The company that operates Target Center told the city of Minneapolis that it could not cover the city’s costs for President Donald Trump’s re-election rally Thursday because that would be considered a campaign contribution, city records show.
The city says its contract with AEG, which operates the city-owned arena, requires the company to cover event-related police and other city services, estimated at $530,000 for the Trump rally. But AEG warned that if the campaign didn’t pay those costs, it would have to cancel the event, according to an e-mail sent by an AEG official to the city Saturday.
By Tuesday, after threats of a lawsuit and sniping between Mayor Jacob Frey and the president on Twitter, the Trump campaign announced AEG would honor the contract without extra cost to the campaign and the rally would go on as scheduled.
It’s not clear what changed. AEG officials did not respond to numerous requests for comment, and city officials say they still believe the campaign should pay the security costs, though they acknowledge that other campaigns haven’t done so in the past.
E-mails, obtained through a public records request Wednesday, provide a glimpse into the conversation between AEG and the city. Some were redacted to protect personnel data and attorney-client privilege, the city said.
In an e-mail sent Saturday, AEG Chief Operating and Development Officer Chuck Steedman told a city official that Target Center could not pay or advance the expenses for the rally, as that would “constitute a campaign contribution.”
“We completely understand the City’s position that it cannot cover the police and other emergency services expenses,” Steedman’s e-mail said. “Presuming [campaign officials] maintain that they cannot cover the expenses, we will be left with the option of cancelling the event.”
The Federal Election Commission says corporations are prohibited from making direct or in-kind contributions to committees of federal candidates, including services or property offered for free or at a discount.
Those costs were estimated by the city to be $530,000. The public safety expenses are expected to be around $400,000, and the other $130,000 would be the result of lane closure fees, traffic control and various other costs.
Trump team accuses Frey
The city’s demand became public Monday. In a news release Monday night, Trump’s campaign team said AEG had threatened to cancel its event contract if the campaign did not pay in advance for security costs and other services. The release accused Mayor Jacob Frey of “abusing the power of his office” by “conjuring a phony and outlandish bill for security,” and that the Secret Service is responsible for coordinating security.
Frey reiterated his position at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “It’s my job to look after the taxpayers of the city of Minneapolis, and that’s not a cost that we’re just going to bear,” he said. The city’s 2007 contract with AEG requires the company to cover “all operating expenses” of events in the Target Center.
Later in the day, Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale released a statement saying Target Center had “backed off canceling the contract,” and that the campaign would not pay any additional funds.
Mark Ruff, acting city coordinator for Minneapolis, said the city did not give any assurance to AEG that the city would pay security costs for the event or say anything that would have changed AEG’s position on canceling the event.
“The mayor’s comments are still what I’m operating under, which is the city has an expectation that we will get these costs paid and will continue the conversations with AEG,” he said Wednesday.
The city’s communications director, Greta Bergstrom, said Wednesday the city is working with AEG to determine the responsibility for the costs to host Thursday’s rally.
City officials said they’re not singling out the Trump rally. Earlier this week, they said they were having conversations with local sports organizations over sharing the costs of additional event expenses even before the Super Bowl was held in Minneapolis in 2018.
Comparison to Obama rally
The city has historically not charged for similar events in the past, although the scale of those events were “much smaller” than Thursday’s rally, Bergstrom said.
In February 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama held an election rally at Target Center that was attended by 20,000 supporters. The Star Tribune has requested but not yet received data about the city’s security expenses for that event, and who paid for them.
The message from City Hall to the candidate at the time was vastly different. Then-Mayor R.T. Rybak was Obama’s campaign chairman in Minnesota. In an e-mail Wednesday, Rybak, now the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation, said he could not remember how the costs for the rally were handled.
Rybak said he had previously raised concern about city expenses related to political rallies, saying “the costs incurred by local communities are completely out of line.” He said he supported Frey’s comments on the issue.
Other cities have unsuccessfully tried to get the Trump campaign to pay for city costs after rallies, with at least 10 of them requesting reimbursements. Federal election rules don’t require campaigns to reimburse cities for security costs.