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End Taxpayer Funding for Political Conventions

June 18, 2012
Weekly Columns

Ronald Reagan's famous statement that "a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this Earth" remains frustratingly true.  Although Congress has finally begun to cut billions in recognition of the growing threat posed by the massive national debt, many spending programs persist for no justifiable reason.  So many budget items continue to be funded due to sheer inertia or political self-interest --  not because they successfully fulfill a worthwhile government function.

Taxpayer funding of presidential nominating conventions is a prime example.  Many Americans may not even know that $220 million of taxpayer funds have been wasted on national conventions since 1976.  This may seem like a relatively minor amount in the context of our $1 trillion yearly deficits, but any amount is too much to squander for such a blatantly unnecessary, political purpose.  It's outrageous for the federal government to waste millions on multi-day, lavish conventions that exist solely to promote presidential candidates while the military and other vital government functions are being cut. 

There was a time when presidential nominating conventions were consequential events that actually determined each party's candidate.  Americans did not learn who their presidential options would be until the nominations were finalized by convention delegates -- often after multiple votes.  Now that presidential nominees are a foregone conclusion months before the conventions take place, the events have become little more than primetime infomercials for the major political parties. 

The political parties are fully capable of funding their conventions through private contributions without squandering taxpayer dollars that would be better spent serving legitimate government programs.  So capable, in fact, that federal funds cover a dwindling percentage of convention spending.  In 1980, federal grants paid for nearly 95 percent of convention costs; however, in 2008, government funds covered only 23 percent of convention costs.

I first introduced legislation to terminate taxpayer funding of conventions, along with the entire presidential public financing system, in 2009.  The Democratic leadership who controlled the House at that time did not allow a vote on the bill.  When I introduced the legislation again under the new Republican majority, the legislation passed the House last year only to stall in the Democratically controlled Senate.  If congressional Democrats reject this commonsense legislation a third time, they should explain to the American people just what essential constitutional functions are served by make-up consultations, political consulting fees, gift bags, banners and other convention costs federal dollars have supported. 

My latest bill, H.R. 5912, continues to gain cosponsors in the House, and Sen. Coburn has introduced a companion bill with bipartisan support.  With Sen. Coburn's efforts in the Senate, I am hopeful this long overdue reform will finally become law.

There is no justification for spending taxpayer money on political conventions while we face a $16 trillion debt and 8 percent unemployment.  This is a frivolous, outdated expenditure that we can't afford.