Rep. Tom Cole is a Republican from Oklahoma.
The 1976 Republican National Convention was filled with drama and suspense: last-minute attempts to change the rules, shifting factions, strategic announcements of running mates, and all-out efforts to win delegates. By contrast, the most memorable moments of the 2008 conventions involved Greek columns and a joke contrasting pit bulls and hockey moms. With the nominees usually determined months in advance, today's political conventions exist primarily to showcase each party's candidate, platform, and rising stars.
Despite their diminished influence, political conventions inexplicably still receive taxpayer funding. While our military faces $55 billion in cuts each year, the Democratic and Republican parties accepted $18 million each to fund their 2012 conventions. Over $220 million of taxpayer money has been spent on party conventions since 1976.
Devoting any amount of taxpayer funding to political conventions is as unnecessary as it is unjustified. The parties are more than capable of funding their own conventions through private contributions. The dwindling percentage of convention costs covered by public funding illustrates the total irrelevance of taxpayer money as a funding source. In 1980, federal grants paid for nearly 95 percent of convention costs, but by 2008, only about 23 percent of convention expenses were supported by taxpayer funds.
As a method for limiting the influence of private and corporate contributors, public financing has failed utterly. Private contributions for 2008 outpaced federal dollars by a ratio of more than 3 to 1. The American people demonstrate the obsolescence of public financing each year when they decline to contribute to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. Checking a box on one's tax return may have been a convenient way to participate in elections when the public financing system was established in 1974. Only 7 percent of taxpayers chose to participate in 2009.
Presidential candidates are abandoning the antiquated system as well. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first general election candidate to opt out of the public system and raised $745 million in private contributions. Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney is accepting public funds this year.
Going forward, the political parties should also decline taxpayer support. While political conventions do provide the American people the valuable opportunity to learn more about candidates and party platforms free from media filters, there is still no excuse for devoting taxpayer dollars to fund what are essentially extended campaign infomercials. Recent convention items included makeup artists, political consulting fees, and gift bags. In a time of record deficits, persistent unemployment, and a $16 trillion national debt, it's hard to find a more frivolous waste of taxpayer money.
Last year, the House passed my legislation to save $617 million over 10 years by eliminating the entire Presidential Election Campaign Fund, which funnels taxpayer money to campaigns and conventions. Earlier this summer, the Senate passed similar legislation specifically targeting convention funding. The House and Senate should work together to abolish once and for all this outdated system that has been tried, tested, and rejected by the American people.
The 1976 GOP convention was the last one that actually determined a presidential nominee. I hope the 2012 convention is the last to squander taxpayer money.
- Read Robert Schlesinger: 6 Secrets to Giving a Memorable Convention Speech
- Read Mary Kate Cary: Augusta, Republican Convention Smart to Invite Condoleezza Rice
- Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.