Like it or not, we pay for the convention

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2000

The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's edition of the Chicago Tribune:

Enjoying the Republican National Convention this week? You ought to. You're paying for it.

The convention is financed in part by a cool $13.5 million in federal tax money. Nothing momentous may come from the festivities in Philadelphia, but the Republicans are having a lot of fun on your dime.

In two weeks the Democrats get their turn in Los Angeles, and they, too, will have $13.5 million in tax money to splurge on their show. Even the increasingly farcical Reform Party gets a piece of this action. The Reform Party has been handed $2.5 million by the Treasury Department to spend on whatever it will call a convention.

It's old hat to say that the political conventions are anachronisms, that they're big, bloated affairs that have passed their prime and serve little purpose. And that's somewhat true. But if they're such big, bloated affairs, why don't they collapse of their own weight?

Here are two reasons, and both get to the heart of how campaign finance laws have perverted American political debate.

First, the conventions are propped up by the system of federal funding for presidential campaigns, which guarantees that the political parties get all those millions in tax revenue to have a blow-out party for a week - and requires them to spend that money only on the convention. (This is on top of the tax revenue that has gone to prop up dubious presidential candidates, including $1.1 million for Lyndon LaRouche and $3.8 million for Patrick Buchanan.)

Second, the conventions are propped up by the arcane federal rules on campaign giving and spending, which put limits on some areas but not on others. Want to give money so George Bush can explain his education platform in a campaign ad? The cap is $1,000. Want to help the Republican Party have a blast in Philadelphia? Give as much as you want. That's why DaimlerChrysler, for instance, hired The Temptations to salute Rep. J.C. Watts at one of the hotter parties around town.

So the conventions become big, bloated and expensive affairs because federal election law props them up while putting the clamps on other, perhaps more legitimate, campaign activities.

Later this week George Bush will give a stirring convention speech. And in two weeks Al Gore will give a stirring convention speech. Of course, they both could give stirring, televised speeches without all the bells and whistles and parties and frolicking of convention week.

But federal rules are rules.

And when the R&B group Earth, Wind and Fire was playing at a party on the banks of the Delaware River, no doubt all those boogying delegates said a little prayer of thanks to those who made convention week possible, the taxpayers.



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