U of M says Sanders is on the hook for rally cost

A young girl holds a Bernie sign.
Nine-year-old Grace Schmaus admires her Bernie Sanders sign before a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019. "We're here because of her," Schmaus' mother said.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Minneapolis’ Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey and President Donald Trump tangled over Twitter, nearly escalating to a lawsuit over extra costs of hosting the president’s campaign rally in the city last month.

So, how would the city handle a similar campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders just a few weeks later?

The answer: it’s complicated.

Sanders held a campaign rally with U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar in Minneapolis on Sunday at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus. Unlike the Trump rally, which was held in the city-owned Target Center, a spokesman for Frey said they were told the university was coordinating with the Sanders campaign to handle costs.

The university confirmed that it didn’t seek any assistance from the city to staff the rally, and officials plan to charge the Sanders campaign for all the extra costs, even if they don’t know how much yet.

“While the costs associated with this event will not be finalized until after Sunday, the University requires that all expenses related to this event are paid for by the Sanders campaign,” University spokesman Jake Ricker said in a statement to MPR News.

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A Sanders campaign spokesperson said the campaign planned to “pay all costs that are agreed to as a condition of a permit at a particular venue." When asked what kinds of things typically go into that kind of a permit, the campaign did not respond.

Ricker didn’t know what permit the campaign was referring to, but he said, typically, those who rent campus facilities are charged a rental fee and for event security, staff, police, EMTs, production staffing, technology, custodial staff and reserved parking.

It’s an important question: cities are often stuck with the bill when presidents or presidential candidates blow through town for events because there’s no federal requirement that they cover the costs. The costs can range from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A Center for Public Integrity investigation from earlier this year found two candidates with the worst track record on paying cities back in the last election cycle: Trump and Sanders.

The report found the Sanders’ campaign eventually went back and reimbursed some of the cities for expenses.

The Trump campaign famously doesn’t reimburse cities for extra costs associated with his campaign events. That prompted Minneapolis leaders to try to bill the Trump campaign $530,000 they said was needed for police, overtime, traffic control and other costs up front in order to secure the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis for the Oct. 10 rally.

The president’s campaign immediately pushed back, threatening to sue the city if they tried to block Trump from rallying without payment. In the end, nothing was paid up front.

Trump’s campaign said the reason this was happening to them was that Frey, a Democrat first-term mayor, was politically opposed to the president. How would his administration handle things if it was a Democratic candidate coming to town?

But every candidate handles these events differently, and so do cities. Duluth, for example, didn’t even ask for reimbursement for tens of thousands of dollars in extra costs associated with a Trump rally held there during the 2018 campaign. The city of Rochester did bill the campaign for a Trump event in 2018, but they haven’t heard anything back.

And there’s a difference between a sitting president and a presidential campaign. For presidents, roads need to be closed off and local governments need to coordinate for security with the Secret Service.

More than 10,000 people showed up to either attend the Trump rally or protest outside of the venue, which required extra security staffing. The Sanders rally, which was attended by thousands, only had a small counter-protest outside of the arena.

Neither the university nor the city has tallied the total cost of the two presidential campaign visits