Shortly before three o’clock, the assistant principal at my school announced that President Obama would be coming.
No, not to our school, but in front of it driving down on the West Side Highway.
So, nobody would be allowed to leave the school building until the all-clear would be given. More than an hour later, the school doors were reopened. The president had whizzed by and the sea of police officers re-opened the roads. No problem, I thought: I’m sure the president had something very important to do in New York City. A speech at the United Nations, perhaps? Or visiting the World Trade Center with its antenna reaching 1776 feet.
I learned how wrong I was about it when I later checked the news, and it turned out that Mr. Obama’s visit had been occasioned by his desire to attend three fundraisers, “to help the DNC pay off debt from the president’s re-election campaign.” (http://www.ny1.com/content/top_stories/181956/president-arrives-in-nyc-for-fundraising-appearances)
Really? Flying in the president on Air Force One at the cost of at least 162,00 dollars per hour, posting countless police officers along the route where the president’s motorcade passed, and having a surveillance helicopter fly above surely made quite a hefty price tag. And for what? So that a handful of people who have $16,000 for a lunch ticket could have access to the president for an hour, and Mr. Obama can repay the DNC the huge sum of money it took for his re-election.
What’s wrong with this picture?
That the taxpayers should be forced to pay even as they are forced to witness the streets of New York City shut down for security reasons would be understandable if the president were in town on official business. Having the movement of people restricted along the route of the president’s trip would be understandable if the president were in town to give a speech at the United Nations or were on his way to meet and greet people from all walks of life with wallets of all sizes. But that is not what happens on these trips.
Access to the president of the United States is sold to the fabulously wealthy even as it is literally restricted to all else. Hundreds of thousands of dollars indirectly take a walk from the pockets of all taxpayers into the coffers of a political organization without a word of dissent.
It is clear that the public already finances elections in an indirect manner. Taxpayers already pay for the security of the candidates while donors with deep pockets buy access and influence to the candidates they support. Politicians spend hundreds (if not thousands) of hours throughout their careers during their working hours for which they get a decent salary chasing the dollar for their re-elections. Even sitting presidents who will never run again continue to take time off (in this case a day) from their busy schedule to travel to multiple fundraisers.
The average taxpayer, meanwhile, grumbles for a moment or two when the president’s motorcade shuts down New York for hours. Then s/he moves on.
It is time to consider making the indirect public financing of elections direct! How much simpler would it be to put the half a million dollars the president’s trip on May 13th, 2013 has cost (by my conservative estimation) into a publicly financed elections fund and let the president and all other politicians work a full day in Washington. And if that’s too much to ask for, I think every reasonable person would agree that a trip by any politician exclusively undertaken to participate in fundraisers should be exclusively paid by those who are raising the funds for that politician or political party and not by the taxpayers.
While the president would still travel in New York City and in all other cities of the United States of America, taxpayers everywhere would know that their streets are not shut down (and buildings along the route are not on lockdown) because the president is on his way to yet another fundraiser in a private apartment in Greenwich village but is in town because he absolutely has to be.
People would even clap as the motorcade passed by, knowing that no select group of people had closer access to the president solely based on the size of the wallets.