Keeping governors safe cost Floridians $2.9 million

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jinda’s 10 visits to Florida cost $19,000 in security and transportation costs.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jinda’s 10 visits to Florida cost $19,000 in security and transportation costs. AP

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal likes to visit Florida, and that costs Florida taxpayers money.

Jindal, one of 17 Republicans running for president, visited the state at least 10 times in the past year, including helping Gov. Rick Scott win re-election to a second term, speaking at a Republican Party fund-raising dinner and attending Scott’s jobs summit in Orlando in June.

Those visits cost taxpayers $19,000 for security and transportation, even though Jindal always travels with his own security force. Another White House hopeful, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also made at least 10 visits to Florida in the past year, including spending multiple days on the trail with Scott, at a cost of $17,000 for security.

Those expenses are part of an annual “protective services” report released Friday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which said it spent $2.9 million over the past fiscal year to protect the governor, his family, the Governor’s Mansion and out-of-state political leaders who visit Florida for business and pleasure.

Included in the outlay: FDLE spent $216,000 to provide around-the-clock protection for Attorney General Pam Bondi for six weeks after a “credible threat” was made against her. The agency did not provide more details but said the security began May 22 and ended July 2.

Bondi’s security, in salaries and overtime, cost $210,000, or the equivalent of $5,200 per day. Travel accounted for the remaining $6,000.

For the year ending June 30, FDLE spent $1.8 million on security for Scott, $328,000 for First Lady Ann Scott, $25,000 for Scott’s family members and $213,000 to protect the mansion, for a total of nearly $2.4 million. The agency said the mansion expenses include “security upgrades” that are not yet complete.

FDLE spent an additional $530,000 to protect out-of-state dignitaries 97 times, including former President George W. Bush and governors and governors-elect of 33 states, Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The costs of protecting visitors was significantly higher last year than the year before because so many governors attended a four-day Republican Governors Association event in Boca Raton in November. FDLE spent $95,000 for security at the event, in addition to the costs of protecting governors and their families.

Florida law provides for it. That’s why the state ponied up $1,300 to protect New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo twice in April, even as Scott publicly worked to raid jobs from Cuomo’s state.

A third Republican candidate for president, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, visited Florida three times at a total cost of nearly $14,000.

Such red carpet treatment helps to safeguard the state’s tourist-friendly image. It would not be a good thing if, say, a visiting governor got mugged (the law literally says the protection is needed to prevent “public embarrassment”).

“We have a reciprocal agreement with other states for the protection of governors from other states,” said FDLE spokeswoman Molly Best. “Other states have their own security personnel that travel with their governor. When they visit our state, we supplement their resources as needed. Similarly, when we visit other states, we use our security personnel, as well as receiving assistance from law enforcement in the host state.”

So when Christie stumped for Scott across the Florida Panhandle last October, shared a barbecue lunch with the governor at a Sonny’s restaurant in Lynn Haven and visited campaign field offices in Miami, Florida taxpayers — not Scott’s campaign — picked up the tab for Christie’s in-state travel and security.

They paid again when Christie attended Scott’s inauguration in January, even though Christie also brought his own security detail from Trenton to Tallahassee.

The most unusual and by far the highest one-time expense was the temporary stepped-up security for Bondi.

“The threat is no longer imminent, but the investigation remains active,” FDLE ‘s Best said.

In a statement, Bondi said: “In the face of a serious threat, I have never experienced so many sleepless nights, and I would like to thank the great men and women of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for their professionalism and skill in protecting me.”

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.