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Romney Sticks Media With Inflated Bill

Mitt Romney’s campaign is wildly overcharging the media for the privilege over covering them.

BuzzFeed (“News Outlets Battle Romney Campaign Over Expenses“):

In a coda to the often contentious relationship between Mitt Romney’s staff and the press, news outlets are preparing to file a formal complaint to the Romney campaign contesting some of the seemingly inflated charges that were billed to them from the campaign trail.

It is standard procedure for presidential campaigns to arrange and prepay for meals, bus travel, and charter flights, then bill the news outlets afterward for their share of the cost. In order to travel with the candidate, reporters and their editors must agree upfront to pay for the cost of the trips, as determined by the campaign.

But many of the bills from the Romney campaign — which have continued to trickle in since Election Day — are much higher than during other campaigns.

For example, on Oct. 11, each reporter was charged $812 for a meal and a rented “holding” space, where the press waited before moving to the next event. On Oct. 18, the bill for a similar set of expenses was $461. And on the night of the vice presidential debate, the campaign planned a “viewing party” for the reporters with Romney, complete with a large rented room with a patio, massage tables, fresh cut flowers, and lots of food and booze. One campaign aide told BuzzFeed that campaign officials’ orders were to “go big” — a nice gesture, perhaps, but one that wasn’t discussed with every media outlet.

The tab for the party: $745 per reporter.

(Editors at the outlets who plan to contest the charges declined to discuss the charges on the record until the letter was finalized and sent to campaign officials. But BuzzFeed, which plans to join the other news organizations in their complaint, regularly traveled with the campaign and has received many of the same bills.)

Former campaign officials did not respond to BuzzFeed’s queries, and the few junior staffers dealing with the bills have been instructed not to respond at length to news organizations’ complaints.

My first reaction was  skepticism, especially given that this is BuzzFeed’s reporting. My guess was that, rather than being a sinister ploy to stick it to the media, that this was more likely either some sort of clerical error or one of those things like the scandal over $30 muffins, where the costs were arbitrarily assigned. It seems, though, that the explanation is simple incompetence:

One campaign aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the bills were not artificially inflated, but rather the product of a generally mismanaged campaign. The aide said the advance team — which was tasked with arranging meals and accommodations for the press — failed to communicate with other elements of the campaign and consistently spent more money than necessary.

Indeed, reporters on the trail grew accustomed to having five or six catered meals offered to them every day, with long tables full of food awaiting them at each campaign stop. The meals often went untouched and were sometimes consumed by campaign staff. It remains unclear whether those aides shouldered some of the costs of the meals.

In another case of apparent overspending, the campaign rented four “mini-busses,” seating 20 to 30 people apiece, to transport the press after a campaign event in Pennsylvania. According to an aide, the total cost was around $5,000 — divided among just 23 reporters.

Organizations typically vastly over-order catered meals, especially of the self-serve variety, because it’s really hard to know who’s going to eat what and it’s really embarrassing to run out of food. As a bonus, the junior staff usually winds up eating the leftovers. Still . . . $745?   And I have no explanation for the over-order on busses. Surely, they didn’t overestimate the number of reporters in attendance by orders of magnitude? And, if they did, it’s not clear why that’s the responsibility of the reporters in attendance.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    I’ve also read that the Romney campaign spent far more per TV spot than the Obama campaign, largely because Obama made early decisions on what programs to advertise on and got reduced rates as a result.

    For a campaign largely based on his business acumen, he doesn’t seem to have much business acumen.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  2. Tsar Nicholas says:

    I think this provides good lessons for both sides.

    For the uneducated and airheaded reporters who covered that campaign this will remind them or perhaps even inform them ab initio that there are no free lunches. For the addled and incompetent people who worked on that campaign it might educate them that expenses are a four letter word and that money doesn’t grow on trees.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  3. michael reynolds says:

    This can’t be true. After all, we’re talking about Mitt Romney. Mitt the Magic Millionaire. Mr. Data. Lord of the Money Dance. Captain Business.

    No, no, no. This is the kind of thing that happens in a campaign run by an in-over-his-head community organizer with no private sector experience. Why. . .

    Oh, wait, no, now I see. Romney is a Job Creator. And he was creating jobs in the catering and transportation industries. As always, using someone else’s money to do it.

    Gosh, just think how much better off we’d be with this kind of hard-nosed Businessman in charge of the country.

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  4. JKB says:

    Funny, I don’t remember these “reporters” complaining when they were enjoying the luxury events.

    But it is a nice metaphor. Most of these “reporters” support first class provision for benefits and other government programs. But now, when the bill arrives they complain. Wanting someone else to pick up their tab for them. Perhaps there are some young people they can pawn it off on?

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 24

  5. anjin-san says:

    This is the same crew that cut off their staffs credit cards ten minutes after Romney’s concession speech, leaving the people who did the actual work stranded while Mitt & Ann headed off to take a limo/private jet back to one of their multi million dollar homes.

