Trump & De Blasio Have Something In Common: Taxpayers Fund Their Campaign Security Costs

Sanitation department trucks line Fifth Avenue outside Trump Tower, in New York on May 16, 2019
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Sanitation department trucks line Fifth Avenue outside Trump Tower, in New York on May 16, 2019 Mary Altaffer/AP/Shutterstock

Whenever President Donald Trump visits New York City, it costs the NYPD and other city agencies around $308,000 each day to ensure his protection. Usually when the president is here he is doing some form of his job, like speaking to the United Nations, and he has avoided staying here in the past, ostensibly to spare us the hassle and expense. But on May 16th, Trump came to his hometown for one purpose: raising money.

That night, the president reaped more than $5 million at the Upper East Side home of a financial industry tycoon. The next morning he was on his way back to the White House. Police barricades and Sanitation trucks filled with sand lined his route.

“New Yorkers should not have to foot the bill for that expenditure. His campaign should reimburse New York City and the taxpayers,” civil rights attorney Norman Siegel said.

Federal funding has helped reimburse cities who host the president, but that money comes from taxpayers.

Siegel has filed four state Freedom of Information Law requests on behalf of four New Yorkers with the City Council, the NYPD, the Sanitation Department, and the Comptroller, to determine just how much money Trump’s campaign visit cost the city.

The same day Trump swooped into New York City to raise cash, Mayor Bill de Blasio landed in Iowa to kick off his own 2020 campaign. The mayor travels with an NYPD detail, who will be working overtime to ensure his safety.

Siegel said he intends to file similar FOIL requests seeking the mayor’s security expenses while he’s campaigning.

“There is at least a threshold question similarly [with President Trump] of whether or not Mayor de Blasio's police security team in Iowa, or South Carolina, where he's exclusively engaged in political campaigning for his presidential campaign, whether or not we the taxpayers should be paying for that cost,” Siegel said.

Mayor de Blasio on the campaign trail in Iowa last month (Charlie Neibergall/AP/Shutterstock)

Attorneys who specialize in election law say that while public servants must reimburse travel costs incurred on the campaign trail when they are using government resources, that does not include the costs of their security details.

“Security, including secret service, is not considered [a] campaign related expense,” attorney Jan Witold Baran, whose clients have included Republican lawmakers like Newt Gingrich, wrote in an email.

Jerry Goldfeder, a former special counsel to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, said that the municipal expenses incurred when a president is campaigning “just goes with the territory of being president.”

“Whether it’s a president you like or a president you don’t like, he’s the president no matter what he’s doing, and he needs to be protected,” Goldfeder said.

As for Mayor de Blasio’s NYPD detail, Goldfeder notes that he is still the mayor, no matter where he is.

“Even when he’s campaigning for president he’s being the mayor. And as long as he’s being the mayor, whether he’s in Iowa or South Carolina or the Bronx or wherever, and the NYPD feels that they need to protect him like they would protect any other mayor, then so be it.”

Still, Goldfeder said the question of what the law requires is different from the question of fairness.

“Despite the fact that it might be required to have security detail paid for by the taxpayers of the City of New York, it might also be a good idea to reimburse if you’re only doing campaigning,” he said.

Asked about New Yorkers footing the bill for his campaign security on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show last week, de Blasio insisted that “we are trying to keep things economical and smart,” but referred further questions to the NYPD.

“It's a very, very small amount of money,” the mayor said. “ But, again, anything about how security is provided should go to the NYPD.”

The NYPD has not responded to our request for comment, nor has de Blasio’s 2020 campaign. The White House referred our questions to Trump’s reelection campaign; they have not responded to our message.

The Mayor’s Office says that the city received $63 million in federal reimbursement for Trump’s travel in 2017, and around $20 million for 2018; the city intends to keep applying for reimbursements.

Siegel said that the idea that the public must may for public officials’ campaign security “needs to be reviewed and discussed.”

“It further creates the cynicism and the alienation that exists between regular New Yorkers and regular Americans within the political system now,” Siegel said. “Because the question becomes, why should we be paying for these security details when they're engaged in private political activity?”

After de Blasio appears on Brian Lehrer Friday morning, the mayor and the first lady are set to travel to South Carolina. They're scheduled to return to New York City on Saturday.

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