When the Republican National Committee made a last-minute booking for its GOP convention last August, new documents show that the move created more than $100,000 in costs to accommodate events on White House grounds.
According to records The Daily Beast obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the previously unreported expenses included setbacks to ongoing National Park Service projects on the White house grounds, as well as barriers erected at the RNC’s request to “mitigate the adverse aesthetic impact” of those ongoing projects.
The total: $102,039. And it took the RNC, which has roughly $80 million in cash on hand, four months to pay the debt to the U.S. government.
In a February email, a Park Service official notified the RNC that its contractors had assessed delays to the White House fence replacement construction project at $37,742. Contractors pegged the price for the “visual mitigation measures” on the South Grounds at $12,558, the email said, and additional project delays associated with that work cost another $51,739.
These new costs were in addition to what the Park Service had previously charged the RNC: $177,176.20 for 4,000 hours of Park Service labor related to the event, as well as $42,150 in damages to the National Mall from the convention’s fireworks display—which spelled out “TRUMP” over the Washington Monument after then-President Donald Trump’s keynote speech. Those costs were previously reported by the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
The Park Service first billed the RNC for the $102,039 in early February, emails show, but it took four months of additional badgering for an apparently unresponsive RNC to finally pay. The expenses eventually appeared on the RNC’s July monthly filing with the Federal Election Commission, itemized as “event production/staging”—nearly a year after they were incurred.
In a separate February letter, the NPS notified the RNC of the fireworks damages, which the committee paid the same month. Labor costs had been deducted earlier out of a $512,793 bond the RNC had fronted the agency in August, with the balance refunded last November.
An RNC official told The Daily Beast that “no federal taxpayer dollars were used” to stage the event, citing the bond.
However, the RNC, which in February told the Park Service it was “working with the Trump campaign to secure the funds,” would not explain the four-month delay, and did not reply when asked if the delay was related to discussions with the campaign. A review of FEC records shows no apparent related transfers between Trump entities and the RNC.
Jordan Libowitz, communications director for CREW, told The Daily Beast the convention had effectively politicized the Park Service.
“The RNC should never have been allowed to use the White House and National Mall for its convention. It turned government staff into de facto unwilling Republican event staffers and cost the government hundreds of thousands of dollars, some of which it took months of hounding the RNC down to get back,” Libowitz said. “This is a mess entirely of [ex-President] Donald Trump’s creation.”
In a Feb. 10 letter addressed to RNC chief financial officer Josh Fisher, a Park Service official laid out the details of the new invoice. The letter emphasizes the RNC’s request to clean up the “adverse aesthetic impact” of the ongoing projects.
“The RNC event impacted the progress of two NPS contracted projects on the White House Grounds (White House Fence Replacement Project and the South Grounds Infrastructure Project). This resulted in delay costs assessed to the NPS by the contractor,” the official wrote. “Additionally, in order to mitigate the adverse aesthetic impact of the ongoing project work to the RNC event, the event organizers requested that the contractor install fencing and take other steps to shield the RNC event from these visual impairments. These measures resulted in additional costs being assessed to the NPS by the contractors.”
The Park Service official followed up with Fisher the next day, and five days later Fisher confirmed in an emailed reply that the RNC was aware of the $102,039 debt. Fisher added that he was “working with the campaign to secure funds and will let you know when it is ready.”
Three follow-up emails from the agency—in March, April, and June—appear to have solicited no emailed reply from the RNC.
Finally, the RNC cut a check on June 9, and the agency received it the next day in a personal handoff at the committee’s D.C. headquarters, emails show.
The 2020 convention’s fundraising efforts had been spearheaded by Louis DeJoy, a Trump megadonor who by the time of the convention had gone on to head up the U.S. Postal Service. DeJoy himself contributed nearly nearly $700,000 to the event, records show.
But the event was an organizational fiasco, bedeviled by months of confusion chalked up to Trump’s personal demands to circumvent COVID restrictions, which he feared would limit attendance and create undesirable optics. It also raised numerous questions about whether the event violated federal regulations barring government employees from political activity.
Originally slated for Charlotte, North Carolina, the event was moved after Trump unilaterally pulled out on June 2, 2020, rejecting the state government’s required public health measures, which included caps on crowd size and mandatory face coverings. He relocated the convention to Jacksonville, Florida, but canceled those plans in late July after the city raised concerns it wouldn’t be able to meet a number of requirements.
Finally, in mid-August—less than two weeks before delegates were scheduled to convene—the RNC decided to hold the main events at federal properties in D.C. The official nomination, however, did take place in Charlotte.
The decision to use White House grounds raised questions about whether elements of the convention would violate the Hatch Act, a once-obscure regulation which bars most federal employees from engaging in political activity while on the job. (Members of Congress are so afraid of a Hatch Act violation that they don’t use their official office on Capitol Hill to make calls to potential donors.)
But members of the Trump administration had for years routinely flouted those Hatch Act rules, and the convention sharpened the criticism—including, as Libowitz pointed out, the apparent conscripting of federal employees into informal convention roles.
This April, a former Trump official with the Department Housing and Urban Development was fined $1,000 and barred from federal employment for four years after admitting that she violated the Hatch Act during the convention. Additionally, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in October opened an investigation into former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for his convention speech, but the probe’s conclusion has not yet been released.