    The conservative movement really is all about character…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  6. PJ says:

    Is anyone actually surprised? This is business as usual for Romney, did you all forget about Bain?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  7. Brummagem Joe says:

    Incompetence from your “managerial” candidate JJ? Tut Tut. Seems a bit far fetched even for Romney.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Face it:

    It’s an insight to what a Romney presidency would have been.

    Big spending at the top, without thought of actual need or cost… (remember Romney’s promise to increase military spending for no reason?)

    And then the folks at the bottom get a big surprise and stuck with the bill.

    Because we know the folks at the top never have to pay.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath: No, that was mostly a function of stupid federal election rules. Essentially, since there was no Democratic primary, Obama was able to buy ads at reduced prices early on while Romney had to wait until after the convention to buy general election ads.

    @Tsar Nicholas: Nobody was expecting a free lunch. Indeed, ethics rules require media organizations to pay for the lunches lest they be beholden to the campaigns. But, I mean, $700 for lunch is going above and beyond.

    @anjin-san: I don’t know what the rules are for that sort of thing. Obviously, there’s potential for abuse when the campaign is over and people have credit cards. But, certainly, there have to be provisions to get staff home and whatnot.

    @michael reynolds: Obama clearly has the best pure campaign organization out there. He ran circles around the vaunted Clinton machine right out of the gate. It may be that community organizing is more akin to running a campaign than is running a major business. At the level of a Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney, you’re not so much managing as issuing dictates. That’s more applicable to running the Executive Branch than a campaign.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  10. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    At the level of a Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney, you’re not so much managing as issuing dictates. That’s more applicable to running the Executive Branch than a campaign.

    Actually, I suspect Mr. Romney was more the plausible face — the salesman — of Bain than the brains. But be that as it may, I said from the start that he was a hollowness wearing an expensive suit, a nullity, a void. He ran a campaign of startling dishonesty, in fact his finest moment, the first debate, was effective only because he was so utterly empty as a man that he could switch positions almost in mid-sentence.

    In the end he managed to create the world’s worst GOTV operation, one of the worst media-buying operations, a laughable analytical capability. He surrounded himself with the clueless and was himself clueless at the end. There’s no way to dress that up and pretend that he was anything other than incompetent at running a campaign. And no, there is no way to extrapolate from that that he would have been a great executive.

    He’s a pampered little rich boy who had everything handed to him and among the things he’s now had handed to him is his own head.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  11. anjin-san says:

    @ James

    Obviously, there’s potential for abuse when the campaign is over and people have credit cards.

    For one thing, I would expect a man with Romney’s epic reputation for executive and managerial skills would not have a staff chock full of people who would commit fraud at the first opportunity. For another, in what bizzaro world to you preemptively punish a large group of hard working folks for wrongs a tiny percentage of them might commit?

    Sorry, but it’s very simple. Romney screwed his people the minute they could no longer do anything for him. It’s who he is. And he is the guy Republicans said should be President. Put the water bucket down…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  12. al-Ameda says:

    Mitt Romney is just engaging in the predatory business practices he utilized at Bain Capital – the ones that made him his $250M fortune.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. anjin-san says:

    Until this shooter went off, he was part of a nice, responsible, NRA-style family. Mom took kids to the range, and taught them gun safety.

    Which leaves me wondering, could this tragedy have been prevented with something as simple as a gun safe. My guns all live in one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. anjin-san says:

    Sorry – posted on the wrong thread.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. Barry says:

    @Moosebreath: “For a campaign largely based on his business acumen, he doesn’t seem to have much business acumen. ”

    I’ll bet that lots of money stuck to his various business interests. He’s got lots of business acumen; it’s just that it’s all in looting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. Barry says:

    @JKB: “But it is a nice metaphor. Most of these “reporters” support first class provision for benefits and other government programs. But now, when the bill arrives they complain. Wanting someone else to pick up their tab for them. Perhaps there are some young people they can pawn it off on? ”

    Honesty isn’t your strong suite, is it now?

    It’s not the ‘first class’ aspects, it’s bills which make first class look like 3rd class.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But be that as it may, I said from the start that he was a hollowness wearing an expensive suit, a nullity, a void. He ran a campaign of startling dishonesty, in fact his finest moment, the first debate, was effective only because he was so utterly empty as a man that he could switch positions almost in mid-sentence.

    That pretty well sums up Mittens. There simply is no there there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  18. bill says:

    access is expensive, get over it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  19. Nikki says:

    @anjin-san:

    For another, in what bizzaro world to you preemptively punish a large group of hard working folks for wrongs a tiny percentage of them might commit?

    Have you never been introduced to the politics of the welfare state in America?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. An Interested Party says:

    access is expensive…

    Indeed, especially access to charlatans and flimflam artists…you know, like Mitt Romney…

    Have you never been introduced to the politics of the welfare state in America?

    Do tell how this alleged welfare state has caused a large group of hardworking people to be punished for the crimes of a tiny minority of those individuals…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0