Arguing red and blue politics is a polarizing task these days. Witness President Donald Trump’s rally and its aftermath last week at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Yet even those on the farthest ends of the political spectrum should agree on one aspect of such an event: When its purpose is primarily political, the candidate (or their party) should pay the bills resulting from their use of public resources, especially public safety.
It’s not the responsibility of local taxpayers to pay for campaign rallies, nor the public costs they create for public safety, street cleanup, sanitation, traffic control and other measures.
Rallies like Trump’s here last Thursday have turned a much brighter spotlight on this longstanding—and bipartisan—problem.
Whether people vote bright red or deep blue, everyone should agree on where the green must come from when the event is less statesmanship and more salesmanship: The pockets of presidential campaigns, many of which are raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars for just that purpose—campaigning.
Minneapolis isn’t the only city that wants to be repaid such costs. According to the Star Tribune, a Trump rally in Rochester last year cost the city’s taxpayers about $93,000 in various costs (it was not reimbursed). A rally in Duluth last year cost the city more than $69,000. A Duluth city spokeswoman told the newspaper that they did not send a bill because, regardless of political party, “we just don’t hear back historically.”
El Paso, Texas; Spokane, Washington; Mesa, Arizona; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Lebanon, Ohio; and Burlington, Vermont, all have outstanding costs for Trump rallies since January 2018.
A Center for Public Integrity report noted Democrat Bernie Sanders, in his 2016 campaign, initially did not pay almost two dozen local governments about $450,000 in public-safety bills tied to his rallies. Only when Sanders began considering a 2020 run did his team start paying those tabs.
What to do?
Cities can easily address this challenge by having contracts ready to go and requiring candidates or their political parties to sign them before campaign events are held. And, of course, apply those contracts equally to all rallies, no matter the political stances. The language could even require payment ahead of time.
If candidates or parties object, let them find another city.
Another potential solution is amending federal election laws to make it extremely clear candidates must pay these bills.
While laws require candidates to disclose disputed debts to the Federal Election Commission, the lack of legal clarity about what must happen after such disclosure appears to give candidates plenty of room to wiggle out of paying up.
And that ultimately means taxpayers of all political viewpoints must spend their hard-earned money essentially subsidizing candidate campaigns that are anything but short on cash.