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My Turn: Taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for political candidate visits

I couldn’t let the Oct. 22 Concord Monitor editorial regarding charging presidential candidates for expenses go unanswered, particularly when it claims doing so is an embarrassment to our state and community.

There is an important distinction to be made: It is the candidates’ campaign, not the federal government, which is being asked to reimburse expenses. There is a world of difference between a candidate for president and a sitting president.

Nashua has always welcomed sitting presidents, including our current president, when they come here on official business.

We welcome the opportunity for residents and those from surrounding communities to hear what our nation’s leader has to say and to provide an opportunity for the president to hear from our citizens as well.

We have twice since 2008 welcomed the president to our city. As recently as February 2012 President Obama visited Nashua Community College. Although he was an announced candidate at that time, his visit was coordinated with White House staff as he was visiting to discuss energy policy.

His remarks were contained to official business and did not make reference to the campaign, nor ask for votes. As such, neither of those visits resulted in a request for reimbursement.

The Monitor believes that Concord “strikes the proper balance” because it does not bill once a candidate has earned Secret Service protection. I disagree. The proper balance is candidate versus official. From my perspective the taxpayer should pay the expenses incurred for an official.

However, when it is a candidate, the campaign should shoulder the burden put on the local communities. It is part of the campaign. Events, mailings and ads are what contributors to campaigns are paying for.

No one would expect taxpayers to pay for radio, television, print or internet ads targeted to any one community. The campaigns, national party committees and super PACs have raised nearly $2 billion over the past two years and have spent $1.5 billion getting their message out as of Sept 30, according to the New York Times.

Candidates making campaign appearances are simply in-person advertisements, effective ones at that. Why would they or anyone expect the taxpayer to incur any expense at all to hear their message?

It goes without saying when candidates reach the level of Secret Service protection they cannot easily get in and out of communities. The disruption to people’s day-to-day activities can last hours – sometimes overnight to the next day. We are willing to accept the suspension of routine operations because of the opportunity to participate up close and personal in our electoral process. We are proud to be the second largest city in our first-in-the-nation primary state and are willing to do our part to welcome all who would serve.

The visits by both candidates in the past few months cost Nashua taxpayers close to $30,000. That’s less than 0.002 percent of the candidates’ and their supportive groups’ fundraising over the past two years. It also equals what is likely spent on just one local radio station over a two-week period, or a few TV spots, and not much more than for both to send a full mailing to a city of our size. Both campaigns were billed and we were told to bill the Secret Service. Let’s not forget, the taxpayer is already paying for the Secret Service that travels with the candidates.

So, first we have an unanticipated cost to a well-thought-out budget. Second, should we have chosen to add $30,000 to our budget, the schools, police, fire, public works may certainly have recommended spending it differently.

Without question I am a fan of democracy and the political process that provides confidence in choosing our leaders. I welcome any candidate to our community on behalf of our citizens and look forward to again hosting our sitting president, whoever it may be, for substantive discussion with the electorate.

I do, however, believe it to be unfair to ask Nashua taxpayers to foot the bill for what is essentially assisting with a political campaign, costs that can easily be covered by the campaign.

From my perspective the “proper balance” is candidate versus president. Who pays: campaign contributors or taxpayer? It’s just that simple.

(Donnalee Lozeau is the mayor of Nashua.)

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