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GOP CONVENTION '96

The Show on the Floor Isn't on the House

Spending: Taxpayers will wind up footing the bill for a number of expensive items at both conventions.

August 15, 1996|SARA FRITZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Enjoy the expensively produced campaign video on the life of Bob Dole that Republican convention officials plan to air tonight. Enjoy the carefully tended plants around the convention offices as well.

You're paying for them.

Even as special interests offer millions of dollars to help finance the Republican National Convention--something that corporations and trade associations will do at the Democratic convention later this month as well--the American taxpayer is still shouldering many of the most expensive costs, everything from rich consulting contracts to high-priced gardening.

A Times study of GOP convention expenditures reveals that the party is taking maximum advantage of loosely enforced federal regulations to spend taxpayer money on a wide variety of extravagant and highly partisan activities.

In fact, as a result of the GOP's unprecedented decision to use public funds to broadcast its convention proceedings on religious broadcaster Pat Robertson's Family Channel, the use of tax money at the GOP convention this year became more controversial than the oft-criticized quadrennial scramble by party leaders for donations from big corporations.

Democrats, noting that federal law prohibits the political parties from spending public funds on television commercials, are threatening to file suit against the Republicans, arguing that the Family Channel broadcast cannot legally be funded with public money because it is nothing more than a long, partisan "infomercial."

That is just the largest of the expenditures reported by the GOP in advance of the convention. Among the others are a number of generous consulting contracts, such as the one that provided payments totaling more than $62,500 to convention manager William Greener III over a four-month period, and another paying $150,000 to Hollywood producer David J. Nash for his staging advice.

While much of the Republican's pre-convention spending of tax money was devoted to unremarkable purposes, such as office space, computers and salaries, GOP officials also indulged in some obvious luxuries--many catered dinners as well as $3,223.51 for professional care of the party's office plants over just four months.

And when the convention is over, according to Anne Gavin, spokeswoman for the official convention committee, all of the leading participants likely will receive expensive little gifts of silver or crystal paid for by the taxpayers.

To be sure, these GOP expenditures are not much different than those that will be made by officials of the Democratic convention, which begins Aug. 26 in Chicago. Indeed, it was the Democrats who pioneered the use of public funds for gifts and biographical videos.

In 1992, tax funds paid for more than $60,000 of the production costs of the movie about Bill Clinton entitled "The Man from Hope." Federal Election Commission auditors objected but they were overruled by members of the commission.

Technically, the Republican and Democratic parties, each of which received $12.4 million from the Treasury for this year's conventions, are supposed to spend the money on routine preparations and other strictly nonpartisan functions.

The funds, which come from the $1 optional checkoff on tax returns, are provided under a 1974 post-Watergate law that established public financing of presidential elections.

Authors of the law envisioned a presidential campaign entirely free from the influence of special-interest money. Over the years, however, the FEC, which enforces the law, gradually has granted the parties more leeway in accepting donations while spending public funds on partisan convention activities.

This year, for the first time, private funding for both conventions will exceed the amount that the government provides. Republicans are predicting that special interests will cover more than $12 million of their convention-related expenses.

Even before the convention opened, the San Diego Host Committee, which was established as a conduit for corporate donations, had raised more than $12 million. This included $2 million from Phillip Morris Cos. Inc., $1.3 million from Amway Corp., $1 million from AT&T Corp., $694,157 from Lockheed Martin Corp., $631,326 from Atlantic Richfield Co., $513,260 from Chevron Corp., $502,822 from Enron Corp., $465,348 from Goldman Sachs & Co., $441,066 from Time Warner Inc. and $612,434 from Union Pacific Corp.

All of these contributors have important business issues pending in Washington.

As always, contributors to the Republican Party are promised a full menu of convention week perks--parties, convention tickets, briefings--commensurate with the generosity. Republican "eagles," who give at least $15,000, were invited to attend horse races at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, museum tours, a ride on Dennis Conner's America's Cup-winning yacht and a personal audience with House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

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