Security Details Mulled

Posted January 28, 2004 at 6:26pm

While Congress set aside nearly $74 million over the past two years to pay for the protection of presidential candidates in the 2004 campaign, none of the contenders for the Democratic nomination so far have requested this extra layer of security.

The addition of a Secret Service detail to a campaign is viewed by aides as suffocating because it essentially ends the free-wheeling spirit and “on the fly” decisions that help shape the campaign.

“The Kerry campaign isn’t considering even looking at that until after the Feb. 3 primaries,” said David DiMartino, a spokesman for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Having already won the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Kerry is considered to be the frontrunner for his party’s presidential nomination.

Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), said they “won’t be making any decisions” until after Feb. 3 as well. Tovah Ravitz-Meehan, a spokeswoman for Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), said the campaign planned to “set up a meeting with the Secret Service in February.”

Currently, the only candidate protected by government personnel is Lieberman, who has been accompanied by Capitol Police officers since returning to the Senate after his time as the nominee for vice president in the 2000 campaign.

Not all candidates will qualify for a Secret Service detail. Each candidate must reach certain thresholds as well as be approved by an advisory committee made up of the four Congressional leaders and a fifth person (to be chosen by the leadership), to be granted a Secret Service detail.

According to guidelines sent to the campaigns by the Secret Service, in order to qualify for protection, a candidate “must have publicly announced his or her candidacy; must be entered in at least 10 primaries; must be seeking the nomination of a party who received at least 10 percent of the popular vote in the previous election; must qualify for matching funds of at least $100,000; and must register at least 5 percent in polls conducted by ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN or receive 10 percent of the votes in two consecutive primaries or caucuses.”

The criteria changes after April 1, when a candidate then qualifies for a protective detail “if he/she has received 10 percent of the committed delegates.”

The advisory committee has not yet met and a fifth person still needs to be chosen for the board, said an aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). But the committee “expects to meet soon,” the aide added.

Even if a candidate qualifies for protection, he is not required to activate it. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said it was discussed several times during his 2000 presidential bid, but he chose not to accept it.

“They take over your life and I wasn’t ready to do that,” McCain said. “They adjust your schedule and they check out places you are going to go.

“It becomes a very severe restriction on your lifestyle and your ability to campaign,” he added.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he too considered the matter closely after he qualified for a security detail during his 1996 campaign for the White House, but also chose to forgo it for similar reasons.

“I regretted needing it, because I had spent a whole year and a half meeting with small groups of people, going wherever I wanted to go and really having a wonderful time in Iowa and New Hampshire,” he said. “I remember worrying how that would change my style of campaigning and how it would limit what we might do.”

Citing security concerns, a spokesman for the Secret Service said the agency does not provide details about its “protective duties.”

“No date has been established for when Secret Service details will become operational,” said Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur. “But we are prepared to activate multiple candidate details as they are designated.”

Congress approved the Secret Service’s request for $9 million in 2003 to help train other agencies and buy equipment in advance of the presidential campaign, said a Senate Appropriations Committee aide. For fiscal 2004, Congress approved $64,940,000 to pay for “presidential candidate protective activities.”

Once activated, the relationship between presidential campaign aides and Secret Service agents at times can be strained. The agents become intimately involved with every aspect of the candidate’s schedule.

A top aide to a current contender with past campaign experience noted that everything from the width of the aisle to the buffer between the stage and the audience needs to be negotiated with the agents.

“Right now a campaign chooses the site, picks the room, decides how many people are going to attend and where the candidate is going to walk,” said the aide, who asked not to be named.

When the Secret Service gets involved, “It makes the campaign much more cumbersome in some ways.”

Rick Ally, an experienced advance man for several previous Democratic presidential campaigns, acknowledged the difficulty in weighing the wants of the campaign and the needs of the Secret Service. But he added that when it comes to security, the campaign aides should defer to the Secret Service’s suggestions.

“I think all wise lead advance people defer to the lead agent in terms of security measures and precautions,” said Ally, director of operations for Diplomatic Solutions, a company that handles logistical services for corporate and elected clients.

While the Secret Service has been protecting the president on a full-time basis since 1902, agents have only been providing security details to presidential candidates since 1968, when then-Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) was assassinated the night of his victory in the California primary.