29 May-2014, WND: Records newly obtained by officials with Judicial Watch revealed on Thursday that lodging, security and “entertainment” for the Obamas’ entourage during their trip last year to Africa cost taxpayers nearly $2.2 million.
“The Obamas clearly either do not understand the value of a dollar – or understand it all too well when someone else is picking up the tab,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
“Keep in mind that this outrageously lavish excursion came at the very same time that the president was shutting down White House tours and blaming it on the sequester. As one congressional critic noted at the time, the White House could have 1,350 weeks of tours for the cost of the Obama family’s trip to Africa.”
Earlier documents obtained by Judicial Watch said the flight expenses for the family’s African outing totaled more than $8.1 million.
The most recent documents revealed the lodging and entertainment costs. The paperwork from the Department of Homeland Security showed ranks of Secret Service officers on the sub-Saharan trip from June 27 to July 3, 2013, spent $2,189,727.60 in lodging, entertainment and security.
The government watchdog had filed a Freedom of Information Act document request at the conclusion of the trip, and the information just recently was released.
Judicial Watch said Secret Service hotel bills totaled $953,788.18, and even though the Obama family “Tanzania safari” ended up being canceled, Secret Service preparations for the safari still totaled $11,525.75.
According to the report on the spending, “From June 27 to July 3, 2013, the Obamas visited three countries in Africa – Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania. According to reports in the Washington Post in the days leading up to the trip, ‘One hundred [Secret Service] agents are needed as ‘post-standers’ – to man security checkpoints and borders around the president – in each of the first three cities he visits.
Back in March, Judicial Watch said just the flights by the Air Force for the Obamas’ trip cost $8.1 million, at $228,000 per hour for nearly 36 hours of time.
Judicial Watch noted, “According to numerous press accounts, the total cost of the Obama family trip was estimated to have cost between $60 million and $100 million.”
Obama has throughout his presidency established a reputation for lavish spending on his travel.
A few weeks ago, it was reported that two golf outings for Obama cost $2.9 million – mainly because they were in Key Largo, Fla., and Palm Springs, Calif.
There also was a recent report that the White House incurred taxpayer expenses of $7.9 million to fly the Obamas to Northern Ireland for a summit that included an extra $251,000 for Michelle Obama and their two daughters to go sightseeing in Dublin.
The entourage required the use of the “spacious Princess Grace Suite at the five-star Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.” Among the miscellaneous costs was $114,000 for a “fleet” of vehicles for the sightseeing as well as $3,370 for a using a copier.
WND has reported on many such expenses over the years.
There were reports the Obamas spent more than $7 million for JUST travel for JUST three trips in late 2012 and early 2013, including more than $4 million to go to a Hawaiian vacation at Christmas, more than $2.1 million for a trip to California and back for Barack Obama to “dine with high-dollar fundraiser Jeffrey Katzenberg and appear on the ‘Tonight Show’ with Jay Leno” and nearly another $1.2
When Michelle Obama and her girls went to China earlier this year, along with Michelle Obama’s mother, they were staying in a suite costing $8,350 per night, where a “well-placed hotel staffer” told the MailOnline that the staff is “fed up.”
“We can’t wait for this to be over, to tell you the truth,” the member of the concierge staff told the newspaper. “The first lady is gracious, and the girls are lovely.” But he said Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s mother, has been “barking at the staff.”
Exact totals for the Obamas’ travel expenses are impossible to obtain because the government, and others, simply decline to release the figures. The White House, for example, notes that security costs for the first family are not going to be released. The Secret Service says its figures are secret.
And officials with the Democratic National Committee, who are familiar with the costs because they are supposed to reimburse the government for the campaign use of government airplanes, also have declined to respond to WND requests for information.
Calls for more information
But more and more voices are joining the chorus that is calling for more information, or less spending, or both.
The vacation by Michelle Obama, her mother and her daughters to China sparked a round of questions.
At the White House Dossier, reporter Keith Koffler noted the trip, which went off without reporters in attendance, and with a dearth of official events for the Obamas.
“First Lady Michelle Obama plans to pack in an exciting week of sightseeing during what is definitely NOT a vacation excursion with her daughters, who are on spring break, and her mother, who likes to go on Michelle’s trips,” he wrote.
“The White House refuses to say how much it will cost you, according to the New York Times. Well, I can reveal it here:
He cites the expense of a couple of jets – “one of Michelle and one for her stuff” – which actually cost a couple thousand dollars – per minute of flight time.
In fact, it was revealed last month that Air Force One, which ferries President Obama to and from vacations and fundraisers, costs more than $228,000 an hour to fly, although some smaller jets used occasionally for his family alone might be less expensive.
The China trip, where sightseeing was the main event most days, “is not a vacation. Please repeat to yourself. This is not a vacation,” Koffler wrote. “I’ll give you a moment.”
It was Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who during the heat of the 2012 campaign had filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office over the Obamas’ travel spending.
That followed the president’s multiple fundraiser trips on Air Force One, and his use of a telephone on the jet for fundraising calls.
