Sen. Tom Coburn, (R-Okla.) (Sue Ogrocki / Associated…)
WASHINGTON -- With the Republican and Democratic party conventions on the horizon, Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) submitted a bill Monday that would remove public funding of future nomination events and push for existing money to be allocated for deficit reduction.
Currently, taxpayers pay for the festivities and infrastructure associated with the party conventions, while Congress allocates funds for security measures at the respective proceedings independently.
Both parties can dip into an approximate $36.6-million pot of taxpayer money, which is to be split evenly between Republicans and Democrats for use on this year's conventions. These funds are granted by the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, which in turn is funded by individual designations marked on federal income tax returns. Allocations are limited to $3 for individuals and $6 for married couples. Accepting the funding prevents convention committees from raising additional funds for purposes other than accounting and legal expenses.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) criticized the bill, pointing out the voluntary nature of the taxpayer funding.
"They are checking to give it to a political campaign fund, not to the black hole of the U.S. Treasury," he told Politico.
The ways in which convention committees are allowed to spend that money is limited by the Federal Election Commission. The FEC stipulates that the funds are to be placed toward site preparation, personnel expenses, transportation and similar expenditures. But, by the admission of the Congressional Research Service, "federal law places relatively few restrictions on how PECF convention funds are spent, as long as purchases are lawful and are used to 'defray expenses incurred with respect to a presidential nominating convention.'"
The Congressional Research Service has also highlighted that accounting for expenditures can involve some broad acceptance of definitions. For example, "administrative expenses" is deemed as too general of a category by the FEC, while the term "salary" is allowed.
The bill for 2008's conventions, which topped $14 million for Democrats and $12 million for Republicans, includes some interesting items, such as $5,630 for ties and scarves and $947 for gavels at the Republican convention, and $49,122 for photography at the Democratic convention.
"With a languishing recovery and unsustainable debt, there is no justification for spending public funds on booze, balloons and confetti," Coburn said in a statement. "I hope my colleagues will support this common-sense legislation that says the 'the party is over' when it comes to travel and meetings paid for by taxpayers."
"Over the past several decades, political party nominating conventions have become elaborate celebrations devoted to partisanship," Udall added. "The American taxpayer should not be responsible for footing the bill for these partisan events."
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), whose state will be hosting this year's Democratic Party convention in September, is a co-sponsor of the bill.
Coburn and Udall have portrayed the funding of party conventions as similar to the extravagant spending at the General Services Administration, which led to a scandal over a $823,000 conference held by the agency in Las Vegas in 2010. That spending has so far prompted congressional hearings and a number of resignations and firings within the agency.
"Conventions serve an important role in the process of nominating candidates for President and Vice President of the United States," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said. "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."
The issue of federal funding for party conventions has emerged in Congress in the past, with Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) proposing a bill last year to end both the convention funding and taxpayer financing of presidential campaigns, instead allocating the money to reduce the deficit. The bill eventually died in the Senate.