Taxpayer Gravy Train Ending for Party Conventions

Republicans and Democrats might have to rely on their own money to pay for conventions.

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Republicans and Democrats will have to look elsewhere to pay for their future candidate coronations — both parties' conventions might no longer use taxpayer money.

Senators voted 95-4 on an amendment Thursday that stops national parties from using public funds to finance national conventions, a practice that has been going on since the 1970s. [Bloomberg Poll: Obama Has Double-Digit Lead on Romney]

"Fortunately, the Senate said the 'party is over' when it comes to travel and meetings paid for by taxpayers," Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn said. "I would again call on both the RNC and DNC to immediately return taxpayer funds for this year's convention parties. In these tough times, there is no justification for spending public funds on booze, balloons and confetti when both parties are awash in campaign donations."

Every year, more than 30 million Americans check a box on their tax forms to add $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, some of which goes to pay for the conventions.

Coburn argues that 99 percent of Americans have no idea that they are contributing to the lavish extras of the conventions.

This year, Republicans and Democrats each will receive roughly $18 million in public funds to pay for the festivities in Tampa, Fla. and Charlotte, N.C.. And while Coburn tried to incentivize the RNC and DNC to turn over the public funds for conventions, which he said will be used to pay off the nation's debt, so far neither party shows signs of turning over the dough.

"Right now, the RNC is completely focused on making this year's convention a success and electing Mitt Romney to the White House," says Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

The amendment, which was strapped to the $500 billion farm bill, will end the use of public funds for any convention after December of this year. [Ron Paul Still Roiling GOP Waters]

Traditionally everything from candidate films, entertainment, volunteer gifts and transportation costs could be covered by public funds.

Federal Election Commission documents show that in 2008, taxpayers helped finance more than $880,000 in hotel accommodations, $13,000 on banners, and $3,943 on floral arrangements for GOP nominee John McCain and his vice presidential pick Sarah Palin.

Democrats spent $3,320 on makeup artists, $49,122 on photography and $955,951 on travel expenses for the Obama-Biden team.

Some groups are concerned that relying on donations to pay for the conventions will only add to the ballooning reliance on big donors and corporate heavyweights in politics.

"This is turning our political system over even more so to corporate interests," says Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a group committed to strengthening transparency in government.

"If Coburn was actually at all serious about cleaning up the conventions, he would have offered an amendment to ban to corporate financing of the conventions, but no such luck. That wasn't what he was aiming for. This provides corporations and lobbyists with an ideal three-day setting to schmooze. This is influence pedaling at its worst."

Holman said he was surprised that only four senators voted against the bill.

"I did not expect this amendment to even reach the 60-vote threshold. After the vote, it seemed that nobody wanted to go on public record supporting the way our campaigns are financed and paid for," he said.