DENVER—Taxpayers will foot more of the bill for President Barack Obama's fundraising visit this week to Denver than they otherwise would have because of official business recently added to the president's itinerary.
While word first came out that Obama would headline a re-election fundraiser for Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado,) plans for an official White House speech in Cheesman Park were finalized only this Monday.
He'll also be meeting on Tuesday night with a woman who wrote him a letter about getting a pay raise.
The addition of these events affects how much of the trip taxpayers will cover, because according to established rules in the secretive realm of paying for presidential travel, the Denver trip is now a mix of "political" and "official" business.
It's important to keep this reality in context. Presidents from both political parties have been following roughly the same guidelines to pay for their travel since the Reagan administration enacted a set of rules in 1982.
In a 2011 story on the subject, CNN reported that the Republican party paid for roughly 3 percent of the travel costs for President Bush, while taxpayers picked up about 97 percent.
That's despite the fact that President Bush traveled to 167 fundraisersin his re-election cycle.
According to a 2012 Congressional Research Service paperdetailing the practice, even if the president's visit were 100 percent political in nature, the Democratic party would still get a pretty good deal.
The president is required to travel via military aircraft for national security reasons. The 747 aircraft most commonly used as Air Force One costs $179,750 per hour to operate.
But for political trips, the president, vice president, first lady and any assistants with them must pay only the equivalent of what the airfare would have cost to charter a private 737.
They also must pay their own food and lodging.
In the case of the president's Denver visit, the Democratic party will need to pay only a fraction of those travel expenses because the trip contains a mix of political and official business.
The CRS report details how costs are divvied up in this situation, using nothing more than a stopwatch and arithmetic:
The formula is as follows: Time spent in official meetings, receptions, etc. + Time spent in political meetings, receptions, rallies = Total activity time.
Time spent in official activity ÷ Total activity time = Percentage of trip that is official.
Time spent in political activity ÷ Total activity time = Percentage of trip that is political.
Time resting does not count for the purposes of the equation and the White House determines on its own which time is deemed political versus official, with these decisions generally kept secret.
If the time President Obama spends on this Denver trip were to be divided 50/50 between political and official business, the Democratic party would be on the hook for half the cost of chartering a jet from Washington DC to Denver and half of the per diem expenses.
So the official business added to President Obama's itinerary will mean a discount for the Democratic party, which is hosting Wednesday's fundraising lunch.
With or without that discount, the travel costs political parties must pay for presidential travel are peanuts next to the built-in costs of the massive logistical operation it takes to put the President on the road.
In addition to the operational costs for the 747, extra planes fly full of vehicles, cargo, and passengers. Advance teams fly out before the President to prepare the locations he or she will be visiting.
The president must also be surrounded by a sophisticated security detail. According to the CRS report, "certain staff accompanying [the President,] however, such as Secret Service agents, are always considered to be on official travel, and all their travel costs are paid by the government."
No matter where the president goes or the reasons for going there, the taxpayers foot the bill to keep the commander-in-chief safe and capable of carrying out his duties, sometimes at a seven or eight-figure cost per trip.
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