City still chasing Trump campaign debt

City buses were used to barricade access to the DoubleTree hotel in Downtown Albuquerque where President Donald Trump stayed during his September 2019 campaign appearance in the metro area. The city is still trying to recover costs incurred during his visit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

It has been 18 months since the city of Albuquerque billed Donald Trump’s campaign for costs associated with his 2019 campaign rally in New Mexico.

That $211,175.94 invoice remains unpaid despite the help of professional debt collectors, leading the city to attempt a new tactic: mailing it to one of Trump’s resorts.

Earlier this month the city resent the bill originally addressed to New York-based Donald J. Trump for President Inc. to a new address at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, according to a city spokeswoman. That is on top of the ongoing efforts of a collections agency, she said.

“They are still pursuing it, as recently as this month,” spokeswoman Lorena Sanchez said in an email.

The city’s attempt to collect from Trump recently landed Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller an interview during a special Trump-themed episode of “The Daily Show.” Keller described how the city had to escalate matters to collections when the bill went unpaid and calls went unreturned.

“He (Trump) should be getting these annoying voicemails that, like, we get usually from scam companies where it’s like ‘You owe debts,'” Keller told Jordan Klepper, a correspondent for the Comedy Central TV show. “I think Mar-a-Lago is now getting those calls.”

Sending bills to collections is not unusual for the city; it’s standard process for invoices 61 to 90 days old. There are currently 2,517 city invoices in collections, Sanchez said. The city pays no fees to the agency unless it is successful; in those cases, it keeps 12% of the amount recovered, she said.

The city’s billing battle with Trump goes back to 2019.

Trump stayed overnight in Albuquerque while in the metro for a Sept. 16, 2019, campaign rally in Rio Rancho. Keller said Trump’s visit forced City Hall and parts of Downtown to shut down.

The city ultimately invoiced Trump’s campaign for the extra police coverage, road barricading and for the paid leave given to city employees whose workdays were cut short by a few hours on both Sept. 16 and Sept. 17, 2019.

ABQ Mayor Tim Keller

“In my mind, he owes us a lot more because there was about a day and a half where we couldn’t even function as a city,” Keller said on “The Daily Show” special.

Several local governments around the U.S. have for years tried unsuccessfully to recover expenses associated with Trump rallies. The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit news organization, reported last year that the Trump campaign had at least $1.82 million worth of unpaid bills across 14 communities.

Its tally did not appear to include Bernalillo County, which also invoiced Trump for the 2019 visit. A county spokesman said Thursday the bill – for $139,183.52 – never was paid. The county ultimately wrote it off as “bad debt,” the spokesman said.

Trump’s campaign told Public Integrity in 2020 that the U.S. Secret Service – not the campaign – should get the bills for public safety costs associated with Trump rallies, though the Secret Service said it does not receive funding for such expenses.

Other politicians – including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts – paid public safety bills that local governments sent their presidential campaigns, according to Public Integrity, though Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama paid only some.

The city of Rio Rancho – where Trump’s 2019 rally actually took place – opted not to bill Trump’s campaign for the $239,475 in manpower and lost work time associated with his visit; a spokeswoman said at the time Trump’s campaign had already “made it clear that they would not reimburse the City for those ancillary costs that occurred outside of the event.”

Keller told Klepper that the city would put any money Trump potentially repays into the general fund, which Keller said pays for city operations, including police and fire services.

While Trump has stated he opposed efforts to defund police, Klepper joked with Keller he might be doing just that.

“Is it fair to say Donald Trump has effectively defunded the police? I knew it was happening somewhere in America; apparently it’s happening somewhat in Albuquerque,” Klepper asked.

“By that definition, you could say that,” Keller replied.

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