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Blurred Lines: Official and Political Travel

Michael Tasselmyer
June 16, 2014

President Obama was in California this past weekend to speak at UC Irvine's commencement ceremony, and while he was in the Golden State, he made time to stop by a fundraising event in Laguna Beach as well. We know that the cost to fly Air Force One from D.C. to Los Angeles is about $2.3 million, but what we don't know is how much of the bill taxpayers will have to cover.

Online publication Zocalo Public Square features a post I contributed concerning that topic. While travel for official and unofficial purposes has long been a perk of holding office, Presidents have a uniquely influential impact when it comes to political fundraising -- and taxpayers deserve to have more information about what those trips could cost them.

Under the current rules, the cost to fly the President to official functions is covered by the U.S. government; groups hosting "unofficial" political events must reimburse the government for the President's transit. However, it can be difficult to determine how much of the trip's total cost taxpayers are responsible for, especially when the White House schedules both official and unofficial events during the same trip. As mentioned in the piece:

"...the rules are so vague that not even researchers who study them full-time can describe them. In a 2012 report, the Congressional Research Service stated that it's 'unclear how the White House designates travel that is not directly related to a governmental or political function.' ... This makes it easy for schedulers to add a sprinkling of 'official' business to any trip, and it opens the door for any party to game the system. Ultimately, this is to the detriment of every American's bank account as well as an electoral process that's becoming increasingly expensive and time-consuming."

Check out the full post on Zocalo Public Square.


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