Police officers lined the streets last week to protect President Barack Obama during his fundraising trip to San Francisco, most likely racking up thousands of dollars in extra pay and overtime.
But taxpayers in a city that is facing a $306 million deficit may never know how much money Obama’s visit truly cost because the Police Department is refusing to make those costs public. While other cities are transparent about the cost of presidential visits, San Francisco continues to keep the costs of its security details private in an effort to protect dignitaries.
A public records request by the San Francisco Examiner for those costs was denied. Police spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield said the Police Department does not provide those costs because it could reveal too much information about the number of officers who provide security for dignitaries.
“We did do everything we could to reduce those costs by reallocating resources and limiting the number of officers on overtime,” Dangerfield said.
Charles White, assistant special agent in charge for the Secret Service in San Francisco said there is no federal regulation preventing local governments from disclosing those costs.
“As a rule, we don’t comment on costs,” White said. “As far as what local jurisdictions do, that’s up to them.”
Adding to the mystery is the fact that Obama’s campaign team reimburses security costs for local authorities on trips that are for fundraising purposes, according to a White House official. Obama attended two San Francisco fundraisers, a high-priced dinner at the residence of Salesforce.com owner Marc Benioff and a breakfast fundraiser at the St. Regis Hotel.
But he also held two public events in which the security would be paid for with taxpayer dollars, a meeting at the Palo Alto headquarters of Facebook and a public event at the Nob Hill Masonic Theater. It’s unclear how much was paid publicly and how much was paid for by the campaign, the official said.
Other cities, however, have divulged those expenses. A Wisconsin State Journal story in December, for example, found that a single Obama event in Madison cost police $185,543.
In San Francisco, the debate over dignitary protection has been a thorny issue since Mayor Gavin Newsom traveled with his security detail while campaigning for governor and during such travels as when he was married in Montana.
In June 2010, San Francisco voters approved a ballot initiative proposed by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi that would require a line item pointing out the expense of dignitary protection in The City’s budget. The budget for the next fiscal year will be the first to list that cost, which includes protection for the mayor and for visiting dignitaries.