Politics

Owner of campaign bus company: Secret Service hurting my business

Alex Pappas Political Reporter

President Obama took off on a road trip across the Midwest last week in a brand new government-owned bus to talk with ordinary people about getting the economy going again.

But Johnny Williams, an Alabama businessman who makes a living by leasing these kinds of buses to political figures, said the Obama tour was just a painful reminder of how the government is doing things that could hurt his business.

That’s because this is the first presidential election where the incumbent president and the eventual Republican nominee will have the option of using a Secret Service-owned bus for campaign tours instead of leasing one from someone like Williams. Earlier this year, the Secret Service, citing security concerns, purchased two buses of their own for this purpose.

“The government went into competition with me,” Williams told The Daily Caller. “Something is not right, or fair about this.”

Williams, whose company John L. Productions has leased buses to presidential campaigns since 1988, fears he could now lose business over it.

“This eliminates the need for my services,” he said, “thus killing off another small business owner.”

In the past, the Secret Service would pay to install extra security features on buses candidates under their protection would lease from people like Williams. (ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Romney plans to quadruple the size of his California home)

His company’s history of driving around presidents and presidential candidates span from George H.W. Bush in 1988 to John McCain in 2008. Other candidates who have used his buses include Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, Bob Dole, Steve Forbes, George W. Bush, Gary Bauer, John Edwards, John Kerry and Sam Brownback.

In an interview, Ed Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said the buses were purchased to offer those under their protection the option of using a more secure bus.

“We’re not trying to hurt anybody’s business,” Donovan responded.

Donovan also pointed out that it’s possible for Obama or the Republican nominee to lease a bus from someone like Williams instead of using one owned by the Secret Service.

“The President of the United States doesn’t have to get into a vehicle we have,” he said. “I mean, he could say, ‘I want to drive in a convertible.’ But we have to make recommendations based on our intelligence, our information and our experience. And that’s what we go with.”

Williams said he’ll make the pitch to candidates that there’s an advantage to leasing a bus from him, instead of using the government’s bus. For one thing, they can’t display campaign logos on the all-black Secret Service bus, he pointed out.

“It’s government property,” Donovan said. “It’s the same as one of our limousines. You never see anything on the side of one of our cars.”

The Secret Service purchased their two new buses from the Tennessee-based Hemphill Brothers Coach Company. The Daily Caller was unable to reach the owners at Hemphill Brothers, a competitor to Williams’ business. A woman who answered the phone at the company’s office refused to give her name but said the company isn’t commenting on the issue.