When Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti hopped a plane to Iowa earlier this year, taxpayers back home helped foot the bill by covering the mayor’s security costs.
Garcetti, who is burnishing his national profile ahead of a possible presidential run, is usually accompanied by Los Angeles Police Department officers, both in L.A. and when he travels. The city has typically paid for the officers’ flights, hotels, rental cars and other expenses, as well as their salaries.
But now, Garcetti’s political action committee, the Democratic Midterm Victory Fund, will reimburse the city for security expenses for Garcetti’s Iowa journey, as well as five other trips made by the mayor in the last year and half, a Garcetti advisor said Wednesday.
Mayoral security expenses on future trips related to the committee will also be covered, advisor Yusef Robb said.
“The Democratic Midterm Victory Fund benefits from the mayor’s participation and travel — he is our key voice and fundraiser,” Robb said. “After a conversation with the mayor, the fund contacted LAPD and asked that it bill the fund for travel costs related to mayoral security during trips associated with the fund’s activities moving forward.”
Robb said that committee won’t pick up the salary costs of officers on those trips. That will continue to be paid for by taxpayers.
He did not provide a final reimbursement tally for those six trips, saying he was waiting for the accounting.
Jessica Levinson, an election law professor at Loyola Law School, called Garcetti’s move a “preemptive strike” to assure taxpayers that they aren’t paying for his presidential ambitions.
“He’s trying to say, ‘Don’t worry about it, this is [covered by] private money,’” Levinson said.
The committee’s announcement came hours before Garcetti left for a three-day trip to Ohio to rally Democrats and meet with local politicians. Later this month, he’ll head to South Carolina and to Minnesota in October.
The Times is suing the city over its refusal to say how much is being spent on Garcetti’s security when he travels. The LAPD has refused to disclose these costs, arguing it could potentially undermine his security.
Explaining the committee’s decision to pay for mayoral security expenses, Robb said that the LAPD makes independent decisions on assigning officers for mayoral security and “there has not been a clear mechanism for reimbursements.”
Garcetti launched the political action committee late last year to raise money for Democratic congressional candidates and state parties across the country ahead of the November midterm elections.
Committee funds also are being used to pay for the mayor’s travels and helped cover his hotel costs when he traveled to New York in March. During that trip, he met a committee donor, criticized leadership in Washington during an appearance on “Late Night With Seth Meyers" and accepted an award from Columbia University.
Robb said the committee will reimburse the city for mayoral security travel costs for six trips — to South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Arizona, as well as Iowa — since June 2017.
That time period covers political trips Garcetti took before he launched the Democratic Midterm Victory Fund late last year.
The New York trip wasn’t included on the six trips to be reimbursed, raising questions about which future trips the committee will cover. Robb said the meeting with the donor in New York was an hour over the course of a three-day trip. He said the committee will pay for travel “when it’s connected to the fund.”
More than 70% of the Democratic Midterm Victory Fund’s contributions have come from California donors, including individuals or companies with ties to City Hall.
Because it is a federal committee, the fund doesn’t have to comply with city campaign fundraising rules, including L.A.’s prohibition on political contributions from lobbying firms.
Jay Handal, co-chairman of Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, a citizens oversight committee, questioned whether the political action committee should be used to fund mayoral security because its focus is on raising money for candidates and state parties.
“If I contributed, I’d be angry,” Handal said.
The mayor isn’t the first politician to seek to cover his travel costs.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel paid back his city nearly $22,000 after questions were raised about his travel and security expenses, including why Chicago police officers accompanied Emanuel to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., the Chicago Tribune reported.