President Obama’s decision to campaign for Hillary Clinton in North Carolina Tuesday raised a perennial question: Who pays for the trip?
Typically, the American taxpayers pick up much of the bill, but federal law requires that the Clinton campaign or the Democratic National Committee share some of the cost.
“The White House of course follows all of the rules and regulations that apply to presidential travel,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. A Clinton campaign official said, “As is the standard practice, the campaign will cover its portion of the costs.”
Air Force One costs more than $220,000 to operate, according to the Air Force, accounting for fuel and maintenance costs for the aircraft. That does not include the cost of the president’s Marine One flight to Joint Base Andrews, the cost of airlifting the vehicles in the president’s motorcade on several military cargo aircraft from Andrews to the event site, or personnel costs.
The Democratic National Committee maintains an escrow account for the purpose of reimbursing the Air Force for the political portion of Air Force One flights, but determining just how much it costs isn’t that simple.
Months after a political trip the White House Counsel’s office makes determinations on just how political the trip is. (Presidents tend to schedule “official” events around fundraisers to help defray the political cost.) They then forward the bill onto the relevant political committee—often the DNC—which reimburses the Air Force. But neither the White House nor the Air Force share those invoices, or an account of how much is reimbursed for a specific trip, making it impossible to see the outcome of those determinations. Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One that Tuesday’s trip was entirely political.
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump complained about the arrangement on Tuesday.