Who Should Foot the Bill for Trump's Rallies?

Cities have often ended up underwriting the president's events, even though they've been saddled with some pretty hefty costs in the aftermath.
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A recent Friday was one of those mornings when President Donald Trump directed his Twitter ire at a mayor.

This time, Trump blamed the cancelation of the military parade he had slotted for Veterans' Day in Washington, D.C., on "local politicians," arguing that the District of Columbia quoted too high a price to host such an event. Mayor Muriel Bowser embraced that accusation:

Bowser brings up a point that's plagued a lot of other mayors in the United States: Cities have often ended up underwriting Trump rallies, even though they've been saddled with some pretty hefty costs in the aftermath.

Several municipalities learned this the hard way in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, when they hosted the Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders campaigns. A Center for Public Integrity investigation of federal campaign and municipal records found that, as of 2017, around three dozen municipalities had not been paid. The Trump campaign, in particular, was responsible for at least $204,000 in unpaid security bills. These costs include police and fire department staffing hours and overtime for security and traffic control, the cost of equipment such as barricades, and even, in some cases, utility costs and media relations.

Tucson, Arizona, racked up over $80,000 (double what the Sanders rally had cost the previous day); Spokane, Washington: around $65,000; and Eau Claire, Wisconsin: $47,000. And these are just some of the cities that have complained about being left with the bill for a Trump rally. It's not always clear who foots the bill when presidents or presidential hopefuls come to town, but in the case of Tucson, the Trump campaign manager had signed a prior agreement to cover the costs of security. Still, no dice.

"You are responsible for these payments," Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin wrote to the Trump campaign in a letter obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. Rankin did not rule out a lawsuit.

According to a recent study by University of Pennsylvania, cities hosting Trump rallies saw higher numbers of assaults than those hosting other presidential candidates, which means they come with additional public safety concerns and often the need for heightened security measures. In 2016, Trump canceled a rally in Chicago after pro- and anti-Trump protesters clashed. In many cases, attendees and campaign staffers have been charged with assaulting dissenters and journalists. Trump himself has made statements encouraging security officers to remove hecklers and supporters to "knock the crap out of" dissenters. After the Chicago rally was canceled, security expert Juliette Kayyem— a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration—wrote in an op-ed for CNN:

[W]hile I believe that all of the blame rests on Donald Trump himself—a man who speaks of leadership while taking no responsibility for the impact of his words—that fact is absolutely irrelevant for public safety agencies. For future events, mayors and police chiefs must simply assume the worst and build a safety apparatus around that. Any failure to plan makes police act in ways that are completely inconsistent with the minimal threat the protesters pose.

This advice remains relevant because Trump hasn't stopped campaigning, even though he's now president. In 2017, Trump held a rally in Phoenix that saddled the city's taxpayers with $450,000 in traffic, security, and utility costs—riling up opposing politicians and local taxpayers.

"It's 2017. He just won in 2016. This shouldn't be something that the city of Phoenix should pay for," Arizona Democratic Party spokesman Enrique Gutierrez told the Arizona Republic at the time.

The topic became particularly contentious at a city council meeting in Phoenix earlier this year, when citizens petitioned to withhold city resources on future Trump events and criticized the heavy-handed police response toward counter-protesters. The city council unanimously rejected the proposals, although some members brought up the need to look into whether these costs can be reimbursed.

Even though Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton asked the president to delay the rally for fear of violence, he later told the Phoenix New Times that his city nonetheless had a responsibility to provide the necessary security.

"When it comes to public safety, we have an obligation to provide public safety services to any dignitary visiting our community," he said.

This story originally appeared on CityLab, an editorial partner site. Subscribe to CityLab's newsletters and follow CityLab on Facebook and Twitter

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