17 states in 79 days
The National Journal’s George E. Condon Jr. reported at the time, however, “If Priebus hoped to stall the Democratic campaign, there is no sign of Obama tempering his use of Air Force One since Priebus ran to the GAO on April 25. In the 79 days since that complaint, the president has flown to 17 states. In only one of those states – Missouri, where the president gave a high school commencement address in Joplin on May 21 – was there no political flavor to the visit. In the others, fundraisers and openly partisan events dominated the schedule. And the itinerary closely matches the 2012 political map. He has gone to New York four times and three times each to closely contested Ohio and contribution-rich California and Illinois. He also has gone twice each to the politically pivotal states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada.”
The voices at MSNBC even warned Michelle Obama should “brace … for the latest round of nit-picking” when she stayed over from another family vacation in Hawaii for a 50th birthday celebration last winter.
“The Washington Times juxtaposed their coverage of Obama’s extra vacation relaxing on the beach – a present from her husband – with the polar vortex gripping much of the nation in sub-zero temperatures,” the report said. “The message seemed clear: this lady’s living it up while you’re bundling up.”
To the critics of the expense of having an extra jet trip to return her to Washington separately from her family, MSNBC said, “Watchdog.org crunched the numbers to determine that the first lady’s airfare could cost taxpayers nearly half a million dollars. While that’s a hefty pricetag for a flight from Hawaii, it’s barely a rounding error in terms of the full federal budget.”
It was In The Capital that reported on concerns about the Obamas’ 2013 Martha’s Vineyard vacation.
“A plethora of Republican lawmakers have already take (sic) a break from their August recess to criticize Obama for a taking (sic) an expensive on-week (sic) vacation while millions of Americans are struggling financially. The president pays for food and souvenirs himself, while it’s the taxpayers that eat the cost of Air Force One and the travel expenses of the Secret Service.”
Judicial Watch reported just the Air Force One costs for the trip were nearly $1.2 million. The Secret Service costs were, well, secret. Nobody asked what souvenirs Obama bought for himself.
A few dollar figures:
The dollar figures that are available have been compiled by Judicial Watch, including $98,135.79 for Obama’s President’s Day 2013 golf trip, $81,523.64 for Michelle Obama’s President’s Day 2013 ski trip, $115,500.87 for Malia Obama’s spring break in Mexico, $83,182.99 for Michelle Obama’s President’s Day 2012 ski trip, $467,585 for Michelle Obama’s trip to Spain, $467,175 for the Obamas’ Copenhagen Olympic bid, and $11,648.17 for the Obama’s to go to New York City for a date night.
Among the details of the expenses that are known, according to JW:
The 2012-2013 Christmas vacation cost taxpayers – for travel alone – nearly $4.1 million. Those expenses for Obama’s trip to be on the Leno show, $2.1 million, and the Martha’s Vineyard trip, $1.1 million.
“The Obamas are abusing the public trust and the taxpayers with unnecessary luxurious vacations and travel,” Fitton has said. “These staggering costs show why these documents were covered up and we had to sue in federal court to get them. Another transparency fail for the Obama gang.”
The Journal reports that the fees for political trips by Air Force One used to be based on the equivalent of first-class airfare, but starting in 2010, a new Federal Election Commission rule calls for reimbursement of what it would cost to charter a Boeing 737 – on a formula based on the number of travelers.
But the report notes, “The exact numbers are impossible to get.”
However, Judicial Watch has detailed the known costs, such as a trip to Spain, which was $434,000 for travel alone.
A court action was filed to determine whether there was “any indication of official business conducted by Mrs. Obama while she was in the country.”
The lavish travel hasn’t always been only by the Obamas. WND reported numerous times on then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s commuting in an Air Force jet to her California home.
At one point it was documented that she cost taxpayers $101,000 for in-flight food and alcohol over a period in 2008 and 2009. At one point she instructed the Air Force to provide chocolate-covered strawberries for a snack, since it was her birthday.
Dark chocolate preferred
“Dark chocolate preferred” was the order.
And The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom has highlighted “$10 million” in public money Michelle Obama has spent on her “vacations.”
That report said the family vacation in Hawaii over Christmas 2011 cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Among some of the categories that made up the estimated more than $4.1 million for the family vacation were: $3.2 million in flight time to carry the Obamas back and forth, a Marine contingent for security at $258,000, $21,600 for each of seven houses rented for 18 days for security officers to be housed, another hotel bill for $72,000, overtime for local police of $250,000 and others.
Sasha and Malia Obama even have been listed as “Senior Staff” when they travel at taxpayer expense. That happened on the family’s African safari.
In a WND assessment of Obama’s travel spending on a few months back, it was uncovered that the Obamas scheduled nearly 4,000 “room-nights” for their stop in Johannesburg and another $2 million for car rentals there.
The report noted when information has been available, the administration has provided information on an inconsistent basis.
In some cases, federal entities such as the State Department, which arranges the logistics of executive branch travel, have thwarted efforts to discover more about the government’s accommodations, transportation and related expenses.