Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., Thursday, March 28, 2019. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Ten cities say the Trump campaign has not reimbursed them for public safety costs associated with his rallies, dating back to before his election in 2016, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
The cities — including Green Bay, Wisconsin; Erie, Pennsylvania; Lebanon, Ohio; and Mesa, Arizona — have submitted invoices totaling $841,219 to the Trump campaign. Those 10 invoices have not been paid, even though five of them date back to his 2016 campaign.
The cities say the Trump campaign must pay the bills but in many cases, there were no signed contracts between his campaign and the city governments. Still, the cities believe he should reimburse them for the police protection needed to secure his events because the Secret Service explicitly asked for it.
Whether Trump is legally obligated to pay is unclear, but these unpaid bills can have a considerable effect on city budgets.
“The fiscal impact on local governments, especially during campaign seasons in critical vote states or communities, can be significant,” Richard Myers, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, told CPI. “When one considers how much money campaigns raise and spend, it does not seem unreasonable to expect some degree of reimbursement for such demands for service.”
Some cities are still hopeful that Trump will still pay up, even though some of the invoices are three years old.
“It is our hope that [Trump’s campaign] will do right by the taxpayers of Mesa and provide payment,” Mesa Deputy City Manager Scott Butler told CPI.
“Let’s be honest, when does Trump ever pay his bills?” said Kate Burke, a city council member in Spokane, Washington, which has been waiting to be paid since hosting a Trump rally in 2016.
The largest outstanding invoice is for $470,417 from El Paso, Texas, where Trump held a campaign rally in February.
"It shows a lack of concern for the community and the tax paying voters of El Paso," city council Rep. Alexsandra Annello told the El Paso Times. "President Trump has in many ways, over the last year, put a financial burden on this community and has yet to show us the respect we deserve. It is clear that our borderland is not a priority of the president."
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who held a smaller counter-rally on the same day as Trump’s event, only cost the city a little over $21,000 and paid it back before the due date, according to the Times.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told CPI he remains “hopeful" the Trump campaign will pay.
“I’m hopeful they’ll do what’s right. People that don’t pay their bills — that’s a character integrity issue,” Margo said.
The unpaid invoices only account for some of the costs incurred by the dozens of cities Trump has visited. Many of the more than 60 cities where he has held rallies since his inauguration have policies prohibiting them from billing politicians for police costs, while some others told CPI they chose not to bill Trump’s campaign.
Youngstown, Ohio, chose to foot the bill for 48 police officers, costing the city’s taxpayers $11,147, for example.
The Trump campaign can certainly afford to pay these bills. The campaign reported nearly $40.8 million in cash on hand in March, according to federal records. Its disregard for these unpaid invoices could become a legal issue, irrespective of whether Trump is actually required to pay them.
The Trump campaign has not reported any debts to municipal governments or police departments in its filings with the Federal Election Commission, even though election law requires campaigns to report any debts, including “disputed debts.”
The bipartisan FEC could investigate the Trump campaign if it believes it is failing to disclose the debts.
“It’s hard to argue that public safety services to the campaign is not something of value to the political committee,” former FEC general counsel Erin Chlopak told CPI.
Beyond costing taxpayers in cities across America hundreds of thousands of dollars and potential election law violations, researchers have found another troubling trend associated with Trump’s rallies.
A study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that cities that hosted Trump rallies saw an average of 2.3 more assaults on the day of the event than typical days. Researchers found no such link with Hillary Clinton’s rallies.
Researchers at the University of North Texas also found that counties that hosted a Trump campaign rally saw a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes, compared to counties that did not host any Trump events.
Igor Derysh is a New York-based political writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.