Newt Gingrich is ending his presidential campaign, but not until next week. And he still has Secret Service protection despite calls from a conservative taxpayers group to give it up.
Gingrich’s final campaign stops this week in North Carolina include visits to a NASCAR training facility, a racing museum and a zoo.
Campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond told NPR that it’s not the campaign’s call whether to keep taxpayer-funded Secret Service protection for these last days. But that’s not exactly right.
The Homeland Security Secretary officially authorizes the beginning of Secret Service protection for particular candidates, but former Secret Service agent Andrew O’Connell says anyone – other than the president – can call off that protection at any time.
“The candidate can always tell the Secret Service, ‘Thanks, but no thanks. We sign off on releasing you even though you believe it’s in my best interest. We don’t need you anymore.’”
The conservative Taxpayers Protection Alliance called for Gingrich to surrender Secret Service protection last week, saying his campaign didn’t warrant the cost.
The Secret Service won’t disclose how much candidate protection costs, but in 2008, the agency’s director told Congress that it averaged around $38,000 a day. Candidate protection costs from the 2008 campaign ran over budget by $5 million, leading the Government Accountability Office to call for better management of candidate protection costs.