidential campaign paid every police invoice it received.

President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton paid some police bills, but not others. The 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont disputed numerous cities’ public safety bills — only to begin quietly paying them months later as he prepared for his 2020 presidential run.

What will Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, do? 

Federal spending records indicate his campaign, which generally conducted small political events prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in March, paid several municipal governments and school districts for “event security.” 

Still, Biden’s campaign has consistently refused this year to answer questions about whether it will honor cities’ police bills should the former vice president resume staging rallies before Election Day on November 3. The Biden campaign, which has ceased most in-person campaign events since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the US, did not respond to Insider’s questions.

Federal election law requires all candidates to disclose their campaign debts on their periodic reports to the Federal Election Commission — even debts the candidates dispute. But Trump’s campaign does not publicly list any of the police bills it’s received from city governments.

In October, Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey in October filed a complaint with the FEC that accused the Trump campaign of violating this debt disclosure requirement.

But the FEC has yet to address the complaint because it hasn’t had enough commissioners to investigate such matters, or enforce federal campaign finance law in general, for most of the past year. 

 

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