The hidden costs for cities when major political rallies come to town

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JANESVILLE (WKOW) –When politicians, especially the president, presidential hopefuls, or major national political figures, come to campaign in a city it can be an honor, but an expensive one.

Local police are called on, often with less than a week’s notice, to provide additional security. The overtime costs can quickly climb into the tens of thousands of dollars.

“Our experience was when we sent the bills there was no payment on it,” said Janesville Police Chief David Moore. “I’ve spoken with other chiefs around the state, they’ve experienced the same things.”

In 2016, he said then-candidate Donald Trump’s visit cost Janesville $41,000 due to its large turnout, the protests outside the event, and the fact that it was scheduled on such short notice.

He says campaigns have paid the city so infrequently, the city stopped sending bills about 10 years ago.

Janesville isn’t alone, according the Center for Public Integrity.

Dave Levinthal is the group’s Chief Political Reporter.  After the 2016 elections, he followed up with cities to see which had been reimbursed. He discovered nearly all the cities he surveyed are still out thousands of dollars.

“This is something that’s not unique to Republicans or Democrats,” he said.

According to Levinthal, in most cases, campaigns aren’t contractually obligated to refund the cost of their visits.

Still he said many small cities see it as a courtesy for their hard work on typically strapped budgets.

“There’s a lot of overtime, a lot of logistics and a lot of scrambling and it usually takes a lot of money too,” Levinthal said.

Moore said that’s not unique to political events. He says department costs can spike beyond budget projections for non-political events, too.

“You hope that you don’t hit a year where you have all these political events and the SWAT team callouts and the homicides, that’s where we can go over budget,” Moore said.

That happened in 2017. Moore said the department was $200,000 over budget after a busy year which included the manhunt for Joseph Jakubowski and a visit from Vice President Mike Pence.

“Fortunately, other city departments were under budget and we were able to absorb the cost,” he said.

Still, despite the high price, Janesville is willing to pay to keep its visitors safe, Moore said.

“When you have a community that is welcoming and when you have political candidates coming here it’s just a cost of doing business,” he said.

Moore said he’s not expecting as many political events in Janesville after Paul Ryan retires, but if he believes 2020 will provide an influx of presidential candidates again, he’ll budget accordingly.

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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