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Audit Finds Portland Spent At Least $180K On Presidential Campaign Visits

President Barack Obama spoke at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., May 8, 2015.

President Barack Obama spoke at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., May 8, 2015.

Don Ryan/AP

Last May, President Obama spoke at a political fundraiser in Portland.

The following day he gave a speech at Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton where he made the case for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the controversial trade deal the President’s spearheaded with countries around the Pacific Rim.

“As you’ve heard, I’ve come to Oregon to talk a little bit about trade,” Obama said, surrounded by Nike employees.

According to a report released Tuesday by Portland’s city auditor, that visit cost taxpayers at least $89,000.

The audit found from October 2014 to April of this year, the city spent at least $180,000 on campaign-related visits. The vast majority of costs are for security, transportation and crowd control provided by Portland police officers.

According to the auditor’s report, the city is required to bill for its services and try to recoup costs. But the audit found the city’s not following its own rules.

“The city has not been billing campaigns for those visits,” said Drummond Kahn, the director of audit services for the city.

Kahn said city policy is to bill for police services when it comes to events like the marathon or professional sports.

“In those cases, the city does calculate its costs and bill those organizers, but has not been billing campaign organizers for very similar events that happen from political campaigns,” he said.

Vice President Joe Biden campaigning for Sen. Jeff Merkley, right, in Portland on October 8, 2014.

Vice President Joe Biden campaigning for Sen. Jeff Merkley, right, in Portland on October 8, 2014.

Alan Sylvestre/OPB

In October 2014, Vice President Joe Biden visited Portland to help with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley’s re-election campaign. According to the audit, that visit cost the Portland Police Bureau more than $53,000.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ rally at the Moda Center in March cost the city $22,000. An August 2015 visit from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to attend a private fundraiser cost taxpayers about $4,000.

Then-Speaker of the House John Boehner visited Portland in September 2015. His visit cost the city $7,100, but the audit said auditors didn’t know the reason for his visit.

Gov. John Kasich’s April visit cost the city $400, according to the audit.

Speaking Tuesday on OPB’s Think Out Loud, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales sounded skeptical that billing campaigns would mean a significant fiscal boost for the Portland Police Bureau.

“This is a $155 million agency so a couple hundred thousand in costs recovered from political campaigns are not going to make the difference,” he said.

Still, Hales said he was open to the notion of billing campaigns for protection and other services provided by the city.

“It’s certainly a worthy idea to try to recover our costs,” Hales said. “Obviously, when the president comes to town we’re not going to send anybody a bill. That’s an honor for our city when any president comes to town.”

The Secret Service doesn’t pay or reimburse for police overtime when it comes to protective visits.

“The Secret Service is not funded to pay police overtime and we do not have a mechanism to do so,” Robert Hoback, a spokesman with the agency, said in a statement. “The security advance process is the appropriate time for financial and logistical issues to be identified, so that when a local or state police department cannot meet requests from the Secret Service, other arrangements can be made.”

President Obama exits Air Force One after landing in Oregon on May 8, 2015.

President Obama exits Air Force One after landing in Oregon on May 8, 2015.

Alan Sylvestre/OPB

Kahn said that according to its policy, the city should have billed for the campaign portion of Obama’s May 2015 visit, when the president spoke at a political fundraiser at the Sentinel Hotel in downtown Portland.

“In this case our current president preformed both an official speech and a fundraising event at a hotel,” Kahn said. “In this example, we would ask the city to bill the campaign for the portion of that visit that was associated with campaign fundraising as opposed to any official duties.”

Given that Portland could host more campaign visits as the 2016 general election gears up, Kahn said the city should move now to follow its own policies.

“The good news is we’re seeing some other cities and jurisdictions billing candidates for visits and being reimbursed,” he said. “We learned also that suspended campaigns can collect donations and pay bills.”

While the audit notes some cities in Iowa have had success with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns paying for some police overtime, it also states that many cities have tired to recover costs without much success.

Before he was placed on leave for reasons unrelated to the audit, Portland Police Chief Larry O’Dea wrote a letter to the city auditor.

In it, he wrote that the Bureau has tried unsuccessfully in the past to bill campaigns. Be he said he agreed with the findings and hopes the city will be able to get reimbursed for its costs in the future.

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