President Donald Trump publicly pledged “all the support of the federal government” on Saturday after 22 people were shot to death in an El Paso Walmart this weekend.
But his statements are prompting charges of hypocrisy because the city claims the president’s political campaign owes an outstanding debt from a February campaign rally — specifically, more than half a million dollars.
On Monday, an El Paso city official said Trump has yet to pay.
According to Laura Cruz-Acosta, communications manager for the El Paso city manager’s office, the president has an outstanding bill of $569,204.63 for police and public safety services associated with a February campaign rally.
“The city staff have followed the process and procedures as it relates to any invoicing that we provide, and we will continue to do so accordingly as per city and state policies,” Cruz-Acosta said. She said that Trump owed an initial fee of $470,417.05 but that the city tacked on a 21% one-time late fee in June — 30 days after the campaign failed to pay the initial amount owed.
Local officials have repeatedly harangued Trump for not covering the costs associated with his visit to the border city, with some contrasting his actions with those of Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who visited his hometown for a rally on the same day and has since paid his dues.
“Our resources are really strained right now,” said Alexsandra Annello, a member of the El Paso City Council. “Our police and fire are exhausted, our health department had for three days straight been working with the reunification of families. As you see from the bill, these are the services required for a presidential visit. In addition to financial costs, our community and resources are already strained and do not need this extra burden.”
The city helped accommodate O’Rourke’s and Trump’s dueling rallies with security and transportation for the thousands of people who flocked to both events. According to his invoice, O’Rourke was charged roughly $21,000 — which he paid back in May.
The El Paso Times previously reported that the city sent a letter to the Trump campaign in late May requesting he pay his outstanding debt. An invoice from that month stated that he owed six city departments money — with amounts ranging from $528 to $381,000.
“We are contacting you regarding the invoice(s) listed above,” the May letter reads. “We realize this may be an oversight on your part; however, your account with the City of El Paso is extremely past due.
“Your obligation to pay the invoice listed will remain on the City’s books indefinitely until the debt is paid in full. Furthermore, the City may choose to not enter into a contract with an individual that is indebted to the City for more than $100.00.”
A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on when, if at all, it planned to pay the city back. Later this week, Trump is expected to visit El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, where another gunman killed nine people in the city’s entertainment district. The Associated Press reported Monday that the Federal Aviation Administration has issued advisories of VIP travel to both cities for Wednesday.
For the second quarter of 2019, Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee said they raised a whopping $105 million. But according to the Center for Public Integrity, city officials can’t force political campaigns to pay their debts unless they sign formal agreements with the campaigns. Still, some police groups say that candidates — who often amass multimillion-dollar war chests — who opt to hold campaign events around the country should compensate the cities they visit, even if they’re not legally required to do so.
“If it’s an election event, I would say the city would be within their rights to charge for those extra services that are required,” said AJ “Andy” Louderback, the Republican sheriff of Jackson County and past president and legislative director of the Sheriffs Association of Texas. He noted, however, that it’s the city’s responsibility to negotiate costs with candidates who opt to hold rallies there
Trump isn’t the only presidential candidate who has been indebted to a city after a campaign event. Democrat Bernie Sanders’ campaign waited nearly two years before it reimbursed the city of Vallejo and the Solano County sheriff more than $65,000 it owed for two political rallies in 2016.
Still, former and current El Paso representatives have already decried Trump’s upcoming visit to the border city. In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said that Trump “should not come here while we are in mourning.”
“I would encourage the president’s staff members to have him do a little self-reflection. I would encourage them to show him his own words and his actions at the rallies because we're not going to get past this until there’s acknowledgment from the very top that we need to heal,” she said.
O’Rourke espoused a similar sentiment.
“He’s helped to create what we saw in El Paso on Saturday,” he said. “He’s helped to produce the suffering that we are experiencing right now. This community needs to heal.”
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