- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Every four years, thousands of politicians, lobbyists, activists and consultants get together for an extravagant weeklong party. It’s all paid for by the taxpayers. These shindigs, otherwise known as national political conventions, no longer realistically serve the purpose of selecting a presidential nominee. There’s no reason the public should have to bear the burden of the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted on these networking events. A bipartisan movement in Congress wants private funds to cover the costs.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, picked up the cause after learning that $200 million in taxpayer funds has been spent since 1975 on Democratic and Republican conventions. On Monday, he and Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, introduced legislation to put a stop to public financing.

“In this time of tight budgets and heavy debt at great risk to our economy, the federal government should not be funding conventions with taxpayer dollars,” Dr. Coburn told The Washington Times. “The rest of America gets this. It’s only the political establishment that doesn’t think this is priority.” Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, filed a companion bill in the House on Thursday.

After this year, the bill would prohibit use of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund for political conventions. The fund’s money comes from citizens checking a $3 donation box on their tax forms. The $3 ($6 for married couples) is taken out of taxes owed - money that otherwise would go to paying the rest of Uncle Sam’s bills.

The Coburn-Udall bill also would allow for any funds before the end of the year to be returned to the Treasury for deficit reduction, meaning it wouldn’t be spent on new programs. In 2012, the Democratic and Republican parties each received a check for $18.3 million for costs of political conventions this summer in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C. Dr. Coburn sent a letter in May to the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, and the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to urge them to return the money to the Treasury.

Underwriting a week of partying wasn’t supposed to be the purpose of the campaign fund when it was started in 1974. Congress felt otherwise over time. “The career politicians put in a little for themselves,” explained Dr. Coburn.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the parties have used the funds for convention activities such as entertainment, bonuses for staff, catering, producing candidate biography films and hotel costs. On top of the $34 million in direct payment, the government also spends an average of $50 million per convention on security, bringing this year’s total to $135 million.

In 2008, Barack Obama did not accept matching federal funding so he could raise money well beyond the legal limit, and neither he nor Mitt Romney will do so this year. There’s a balance of more than $200 million in the election fund, according to the Federal Election Commission. The only thing those tax dollars are used for now are these weeklong political bashes. The $3 box should be removed from the tax forms so this slush fund can be closed permanently.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.

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