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Police protect presidential candidates, taxpayers stuck with the bill

By   /   June 14, 2012  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Talk about your deadbeat presidents.

Add presidential contenders to the list, too.

As presidential election year campaigning picks up, local law enforcement agencies across the country are expected to foot the bill for protecting candidates at campaign stops.

The U.S. Secret Service then sticks the local police departments — and ultimately local taxpayers — with the bill.

Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden said he has presided over at least three dignitary security details, including a presidential visit by President George W. Bush in 2004, his Democratic presidential contestant U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and candidate Barack Obama.

“We have never been reimbursed,” Spoden said.

He estimated Bush’s visit cost taxpayers $19,000; Kerry’s about half that amount.

“With Kerry’s campaign, we sent them a bill and nothing ever came of it,” the sheriff said.

He said protecting Bush was the hardest assignment. The county had to close the airport so that Air Force One could land, extra deputies had to clear every intersection on the way to the campaign stop, while handling the policing workload on an anything-but-average day in Rock County.

“The Secret Service is gracious, but it can be taxing on our resources,” Spoden said.

His department is preparing for another big-wig visit. GOP presumptive presidential candidate Mitt Romney is slated to campaign in Janesville next week, although there are conflicting reports of the time.

The security detail won’t be as involved as it can be for presidential visits, or campaign stops of sitting presidents. But each dignitary visit hits local governments, strapped for cash, where they live.

You can’t necessarily deny protection, but there’s often no money in the budgets to pay for these unplanned campaign stops.

In Rock County, as in other places, the money is pulled from a tight general fund, Spoden said.

Madison, capital of battleground Wisconsin, has played host to several campaign and presidential visits over the past decade-plus — from Vice President Al Gore to Bush to Kerry to Obama.

“(The Madison Police) Department has not been compensated and/or indemnified for the services rendered in the protection of any candidate,” said Officer Howard Payne, public information officer for the police department.

Payne could not immediately provide expense figures.

Sorry, says the Secret Service, you’re out of luck.

“The Secret Service has always relied heavily upon the assistance we receive from our law enforcement partners during protective visits. The necessary level of security for our protectees could not be provided without that support, said Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary.

“While we understand this support often results in costs to the communities that host protective visits, the Secret Service is not equipped or funded to reimburse communities for these costs.”

The Secret Service’s budget nearly doubled since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to $1.7 billion. The increased funding, according to The Washington Post, in large part is covering the service’s expanded mission of protecting more dignitaries.

Campaigns don’t cough up the cash, either.

In 2008, U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security that each candidate’s protection detail costs taxpayers roughly $38,000 a day — a figure expected to increase to $44,000 a day as the campaign heats up and the number of events per day increases.

Major presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses qualify for Secret Service protection with 120 days of a general presidential election.

Romney fits that category, which means Janesville and Rock County get stuck with another security bill.

Asked why local governments continue to submit bills for protection, Leary said: “I don’t know. I can’t speak for them.”