Cities pay a price for campaign swings: $100,000 for recent Obama visit
President Obama's fundraising trip to the Seattle area last month didn't include any public events, but local law-enforcement agencies still paid nearly $100,000 in overtime costs to protect him.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Local law-enforcement agencies spent nearly $100,000 in overtime to protect President Obama during a fundraising trip to the Seattle area last month, according to records released by the groups involved in the effort.
The roughly $98,500 tab, which won't be reimbursed, could have been much higher — the largest security force in the presidential motorcade, the Washington State Patrol, adjusted its schedules, shifting troopers from regular duties to avoid what would have been an additional $60,000 in overtime.
The single largest overtime tab came from the Bellevue Police Department, which paid $28,817 extra to some 60 officers involved in securing the Hilton Bellevue Hotel, where the president spent the night.
In all, dozens of employees from nine local agencies were involved in security for the July 24-25 visit, Obama's sixth to the state as president. Although the Secret Service coordinated the protection effort, local agencies also had to spend hours helping to craft a 72-page incident plan, officials said.
The costs are not unique to Obama; all presidential visits require intense security, and President Bush's trips to the state cost about the same, officials said. Security is also required for Republican Mitt Romney, although his status as only a candidate means the costs are lower.
The local expenses are in addition to costs handled by the federal government, including the operation of Air Force One, which is estimated at about $180,000 per hour. The Obama campaign is required to cover part of the federal expenses, but not local ones.
Those local costs for Obama's July visit represented only a small fraction of the budgets of the law-enforcement agencies.
Still, some people wondered why taxpayers must pay for security for a strictly political visit that did not include any public events.
The president attended a $35,800-per-person round-table with business leaders and a $5,000-per-ticket dinner at which he spoke for 13 minutes before reporters were escorted out. He raised about $1.75 million from the events, both at the Hunts Point home of Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal.
"The taxpayers shouldn't be forced to subsidize unlimited campaign events," said Jonathan Bechtle, CEO of the conservative, Olympia-based Freedom Foundation. "Incumbents need to be careful not to abuse the public resources entrusted to their care."
A spokesman for the Obama campaign directed questions about security costs to the Secret Service.
"Any local law-enforcement organization contacted by the Secret Service to assist in security should discuss matters related to costs and how to effectively manage those costs with the Secret Service," the campaign spokesman, Paul Bell, wrote in an email.
A spokesman for the Secret Service, in turn, said the organization does not reimburse local law-enforcement agencies.
"We're just not budgeted for that. There's really nothing we can do," said Bob Kierstead, the assistant special agent in the Seattle office, who added that no local agencies have asked for a reimbursement for Obama's July visit.
The reimbursement question has occasionally come up. On Tuesday, city officials in Westport, Conn., announced that their request for reimbursement of security costs associated with an Obama visit had been denied.
In Hunts Point on the Eastside, officials tried but failed to find someone to pay the $23,634 cost for security surrounding a 2003 fundraising visit by Bush. The host of the event, Craig McCaw, would have paid the bill but was limited by campaign-finance laws, the Hunts Point mayor said at the time.
Local law-enforcement officials said they consider the costs a necessary burden.
"We want our visitors to be safe," said Carla Iafrate, a Bellevue police spokeswoman. "It's a strain on the budget but you really can't say no."
After the Bellevue Police Department, the next-highest overtime total was the Seattle Police Department, which doled out $28,083 to officers called in to help with the security effort, according to public records.
The King County Sheriff's Office's contribution, which involved more than 50 people, cost about $20,000 in overtime, estimated Capt. Bryan Howard. But one-third of those costs came out of the King County International Airport budget, meaning it was paid for by airport users, not taxpayers.
The Bellevue Fire Department deployed about a dozen medics and hazardous-material specialists at a cost of $12,607 in overtime, Lt. Troy Donlin said.
Six Snohomish County Sheriff's Office deputies earned $4,600 in overtime, spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.
The King County Department of Transportation spent $2,437 in overtime for meetings related to airport security and $602 in busing costs, spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok said.
And overtime costs for the Medina and Redmond police departments were $1,182 and $199, respectively, officials said.
The story contains material from The Seattle Times archives.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.