The Democratic National Committee spent nearly $2 million flying President Obama to campaign events during the 2014 election cycle — and taxpayers shouldered some of the cost.
According to Open Secrets, the DNC spent $1,792,668 on “White House airlift operations,” most of which went to reimburse the government for the cost of transporting Obama to campaign-related events on Air Force One and Marine One.
On the surface, this may seem like an exercise in fiscal responsibility, but as the Washington Examiner points out, “federal election law requires the DNC … to pay for these presidential perquisites at just a fraction of the costs—the equivalent of a commercial airline ticket.”
Judicial Watch reports that flight expenses for two previous Obama family vacations amounted to more than $200,000 per hour. The largest single airfare expenditure by the DNC, in comparison, was just $78,427 for an entire trip. (RELATED: Anna Wintour Hosting Another Obama Fundraiser)
In addition to that discount, the Examiner claims, “Obama tends to piggyback official events onto fundraising trips,” further reducing expenses for the DNC, which is only required to pay the share of travel expenses directly related to campaign activities. The formula for calculating reimbursement rates for these mixed trips “is complicated and opaque, confounding even the most experienced federal election law experts.” (RELATED: White House Won’t Say How Much Taxpayers Pay for Obama Fundraising)
Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, told the Examiner that, “The White House counsel seems to hold the key to this in every administration,” but Obama has so far followed the lead of his predecessors in refusing to divulge details about the process.
In some cases, the “official business” loophole might even suffice to get campaign funds off the hook entirely. (RELATED: Group: Obama Wasn’t Technically Fundraising for Us)
During the 2012 election campaign, for instance, The New York Times reported that taxpayers could pick up the full tab for a trip to Florida, during which Obama delivered one “nonpolitical” speech attacking Republicans for supporting tax cuts, and attended “three overtly partisan fund-raisers that accounted for the bulk of his time along the south Florida coast.”
A spokesperson for the Obama campaign asserted at the time that, “The campaign will follow all rules and pay for the portion of travel that relates to political events,” but because the fundraisers did not involve additional air travel, it is unclear whether the campaign was required to reimburse the government at all for the trip.