photo via Raigo Pajula/Flickr (CC-BY)

U.S. law has a calculation for specifically this kind of situation.

Outrage continues to fly over Vice President Mike Pence‘s decision to leave a Sunday football game early due to national anthem protests at an added expense to taxpayers. But is the cost to taxpayers really more than $200,000, as some reports conclude?

Pence on Sunday traveled from Las Vegas to Indianapolis, where he briefly attended the Colts vs. San Francisco 49ers game. The vice president soon left the stadium, however, after members of the 49ers kneeled during the national anthem as part of the ongoing NFL players’ protests against racial injustices.

The jaunt to Indianapolis was “long planned,” according to President Donald Trump, who said he asked his vice president to leave the game if anyone kneeled during the “Star Spangled Banner.” However, Pence was originally scheduled to travel from Las Vegas to Los Angeles—a trip that took approximately 90 minutes. Instead, he took a three-and-a-half hour trip from Las Vegas to Indianapolis before heading to L.A., which took an additional four hours and 45 minutes.

Given the average cost of operating Air Force 2 (about $30,000 per hour), CNN estimates that the total cost of Pence’s air travel from Los Vegas to Indianapolis to Los Angeles cost approximately $242,000, which doesn’t include any of the costs of the vice president’s travel around any of the cities. Had he instead flown directly from Los Vegas to Los Angeles, the cost would have been around $45,000—meaning Pence’s trip to the Colts game upped the expense of the trip by at least $197,000.

That baseline figure is still at least slightly inaccurate, however. Part of the estimated $145,000 it cost for Pence to travel from Indianapolis to Los Angeles will be reimbursed because he was flying there to attend a Republican Party event.

While CNN reports that the Republican National Committee is on the hook for this reimbursement, an RNC spokesperson told the Daily Dot that it was not involved in the event. Instead, the fundraiser was organized by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), according to the RNC.

A spokesperson for the NRCC was not immediately available for comment, and their offices were closed on Monday, likely in observance of Columbus Day.

Federal law requires groups like the NRCC to reimburse officeholders for expenses related to political activity like the reception Pence attended in Los Angeles on Sunday evening. It also provides an exact calculation for how much of the funds must be reimbursed, which is as follows:

  • Time spent in official meetings, receptions, etc. Time spent in political meetings, receptions, rallies = Total activity time
  • Time spent in official activity ÷ Total activity time = Percentage of trip that is official
  • Time spent in political activity ÷ Total activity time = Percentage of trip that is political
  • The percentage figure that represents the political portion of the trip is then multiplied by the amount that would be reimbursed to the Government if all of the travel was political. The product of that calculation represents the amount to be paid by the political entity or organization.
The reception Pence attended began at 6:30pm PT on Sunday, according to the Associated Press, and he is scheduled to attend various other political fundraising events through Tuesday. However, without more details about Pence’s time in Los Angeles, it is impossible to say exactly how much the NRCC is on the hook to repay the federal government. (The White House did not immediately respond to our request for comment.) But there is no question that attending an NRCC fundraiser qualifies as “political activity” under the law.

“While there are a lot of things that fall into an ethical gray area, or a legal gray area, political travel isn’t one of them,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for watchdog group Citizen for Reasonable Ethics in Washington (CREW), which criticized the vice president’s activities on Sunday.

What we can say is that the federal government will likely be responsible for a percentage of the estimated $145,000 it cost Pence to fly from Indianapolis to Los Angeles—not the full $242,000 CNN calculated. And even if the NRCC covered 100 percent of the flight to L.A., the federal government is likely still on the hook for just under $100,000 that would not have been spent had Pence skipped the Colts–49ers game altogether.
“In terms of Pence flying out to L.A. for the fundraiser, that would qualify as political activity… done for a political Twitter stunt,” said Libowitz. “This one most likely will be paid for by taxpayers, even if he really did this just to take a picture with some faux outrage on Twitter.”
Andrew Couts

Andrew Couts

Andrew Couts is the former editor of Layer 8, a section dedicated to the intersection of the Internet and the state—and the gaps in between. Prior to the Daily Dot, Couts served as features editor and features writer for Digital Trends, associate editor of TheWeek.com, and associate editor at Maxim magazine. When he’s not working, Couts can be found hiking with his German shepherds or blasting around on motorcycles.