Missoula County commissioners on Thursday agreed to send U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale an invoice for roughly $13,000 for expenses incurred during his campaign rally that drew President Donald Trump to the city.
But they don’t expect to see the money.
“Ideally, it would be good to get the letter out before any campaigns start to wrap up,” Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said. “My hope would be that Mr. Rosendale, being in the position of state government that he is, would be sensitive to the fiscal constraints that we’re under in local government.”
Trump has stopped in three Montana cities to stump for Rosendale, who’s challenging incumbent Sen. Jon Tester for his seat. To a lesser degree, Trump has also campaigned for Rep. Greg Gianforte by mentioning his name during his Make America Great Again rallies in the state.
The president’s stop in Billings cost taxpayers $59,000, according to the Billings Gazette, while his stop in Great Falls rang up nearly $80,000 in expenses, the Tribune reported. Neither city has been reimbursed for the costs.
Commissioner Cola Rowley agreed that taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for Rosendale’s campaign, saying she’s heard from a number of constituents who didn’t want their taxes used for that purpose.
At the same time, however, Rowley said the timing of the county’s request for reimbursement may seem partisan to some taxpayers, since the county hasn’t made a similar request to other campaigns in the past.
“I want to avoid the politics in this,” Rowley said. “If we’re going to do this, we have to do it for any campaign, regardless of the party.”
Trump’s stop in Missoula on behalf of Rosendale cost the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department $11,169 in overtime. The 911 dispatch center incurred $1,059 for 25 hours of overtime. Disaster and Emergency Services saw 15 hours of overtime for $693.
Volunteers at Missoula International Airport were left to pick up trash, as the campaign didn’t do so.
The charges to the county weren’t included in the fiscal year budget and the costs will come from contingency funds set aside for unexpected events. And while the total isn’t that large, Strohmaier said, taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for a “clearly partisan” campaign event.
Even if Rosendale’s campaign declines to pay, commissioners said, voters should look for the expenses on his campaign finance report, as they could be considered an in-kind campaign contribution to the candidate.
“If any of us were running for office, we’d get raked over the coals for way smaller unreported expenditures than this,” Strohmaier said. “Even if we’re not paid – and I’m not holding my breath that there will be a check in the mail to us – it should at the very least be a reported expense on his campaign finance report.”
While commissioners send a letter to Rosendale’s campaign seeking reimbursement, they’ll also begin crafting a policy for future political campaign events where no official business is conducted.
Commissioner Jean Curtiss said the policy should distinguish between campaign events that force the county to provide services at the expanse of taxpayers, versus events where the county willingly chooses to provide services for public safety.
“We’ll make sure we’re doing this in a wide circle and there aren’t any unintended consequences,” said Missoula County Auditor David Wall. “It would be a good idea to start the process, because it’s going to happen again.”