President Obama has been a frequent visitor to the Bay Area in recent months; however, the inspirational rallies have also served as fundraisers for his personal re-election campaign.
The President’s three previous Bay Area trips--the first in late May to Redwood City 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 a rally at Redwood City’s Fox Theatre, with the cheapest seats selling for $250. Those wanting a closer look at President Obama paid more than $1,000 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 afford the events were nonetheless impacted. Many roads around downtown Redwood City and Atherton were closed and drivers had to use alternate routes. In addition, Peninsula cities were required to foot the bill for substantial security expenses.
Redwood City spokesperson Malcolm Smith said that the cost to Redwood City for hosting President Obama was $116,000, due to the additional police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders that needed to be available.
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.”
Widmer has instructed the Atherton Police to send a bill to the Democratic Party for the expenses and is awaiting a response.
Has Romney Repaid Bills?
Similarly, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, visited Redwood City’s Hotel Sofitel on March 26 for a fundraiser. The lowest priced tickets began at $1,000 and ran up to $2,500 for a photo with the former Governor of Massachusetts.
Smith did not have access to the exact cost of Romney's March visit, but he stated that due to the less central location of the hotel and less security than required by 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.
President Obama’s campaign, in contrast, declined to pay an approximately $35,000 bill for his campaign events in the area.
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 further delays for Bay Area travelers in the summer season.
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 busy 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 fundraiser at the Fox Theater 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 above 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 were similarly peeved at the mandatory closures of their businesses.
According to Mayor Widmer, 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, these expensive visits for the purpose of fundraising without a free public event contrast with the idea that elected officials represent the middle class. For many working middle class, most of the fundraisers would cost half or all of their annual paycheck to attend.
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.