Six weeks after the election, nine news outlets are questioning the financial propriety of the Romney campaign after receiving several exorbitant bills. The news organizations, which include the New York Times, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed and the Los Angeles Times, wrote a letter to the campaign, asking for detailed price breakdowns of any event that cost them $200 or more. While it's normal for campaigns to bill media outlets for various expenses, including food and travel costs, the Romney campaign's charges seem excessive by almost any standard.
As BuzzFeed reported last week, each reporter was charged $812 on October 11 for a single meal and a spot in a rented "holding place," a spot for the press to wait before the next event. The letter cites similar charges of "$461 for a meal and hold the next day; $345 for food and hold Oct. 30." The Romney campaign also billed news outlets $745 per reporter for a "viewing party," which included massage tables and fresh cut flowers, during the first vice-presidential debate.
While it's easy to assume the bills were artificially inflated, sources told BuzzFeed the high prices were due to the overall horrible management of the campaign, which was so poorly run, apparently, that staffers had to resort to stealing the press's overpriced food. As the letter states: "... it was clear to all present that the campaign's paid staff frequently consumed the food and drinks ostensibly produced for the media."
Below is the letter in full:
To: Romney For President campaign
From: Members of the Romney press corps
To Whom It May Concern:
We've dealt with numerous campaigns over the past decades and understand that we pay a premium to travel with a candidate. But recent invoices from your campaign have raised serious questions about the charges you have forwarded to us for travel with Mitt Romney.
We are not quibbling over charter flights or hotel bills. We are focused on what appear to be exorbitant charges for food, filing centers/holds and ground transportation.
Some examples: $745 per person charged for a vice presidential debate viewing party on Oct. 11; $812 charged for a meal and a hold on Oct. 18; $461 for a meal and hold the next day; $345 for food and hold Oct. 30.
These costs far exceed typical expenses on the campaign trail. Also, it was clear to all present that the campaign's paid staff frequently consumed the food and drinks ostensibly produced for the media. Were any of the costs of these events charged to the campaign itself, to cover the care and feeding of its staff? We would like to see how exactly the costs were determined for any specific event above $200, including the amounts you were charged and to whom you in turn assessed charges.
We have similar concerns about ground transportation costs, which at times exceeded $1,000 a day and were far higher per capita than what the campaign charged during the primaries—despite the larger numbers of reporters, photographers and television crews travelling and dividing the costs. One news organization contacted two of the bus agencies used by the campaign; it was clear from their reporting that the costs you charged us far outdistanced what you paid for the transportation.
In order to travel with the candidate, reporters were required to agree to costs in advance without knowing specifically what those costs would be. The trade-off in any such agreement is that the campaign will not exceed the normal bounds of propriety in charging news organizations. In this case, that is seriously in question.
Some of our organizations have alerted American Express that we are contesting these charges. We look forward to your response.
Campaign 2012 Editor
Los Angeles Times
Washington Bureau Chief
The Wall Street Journal
Dow Jones Newswires
New York Times
Director for North America
Senior Editor, Politics and National News
Washington Bureau Chief
[Image via AP]