News 8 Now Investigates: City of La Crosse invoices show $15,703 owed by political campaigns for visits

Some campaign visit invoices dating back to 2016 are still unpaid according to La Crosse Police officials
Unpaid Campaign Stops

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Visits from politicians during an election year have a price tag not just for the campaigns, but the cities they visit. The manpower for security to keep these people safe requires long hours from La Crosse Law Enforcement. News 8 Now found some bills dating back to 2016 are still unpaid.

A president, vice president, or presidential candidate visit requires a lot of planning and strategy.

“We’re getting like three, four, five day lead time,” said Capt. Jason Melby of the La Crosse Police Department.

These visits are announced last-minute more often than not. That puts La Crosse law enforcement in a position to staff the events for security.

“We usually don’t know exactly how much manpower we are going to have allocated to the particular visit until a day or two ahead of time,” Melby said.

This requires overtime and money that campaigns have to pay back.

Last November News 8 Now found more than $10,000 dollars in unpaid campaign bills. Nearly a year later, it’s the same story with a higher total.

City of La Crosse invoices show amounts for $3,595 for a Donald Trump UW-La Crosse visit, $6,308 for a Trump campaign visit to town (both from four years ago), a $5,574 charge for Pence’s visit to Dairyland Power in September, and a $225 bill for a Speaker Paul Ryan bus tour in 2017, all still unpaid.

These invoices are really pocket change to these campaigns that bring millions of dollars in donations. Nonetheless, that money adds up to the city of La Crosse with more than $15,000 still owed from campaign-related visits.

“We didn’t think it was unreasonable to expect to have these campaigns pay for the overtime cost associated with their visit,” Melby said.

The city tried to use pre-invoice billing to get these campaigns to pay before they came to La Crosse.

“…and attempt to pre-invoice prior to the visit for approximately 50 percent of the estimated cost,” Melby said.

La Crosse Police found this process difficult and unrealistic. La Crosse is one of several Wisconsin communities (including other cities around the country) in the same bind.

An email in January from Wisconsin Sen. Jeff Smith shows Eau Claire was owed $47,398 for Trump presidential campaign visits from 2016.

Email Eau Claire

“It’s not like the La Crosse Police Department said, ‘We need an extra $20,000 in our budget to plan for campaign visits,'” Melby said.

In terms of a solution, Melby said their hands are tied.

“We would invoice, and invoice, and then, invoice,” Melby said describing what the city has done for years.

The pandemic has prevented more visits including one from President Trump a couple of weeks ago. Melby said fewer events this year been a blessing in disguise because it’s one less bill left unpaid.

“We’re rather fortunate from that aspect,” Melby said.

He said it’s still great to see these candidates choose La Crosse as their focus.

“To have our voices heard, and to have the privilege of having these people vying for the highest office in our country,” Melby said.

However, the money left unpaid becomes the La Crosse tax payer’s problem.

“You just hope that the campaigns understand the importance of what this money means to the communities,” Melby said. “Especially in times of an economic downturn.”

Every little extra money helps and every little portion lost hurts right now.

“I don’t know what else we could do at this point,” Melby said.

New 8 Now asked the police department if the city would bring this issue to court, but Melby says that is not something they have considered at this point. Since News 8 Now first started asking questions in November of 2019, one campaign did pay their bill.

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The “Hillary Clinton for President” event had a $3,600 charge, but records show that was paid. News 8 Now did attempt to contact the Trump campaign, but so far have not heard back.

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