Anonymous Pence host is second to duck security costs

Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport on July 22. In August, two private donors covered some of the costs absorbed by supporting local law enforcement, raising questions about whether the contributions were political in nature. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Vice President Mike Pence is the second politician or candidate for office who’s appeared in Aspen for a non-public event and not paid local law enforcement back for overtime security costs since the 1990s, Pitkin County’s sheriff said. 

A previous version of this story quoting Pitkin Count Sheriff Joe DiSalvo as saying that Pence was the first to not reimburse the Sheriff’s Office for overtime costs following a $35,000 a couple fundraiser Monday in Aspen was not correct. 

Hillary Clinton – who was a Democratic presidential candidate at the time – appeared in August 2015 at a private fundraiser and the host declined to repay the $5,000 in overtime costs because he thought it would be a campaign violation. 

Because he is a sitting vice president, Pence received a far higher level of service than candidate Clinton, which increased the overtime costs five-fold, DiSalvo said Wednesday. But unlike the situation with Clinton, when DiSalvo was able to ask the host directly to pay the overtime costs, he has not even been able to discover the name of the person who hosted Pence at the Caribou Club in downtown Aspen.

“I can’t get anyone (involved in the fundraiser) to even talk to me about (reimbursement),” DiSalvo said Wednesday.

And while DiSalvo hasn’t expressly been told he won’t be reimbursed, it appears taxpayers from up and down the Roaring Fork Valley will likely cover the $24,562 bill for Pence’s visit, which involved law enforcement personnel from Pitkin County, Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale and Garfield County, he said.

That likely outcome didn’t sit well with Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday at their regular, twice-monthly meeting.

“I think we’re going to eat this money regardless,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper. “When it’s just (a private event), it should not be absorbed by taxpayers.”

Commissioner George Newman noted that Pitkin County’s portion of the overtime costs will come out of the county’s general fund.

“So taxpayers are basically footing the bill for a private fundraiser,” he said.

DiSalvo told commissioners he wasn’t ready to give up on reimbursement yet.

In normal situations when a politician or candidate comes to town for a private event, DiSalvo said he finds out who invited them and who is hosting them and charges that person or people for the overtime security costs. When he receives a check for those services, he distributes it to the agencies who helped with security, DiSalvo said.

In this case, however, he said he has not been able to discover the name of the Caribou Club member who asked to host Pence at the private club.

“This is the first time I’ve not even known who to ask,” he said. “I asked and was stonewalled locally and from people from the campaign.”

He said he spoke to one of Pence’s top aides before the event and the man promised to look into the possibility of reimbursement. However, DiSalvo said he hasn’t heard back from the man.

Anna Zane, chairwoman of Pitkin County Republicans, said Wednesday she did not know who the host was. Bob Jenkins, vice chair of the organization, declined to comment Wednesday.

A message left Wednesday and last week for the owners of the Caribou Club was not returned. Attempts to get comment from spokespeople with the Republican National Committee and the U.S. Secret Service were not successful Wednesday. 

DiSalvo said he heard 35 couples attended Monday’s Caribou Club fundraiser. That would mean the event raised $1,225,000, which will go toward President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and to the Republican National Committee. 

“I don’t see that event as any benefit to the county,” DiSalvo said. “I would hope that somebody with some sense would say, ‘We raised over a million dollars and we can kick some back to the locals.’”

Further, the security detail demanded by the Pence visit was large, including a Garfield County SWAT team, DiSalvo said.

“This was a lot,” he said. “The level of service (requested) was as high as a sitting president. And he deserves it. He’s the vice president. This is the package they prepared for him.”

DiSalvo said he’s not going to stop helping the Secret Service when dignitaries come to town, partially because they are fellow cops who need assistance. But also because if he doesn’t help, he’s been told they will utilize National Guard troops for security and DiSalvo said he doesn’t want soldiers on the streets of Aspen.

“When they ask us for help, I want to give it to them,” he said. 

If no money for the security is forthcoming, each agency will pay its own overtime costs, DiSalvo said.

“I think I owe it to the citizens of Pitkin County to get paid,” he said.

DiSalvo said the practice of charging for private political events began under former Sheriff Bob Braudis after two visits by then-President George H.W. Bush. Since then, hosts or private donors have paid the bill when politicians or candidates visit for private events, he said.

DiSalvo confirmed Friday that the host for Clinton’s Aspen Valley Ranch fundraiser in August 2016 paid between $8,000 and $10,000 for security overtime costs. The host for Trump’s fundraiser in Aspen later that month also paid overtime costs, he said.