Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

FACT CHECK; Air Force One Is a Presidential Perk Citizens Pay For

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

FACT CHECK; Air Force One Is a Presidential Perk Citizens Pay For

Article excerpt

Byline: Carole Fader

Times-Union readers want to know:

Why do incumbent presidents get to take Air Force One on campaign trips and who foots the bill?

Incumbent presidents do get the use of Air Force One for campaign stops because the president is still the president even if he is a candidate.

"The president is the president 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and he has to fly on Air Force One. He has to have security and communication. There are elements of his job that are always with him, regardless of whether he's in a campaign event or an official event. And costs are apportioned accordingly," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters recently when they asked about President Barack Obama's travel.

Presidential travel as part of his job as head of state has traditionally been paid for by taxpayers, while political trips are to be covered by a candidate's campaign committee. When the two mix, the costs are to be split. Reimbursements are generally reported to the Federal Election Commission, which mandates that any political travel must be reimbursed.

How those costs are broken down, though, appears murky.

"It's very opaque," Meredith McGehee, policy director of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told The New York Times. "You're kind of left in the position of, 'Trust us; we're doing it right.' "

Indeed, officials at the Obama White House, the Chicago campaign headquarters and the Democratic National Committee declined to say how they decide which events are political and how much to reimburse, The Associated Press has reported.

But Obama is not the only president whose campaign machine does not disclose how travel costs are divided. That secrecy has a tradition dating at least to the late 1970s.

"Most presidents have doubled up on trips [mixing official business with politicking] and said they followed the law, which is a complex formula no one really understands," Brendan Doherty, a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of "The Rise of the President's Permanent Campaign" told ABC News. "And even on a fully political trip, the taxpayer ends up paying part of the bill. …

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