Group sues for Obama vacation records, administration stonewalls

HONOLULU — Aloha, U.S. Secret Service? You’ve been served.

obama HawaiiAbout those vacations to Hawaii, we want to know how much they’re costing taxpayers.

Judicial Watch Inc., a nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based organization that focuses on transparency and accountability in government, filed the lawsuit May 6 to obtain from the U.S. Secret Service financial records related to the first family’s Hawaiian vacations.

Hawaii Reporter and has sought this information since 2008, when the Obamas and their entourage began traveling annually to Hawaii during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

The family and their friends, we’ve learned, pay for the vacation rentals, yet the cost to taxpayers for travel on Air Force One, accommodations for staff and security and local police and ambulance detail exceed $4 million per trip.

The organization filed the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit — Judicial Watch v. U.S. Secret Service — to obtain records related to the use of taxpayer money  to provide “security and/or any other services to President Obama and any companions on their January 1 and 2, 2013, trip to Honolulu, Hawaii.”

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The lawsuit follows an attempt by the organization on Jan. 2 to obtain the information through a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to Judicial Watch, the U.S. Secret Service acknowledged the agency received the request Jan. 31, and, by law, is required to determine whether to comply with the FOIA request within 20 days and notify Judicial Watch by Feb. 11.

As of May 6, the Secret Service produced no records and has failed to follow-up on the request.

obama plane
photo credit:Jason Reed/Reuters

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said, “President Obama is not king and his administration should stop ignoring the FOIA open records law and account to the American people the spending on his luxury vacations.”

Keith Koffler, a veteran White House reporter, wrote in a column Jan. 4 the “total cost to taxpayers of Obama’s vacations to Hawaii since becoming president is likely in excess of $20 million, and possibly much, much more.”

Hawaii Reporter’s detailed cost breakdown of the first family’s trips to Hawaii in 2009, 2010, and 2011 piqued the interest of Judicial Watch, a statement said.

Much of the vacation costs, as Hawaii reported noted, is attributed to the expense of taking Air Force One — which costs about  $180,000 an hour — on the 18-hour journey to Honolulu and back. During the 2012 Christmas holiday, the president made two round trips to Hawaii via Air Force One within a matter of days, bringing the total for his air travel to more than $6.4 million.

“The Obamas’ opulent vacation lifestyle is particularly objectionable during a time when government debt is out of control,” Fitton said.

Obama house
Rental beach house in Kailua where Obama stayed in August – photo credit: armchairhawaii

Hawaii Reporter’s coverage has also included estimates from experts of the costs for:

  • Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft that transports the presidential limos, helicopters and other support equipment to Hawaii — flight time between AndrewsBase Air Force and Hawaii is at about 21.5 hours roundtrip, with GAO’s estimated operating cost of $12,000 per hour.
  • The Marine Corps presidential helicopter, along with pilots and support crews for the test flights, which travel on a C-17. That’s $258,000, not including per diem and hotel costs for the four-to-six-member crew.
  • Cost for housing U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Coast Guard and Navy Seals in beachfront and canal front homes, about $200 per night for each person on protective detail.
  • Accommodations for the first family’s staff at the Moana Surfrider in Waikiki, where rooms start around $270 a night.
  • Honolulu Police Department officers are paid overtime for the president’s visit, which, historically, has cost Oahu taxpayers $250,000;  the city ambulance that accompanies the president 24 hours a day through his entire visit costs city taxpayers about $10,000.

The White House annually refuses to disclose the cost for several things, including a floor in the office building in Kailua on the canal during the president’s stay; security upgrades and additional phone lines to several private homes where Obama and friends are staying; installation of bullet-proof glass and the disabling of home security systems; and additional phone lines, car rentals and fuel for White House staff staying at a Waikiki Hotel, as well as travel costs for Secret Service and White House staff traveling ahead of the president.

Judicial Watch has been successful in obtaining the records of other first family vacations since Obama took office — vacations, the organization said, “have come at great costs to taxpayers.” Some of the costs include:

  • $467,555 for First Lady Michelle Obama’s trip to Spain in August 2010; she brought multiple friends and one of her daughters.
  • $424,142 for Michelle Obama’s trip with her daughters and staff  June 21 to 27, 2011, to South Africa and Botswana.
  • $83,182.99 for Michelle Obama’s trip with her daughters and staff over President’s Day weekend in February 2012, to Aspen, Colo.

By Malia Zimmerman.  Published with permission from

Contact Malia Zimmerman at [email protected]


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