End taxpayer subsidies to political conventions

Published 12:14 am Monday, September 22, 2008

By Staff
Last month, INVESCO field in Denver was rocking. People weren’t cheering on the Broncos, but screaming at the top of their lungs for Barack Obama. A few days later, a similar story played out at the Xcel Center in Minneapolis, this time with John McCain at center stage. Good thing both were on television because odds are you didn’t have a ticket, but all taxpayers will have paid more than their share.
That’s right. In each city, as many as 50,000 lobbyists, members of the press and protesters joined about 4,000 party faithful from every state of the union. The revelers descended on the respective towns to enjoy the balloons and bubbly. About $16 million in operating expenses will be picked up by taxpayers, and each convention was been given $50 million worth of security funding as “emergency spending.” And that may not be it. One Colorado security official said, “We know what we have to do, we’re just not sure how to pay for it. We’ll have to pry some additional money from the feds.”
Sure, wealthy donors and corporate contributions will pick much of it up. But that doesn’t end the taxpayer’s costs — a company’s contributions to the host committees are tax-deductible!
And just in time for the parties, Congress revised the 18-month-old ethics rules to allow companies to avoid disclosing sponsorship of various convention related events. This helps boost lawmaker attendance by obfuscating the actual sponsor paying for the brie and Chablis. But even before this change, trade associations were avoiding restrictions against throwing events in honor of specific lawmakers. So in Denver, the Nuclear Energy Institute and Edison Electric Institute threw five bashes with the Democratic Governors Association, and the American Gas Association and National Mining Association worked with the Republican Governors Association on some parties in Minneapolis.
So, why are taxpayers on the hook for any of this? With predictions that this may be the first billion-dollar election, it seems the political parties and candidates would have no trouble raising the dough needed to pay for their party’s convention. Plus political parties are not constitutionally mandated. In fact, the Founding Fathers were concerned about “factions.” Maybe the Whig party should re-form and have a candidate, or better yet, the “Know Nothing” party from the 19th century.
Sure, the Democratic and Republican parties are part of our democracy. But that doesn’t mean that taxpayers should have to pick up the bar tab for days-long parties (conventions) every four years. Nobody is stopping the two parties if they want to have conventions to honor their loyal supporters and pay tribute to their candidate for the highest office in the land. But taxpayers across the country — many of whom belong to no political party — shouldn’t have to pay for it.