President Obama was a frequent visitor to the Bay Area in recent months as he held inspirational rallies, which have also served as fundraisers for his personal re-election campaign.
The President’s three previous Bay Area trips, the first and surrounding cities, the second in early June to San Francisco and the third in mid-July to San Francisco and Oakland, have featured eight official events, none of which were free of charge, some of which were ‘invite-only’, and all of which bore a hefty price tag.
Obama’s May trip to the Peninsula and the South Bay began with a $38,500 per plate dinner at the Atherton home of Levi Strauss heir Doug Goldman and his wife, Lisa.
The dinner was followed by at Redwood City’s , with the cheapest seats selling for $250. Those wanting a closer look at President Obama for the theatre’s premium seats. The next morning, the President hosted a breakfast at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, again with a $38,500 price tag.
Those unable to attend the events were still impacted. Roads around downtown Redwood City and Atherton and drivers were asked to use alternate routes.
While Peninsula cities likely paid much of the bill for security expenses, presidents are required by Federal Election Commission rules to reimburse the government for any portion of a trip that is political.
Redwood City spokesperson Malcolm Smith said that the cost to Redwood City for hosting President Obama was $116,000, due to the , firefighters and other emergency responders that needed to be available.
It's likely Redwood City will get stuck with a significant portion of that bill according to an NBC online news story.
Atherton Mayor Bill Widmer said that the Town of Atherton has not established a final report of expenses incurred; however, he estimates the cost to Atherton as “considerable.”
Has Romney Repaid Bills?
Similarly, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, visited Redwood City’s on March 26 for a fundraiser. The began at $1,000 and ran up to $2,500 for a photo with the former Governor of Massachusetts.
Malcolm Smith did not have access to the exact cost of Romney's March visit, but he guessed that due to less security than required for a President, the expenses were substantially lower.
Though Redwood City did not ask either candidate’s campaigns for reimbursement, the Romney campaign has regularly repaid cities that request repayment when Mitt Romney makes campaign appearances.
After Newport Beach sent the Romney campaign an invoice for the $10,441 security cost, the amount was paid in full within 30 days.
Larger Cities Also Foot the Bill
For the breakfast fundraiser in San Jose, the final cost to the city was $97,965, according to San Jose Police Sergeant Jason Dwyer. San Jose had a budget deficit of $115.1 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year, and made cuts and layoffs that Mayor Chuck Reid described as “painful” in order to eliminate the deficit.
Though the President flew out of the private Moffett Field Airbase on the late May trip, his two subsequent trips involved Air Force One landing at San Francisco International Airport, creating delays for Bay Area travelers.
An early June visit to San Francisco involved two fundraisers, one exclusive ‘invite-only’ roundtable discussion, costing participants $35,800 and another more affordable luncheon at $5,000 per plate at the Merchants Exchange Building.
The June visit, held on a weekday, created delays throughout the Financial District. Significant sections of California Street and Market Street, two major thoroughfares, were blocked off during the work day.
According to San Francisco Police Spokesperson Albie Esparza, the city is in the process of compiling the security costs from the June visit.
The President’s most recent visit to the Bay Area in mid-July involved his most affordable event yet, a in Oakland where the cheapest tickets went for $100.
However, in a city with a median per capita income of just over $30,000 per year, getting even a glimpse of President Obama would still be outside the price range of most residents.
For deep-pocketed donors, the President hosted another ‘invite-only’ roundtable discussion at $38,500 as well as a dinner at the Piedmont home of Real Estate mogul Wayne Jordan, also for $38,500.
The cost to the city of Oakland of the visit is still being compiled, Oakland spokesperson Karen Boyd told KQED. Boyd said the bulk of the costs are for rentals of barricades and paying police officers for overtime.
Oakland small business owners also reported significant drops in sales due to the President’s schedule blocking off traffic and forcing early closures, business owners told KQED.
Some business owners and managers in Redwood City at the mandatory closures of their businesses.
According to the Atherton mayor, due to a mutual aid package between Bay Area cities, every city will pay for some of the security expenses of a Presidential visit even if he is not coming to their city.
“When he goes to San Francisco or Woodside, we also support that. We have to provide at least an officer or two,” said Widmer, who added that Atherton would be sending a bill to the Democratic Party only for the direct costs of President Obama’s visit to Atherton.
Presidential visits are inevitably expensive, regardless of the purpose of the visit. However, visits for the purpose of fundraising appears to contrast with the idea that elected officials represent every U.S. resident.
Obama Campaign spokesperson Linda Serrato said the campaign had no comment on the cost of the visits, the disruptions or the lack of accessibility to the President.
Neither candidate has yet scheduled a free Bay Area event.
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