When presidents crisscross the country on fundraising trips, they typically net millions of dollars for their campaigns or those of other elected officials. But they cost the American taxpayer millions, too—to the tune of $180,000 every hour Air Force One is in the air.
Although Federal Election Commission rules require presidential campaigns to reimburse the cost of political travel, campaigns often game these rules by padding political trips with official business. For example, a visit to California featuring multiple fundraisers and a brief official event at a local high school could get chalked up as official travel. Although costs on these mixed trips are supposed to be proportionally shared by the government and the campaign, the law is murky and experts say reimbursement essentially depends on “the honor system.”
With presidential fundraising travel increasing exponentially in recent administrations, taxpayers are footing a bigger and bigger bill every year.
Presidents have always been political figures and party leaders, and we don’t expect that to end anytime soon. Nor do we begrudge any president the right to travel with the full capabilities of the office.
But we need a bright line between the president’s official and political roles. Any trip with any fundraising activity at all should be classified as political travel, and the necessary air travel, lodging and other trip expenses should be paid in full by the president's party or campaign.