Party Convention Tab for Taxpayers Dwarfs GSA’s: BGOV Barometer

GRAPHIC: Rachel J. Yu/Bloomberg

Lawmakers lambasted the General Services Administration for spending $823,000 on a conference, just a fraction of the taxpayer dollars to be spent on this year’s presidential nominating conventions.

The BGOV Barometer shows the events where President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney will formally receive their parties’ nominations will cost taxpayers $136.5 million, up about $3 million from 2008.

The figure includes $100 million Congress provided to pay for security at the conventions, plus $18 million for each party to pay for balloons, signs, alcohol, flags, lanyards and other expenses through a program designed to reduce the influence of campaign contributions. Senator Tom Coburn, pointing to lawmakers’ promises to cut the $1.2 trillion budget deficit, said the parties should forgo the taxpayer funds.

“If the parties want to have a convention, let them have a convention, but they ought to be paying for it,” said Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican. “We can have just as good a party” without tax dollars.

His proposal comes weeks after congressional outrage over reports that the GSA spent $823,000 on a 2010 conference at a Las Vegas-area resort. At least four congressional committees have held hearings looking into the issue and a GSA administrator was pushed to resign amid complaints of wasted tax dollars.

Tampa, Charlotte

Republicans will head to Tampa, Florida, Aug. 27-30 to formally choose Romney as their presidential nominee while Democrats will follow Sept. 4-6 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Neither event will contain much suspense, as Romney picked up enough delegates in last week’s Texas primary to cinch his party’s nod.

“You can’t be critical of all the other conventions and parties and conferences that the federal government is doing and then say we’re going to take $136 million on spend it on conventions,” Coburn said. “For a convention on something that’s already decided?”

Since the 1970s both political parties have relied on primaries, rather than conventions, to choose their candidates, a change made partly in response to complaints that the old system gave party bosses too much power over the nominating process. As a result, there usually is little left to decide by the time the parties convene.

There are relatively few constraints on how tax money can be spent for the conventions and Coburn complains it can be used for such things as entertainment, catering and producing biographical films about the candidates.

Trinkets, Badges

Democrats spent $39,000 for a teleprompter, $140,000 for the podium, $18,000 for “gifts/trinkets” and $3,320 for “makeup artist consultant” at their 2008 convention, according to government records. Among expenditures by Republicans in 2008 were $6,000 worth of flowers, $9,000 for “rally signs”, $3,500 for “promotional hats,” $24,000 for flags and $88,000 for badges.

Both sides are rejecting Coburn’s call.

“Electing a president of the United States is a public responsibility,” said Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, when asked why taxpayers should shoulder convention expenses. “Those funds are for security and they’re absolutely essential.”

Sean Spicer, a Republican National Committee spokesman, said “conventions serve an important role in the process of nominating candidates.”

He said it’s up to lawmakers to decide how to fund the events. “If Senator Coburn has ideas on how to overhaul campaign-finance laws that will provide political parties with viable alternative funding sources, or on the funding for future conventions, he should address them through the legislative process,” Spicer said in an e-mail.

Some of Coburn’s fellow Republican lawmakers oppose public funding of conventions, though they say the party shouldn’t reject the money unless the Democrats do.

“I don’t think they should unilaterally give it up,” said Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican. “The rules are the rules.”

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