Even though by his own estimation he has very little prospect of winning the Republican nomination, Newt Gingrich is still likely costing the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars a day with his Secret Service detail on the campaign trail.
Gingrich reportedly requested Secret Service protection in February and was granted a detail in early March. In April 2008, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that it was then costing the agency roughly $38,000 a day to service each candidate receiving protection, which was then just Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
A source with knowledge of the inner workings of the Gingrich campaign told The Daily Caller that Gingrich recently had three people on his personal security detail, though sometimes there are “many more.”
“Others on the campaign told me that some of the Secret Service members were even saying it was a waste of time and that he shouldn’t have it,” the source told TheDC. “Staff members thought it was ridiculous too, and just another example of Newt’s arrogance and self-importance.”
In 2008, Arizona Sen. John McCain didn’t request Secret Service protection until late April — months after the point he was considered the presumptive GOP nominee.
The leader of a government waste watchdog group told TheDC that Gingrich should give up his protection because it amounts to a wasteful use of taxpayer money. (RELATED: Full coverage of the Gingrich campaign)
“As a former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich should understand better than most how important it is to spend taxpayer dollars wisely,” said David Williams of the Taxpayer Protection Alliance. “Speaker Gingrich needs to give up his taxpayer-funded Secret Service protection to show people that he understands that every tax dollar saved is important.”
Responding to the call from the government waste group to drop his Secret Service detail, Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond told TheDC, “Last time I checked, tax experts are not safety experts. And safety experts are not tax experts.”
“It’s not a waste of money,” Hammond protested. “Going out and protecting candidates and making sure they can pursue their candidacy in an election without harm — that’s exactly what we want to go on in this country.”
Hammond refused to comment on whether the protection is needed because Gingrich is receiving safety threats. “We don’t comment on security stuff. We never have.”
“We have no plans to change our relationship with the Secret Service. They are tremendously good at what they do. And we think that any candidate that qualifies for protection should have it.”
Secret Service spokesman Max Milien declined to say how much it is costing taxpayers now to protect a candidate every day.
“We don’t release any details on deliberations or assessments. But he meets the criteria for protection,” he said.
But in his 2008 testimony, Sullivan estimated that the cost of providing a security detail to a candidate would rise about $44,000 a day.
On Wednesday, Milien told TheDC that the Secret Service doesn’t make the decision on who gets protection and when it starts or ends.
“The secretary of Homeland Security, at the request of the campaign and in consultation with the congressional advisory committee, authorities us to provide protection,” he said.
The Department of Homeland Security didn’t immediately return a request for comment. Spokespeople for Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who are part of the congressional advisory committee that consults on candidate protection, told TheDC they don’t comment on security issues. Representatives for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who are also on the advisory committee, did not return TheDC’s request for comment on whether revoking Gingrich’s security has been considered.
A distant third in delegates behind the likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — who dropped out of the race this month — Gingrich has virtually no chance of winning the GOP nomination. He has won just two primary contests, including Georgia, the state he represented in Congress for two decades.
Asked why Gingrich should still have a detail now that Romney is considered the presumptive nominee, Hammond, the campaign spokesman, said, “When the word ‘presumptive’ is removed from that sentence, we’ll deal with the issue.”
“We have a system here. We don’t let the pundits decide when the race is over. The candidates do. The delegates do. Pundits don’t rule. People do.”
Ronald Kessler, who wrote in his book “In the President’s Service” that the Secret Service is stretched dangerously thin, said each new protectee can take agents away from other agency priorities.
“Sometimes, if he’s traveling, they’ll assign agents in their field offices to the job so they’re already there,” Kessler told TheDC. “But, you know, that takes them off other duties such as investigating counterfeiting and financial crime.”
Romney started receiving Secret Service protection in early February. Santorum also had Secret Service protection before he dropped out of the race, as did former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain due to special threats against him. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who is still officially in the GOP nomination battle, has rejected the possibility of getting protection, calling it a “form of welfare.”