Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver...

Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver (Aug. 28, 2008) Credit: Getty Images

The two major parties' political conventions are delightful anachronisms. The candidates are generally known well in advance: In President Barack Obama's case, having no challengers, since January 2009; in the case of Mitt Romney, who did have challengers, since May, almost three full months before the GOP convention.

Arguably the last seriously contest convention was 1976 when Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford, losing by a fairly tight 1,187 to 1,070 margin that left the incumbent badly nicked up. Platform fights are almost a thing of the past.

It has been left to demonstrators and protesters of assorted stripes to add some color and noise to the proceedings but ever-tighter security keeps them ever farther from the convention halls.

The conventions have become four-day commercials and airing of political egos for the two parties. That being true, some in Congress are questioning why the taxpayers should pay for any of this.

They pay through the Presidential Election Campaign Fund by checking a box on their tax returns to voluntarily contribute $3. But in 2008 candidate Barack Obama set a precedent by declining public funding and, given the vast amounts of unregulated campaign cash sloshing around the system, it's doubtful any other candidate will accept public funding.

The public money available for the conventions is about $18.3 million per party. Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., have a bill that would ban future taxpayer contributions to the party conventions and ask that they return any money they've already received so it can be applied to the national debt. As of now, the two parties have declined to do so.

They have received influential support from Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the chairman and ranking minority member on the Budget Committee.

The $36.6 million goes for lodging, meals, badges, buttons, promotional films, flags, souvenirs and even teleprompters. All this is very nice but hardly essential to the functioning of our democracy.

Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.


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