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Food & other expenses U.S. presidents pay from their pockets - What Kenya can learn

Did you know that U.S. presidents have to pay for some things from their own pocket and not using tax payers money?

President William Ruto & Joe Biden with First Ladies Rachel Ruto & Jill Biden at the White House, Washington D.C.

When we think of the President of the United States, it is easy to imagine a life of unparalleled privilege, convenience and a $400,000 annual salary.

The most powerful individual in the world, resides in the iconic White House, surrounded by aides and security at all times.

However, behind the grandeur and the power lies a surprising reality: the U.S. president is responsible for paying for a variety of personal expenses out of pocket.

This article we look into the lesser-known aspects of presidential finances, revealing the personal costs borne by the occupant of the Oval Office and how that approach can also work for Kenya, especially in a time when President William Ruto, has called on the government & Kenyans to tighten their purses.

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Living in the White House, presidents and their families are still required to pay for their personal household items.

This includes everyday essentials such as toiletries, toothpaste, and even the family’s groceries.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama detailed in her book, "Becoming" that she also got surprised at the bills sent to the family at the end of the month.

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She explained that because White House staffers listen very keenly to every word the president says, any time he would comment positively on a particular dish, the White House chefs would prepare it often, even if it cost an arm and a leg to ship into the country.

However, she quickly realised that all these would be billed to the president's personal funds, at the end of the month.

When it comes to hosting private parties, any personal event within the White House is another expense that falls on the president.

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While staff for these events are paid by taxpayers, the actual costs of the event, such as catering and decorations, come from the president’s own funds.

Hosting private guests in the White House would still be billed to the president because as we have noted, the president pays for his own groceries and supplies.

There is an exception for official or state dinners which are funded by the taxpayers.

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While presidential travel for official business is covered, personal vacations are a different matter.

Presidents must pay for their own vacation accommodations. The only exception is the use of Camp David, the official presidential retreat.

Other travel costs related to vacations, such as the rental of private homes or hotel stays, are paid for out of pocket​​.

It is customary for presidents to present gifts to visiting foreign dignitaries. These gifts, although selected with the assistance of the Gifts Unit within the Office of the Chief of Protocol, are funded personally by the president.

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This tradition emphasizes the personal touch and diplomacy involved in international relations but comes at a personal cost​.

Appearances matter greatly in politics, and presidents are no exception. They cover their own personal grooming expenses, including haircuts and other grooming services.

For instance, former First Lady Laura Bush paid for her hairstylist out of pocket to maintain her public image​​.

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Additionally, presidents are responsible for their own clothing, including the cost of designer attire and dry cleaning.

Legal challenges are not uncommon for sitting presidents, and they can be very costly.

Presidents are responsible for some legal fees, which can accumulate quickly during investigations or impeachment proceedings.

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This was notably the case for Bill Clinton, whose legal fees during his presidency left him and his wife in substantial debt​​.

While living in the White House, presidents must continue to pay for the maintenance and mortgage of their personal homes.

This includes all the upkeep costs associated with their private residences. For example, President Obama continued to pay the mortgage on his Chicago home throughout his presidency​​.

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Although presidents receive a $100,000 stipend to redecorate parts of the White House, any additional costs beyond this amount must be personally funded.

The Obamas, for instance, chose to use their own money for redecorating rather than accepting the stipend​​.

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Imagine a scenario where Kenyan presidents are held to the same financial standards.

This change would not only reduce unnecessary government spending but also hold leaders more accountable for their personal finances.

It would challenge the entrenched perception that political office is a pathway to unchecked personal wealth.

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One of the significant benefits of this approach is the increased transparency it brings.

By making presidents responsible for their personal expenses, there is a clear demarcation between state resources and personal wealth.

This practice can be a powerful tool against corruption, which has long plagued Kenyan politics.

This proposal is likely to spark a lively debate among Kenyans. Some may argue that presidents, given their responsibilities, deserve more financial freedom.

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However, the counterargument is compelling: holding presidents accountable for their personal expenses would set a powerful example and reinforce the importance of integrity in public office.

For this transformative approach to take root, it requires legislative backing.

Kenyan MPs should consider drafting and passing laws that mandate presidents to cover certain personal expenses.

This move would not only align Kenya with international best practices but also signal a strong commitment to transparency and accountability.

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Implementing such a policy would challenge existing norms and potentially face resistance from those accustomed to the current system.

However, it is a necessary step towards a more accountable and transparent governance structure. As history has shown, meaningful change often begins with challenging the status quo.

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