President Donald Trump's campaign committee is still active and soliciting funds. They raked in millions in the final months following the November election, claiming that the donations would go toward the Georgia election and Trump's legal fees to overthrow the election. But Trump still has some hefty unpaid bills that some officials are attempting to recoup.
Back in 2019, Trump and Frey got into it over $530,000 in security fees that the Trump campaign owed after a rally and the campaign responded to it by threatening to sue him. The campaign claimed that they were being denied access to the Target Center and that the "liberal" mayor was attempting to stifle free speech. The mayor responded by saying that in Minneapolis they pay their bills.
Trump's campaign believes that the U.S. Secret Service should foot the bill for the security, but that's not the way it works in a campaign. The Secret Service protects the protectee, not the crowd. Taxpayer dollars can't be spent to fund political events, even if Trump is a protectee. Most campaigns pay their security bills, likely fearful of the public relations fall out. That hasn't happened with Trump, who hasn't paid his security bills in years.
As city governments are facing financial shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unpaid bills are even more important.
"As we continue confronting extraordinary challenges at the local level, our federal leaders have the opportunity – and obligation – to stand up for taxpayers by ensuring they're not left footing the bill for political events," Mayor Frey said in his statement. "We have a duty to protect free speech regardless of the content, but we don't have to subsidize it."
The good news for the city is they're getting some of the money that they're owed, but it won't be from Trump. The Target Center agreed that they would foot $100,000 in the costs from the 2019 rally.
"We are pleased to be able to assist the City in covering some of its costs in providing municipal services, and to provide input as to how city services for future campaign events will be handled," said a statement from Target Center General Manager Hugh Lombardi. "As operators of the Target Center, we never lose sight of our public partnership and how important the venue is to the taxpayers and the local economy."
While the kind gesture is likely helpful to any cash-strapped municipal government, it may actually violate federal campaign finance laws.
No corporation is allowed to give anything of monetary value to a candidate's political campaign. They're also not allowed to pay for bills on behalf of the campaign. Donations are capped at $2,800 per individual, per election. The $100,000 "excused" money would fall under an in-kind donation, which violates the no-corporate donations rule and exceeds the cap on in-kind contributions.
There has never been a precedent of a political campaign refusing to pay such a significant number of their bills. While collecting debt from a losing campaign can be difficult if there's no money available, in Trump's case there is a lot of money available and his campaign committee is still active as he ponders running again in 2024.
Even if a municipality wants to excuse the debt, they might not be able to under federal laws regulating donations unless the Trump campaign files for bankruptcy. Such a bankruptcy wouldn't be a first for Trump, he filed six times for five different companies as a New York businessman.
The unpaid bills continue to fly in the face of Trump's claim that he supports law enforcement. The Trump campaign owes over $2 million in unpaid security costs and overtime to the officers they purport to uphold.
It appears the last recourse of many cities would be taking the Trump campaign to court to collect on the debt.