Taxpayers on Hook for up to $404K as Air Force One Used for Travel to Campaign Event

Today, Hillary Clinton is joining President Obama aboard Air Force One for a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina. The pair will depart from Andrews Air Force Base, land at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base, and make a joint appearance at a Clinton campaign rally this afternoon at the Charlotte Convention Center. 

Republican candidate Donald Trump, commented on the trip on Twitter:

Why is President Obama allowed to use Air Force One on the campaign trail with Crooked Hillary? She is flying with him tomorrow. Who pays? ... Taxpayers are paying a fortune for the use of Air Force One on the campaign trail by President Obama and Crooked Hillary. A total disgrace!

One of the perks of the Presidency is the use of Air Force One. Trump is correct that taxpayers will subsidize the trip, but not all of it.

All Presidential travel is classified as either official or unofficial. Official travel is that which is directly tied to the President’s duties as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief. The government pays for all costs associated with official travel, including food, lodging, transportation, and incidental expenses for both the President and all those traveling with him.

Travel to political functions is considered unofficial and the President, or the political organization sponsoring the trip, must reimburse the government for unofficial travel. The amount to be reimbursed is based on the cost of a comparable flight on a commercial airline. Even though a trip may be classified as unofficial, personnel such as Secret Service agents are always considered to be on official travel and their costs are paid by the government.

While all foreign travel is considered official, a domestic trip often includes a mix of official and unofficial business. In such cases, there is a formula to determine the amount that must be reimbursed based on the time spent on unofficial versus official activities. It is up to the White House to determine whether the trip is official, unofficial, or a mix of the two, and as we’ve observed in our analyses of Presidential international trips, the costs to taxpayers when the President travels are not readily visible. However, based on some information that is available, we can at least estimate the costs for using Air Force One for this trip. 

Thanks to a FOIA request by Judicial Watch, we know that FY 2016 cost per flight hour to operate Air Force One is $180,118, and according to the White House’s schedule for the day, the flight to Charlotte will take 1 hour and 5 minutes, flight back is scheduled for an hour and 10 minutes, costing taxpayers $405,266.

Based on the top results on Google Flights, the average cost of a non-stop, round trip business class ticket from Washington, DC to Charlotte, NC is $578.25. It is unclear whether any staffers from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign were on board for the trip, nor if there were any undisclosed events on the President’s schedule that would count as official duties. The Hillary campaign would be on the hook to reimburse at least $1,156.50 for Mrs. Clinton’s and the President’s travel, which would leave taxpayers paying up to $404,196 just for the flight.

NTUF encourages the White House and the Clinton campaign to disclose the costs and set the record straight.