Let’s Get The Federal Goverment Out Of The Political Convention Business

Your tax dollars should not be paying for this.

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn wants to end the subsidies that the Federal Government gives to the Republican and Democratic parties to put on their quadrennial political conventions:

Sen. Tom Coburn has written to the chairs of the RNC and DNC asking them to return their federal convention subsidies:

“Can we agree once and for all the party is over when it comes to travel and meetings paid for by the taxpayers?”

“If you agree, I would urge you to reject the millions of dollars of public financing for your 2012 party convention provided by the federal government through the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF) and to return the money to the federal government.”

“These events will be weeklong parties paid for by taxpayers, much like the highly maligned GSA conference in Las Vegas.  At a time when confidence in Washington has dropped to all time lows and the federal debt is growing by more than $1 trillion a year, we need more than election year rhetoric and political posturing.  Taxpayers expect leadership demonstrated by action.”

“Surely our parties will respond by saying this money was given by taxpayers voluntarily for this purpose when they filed their tax returns. No one disputes that you are legally allowed to use these funds, but some may question whether using them this way is best for the country. To demonstrate that both of our parties are committed to fiscal discipline, it would be a great act of statesmanship to return these funds.”

These funds are paid through the Federal Election Commission and they’re essentially used to subsidize what has turned into a four-day party/political advertisement by each of the two major political parties. No other organized American political party recieves these funds, because the the standards are designed in such a way that only the Republicans and Democrats can qualify. Last year the Washington Examiner‘s Tim Carney took a look at how this money is spent:

The PECF money goes into the main bank accounts of the Democratic National Convention Committee and its GOP counterpart. For instance, in 2008, the DNCC’s $16.8 million budget came almost entirely from its $14.9 million check from the U.S. Treasury. So, taxpayers, covered the committee’s $26,000 bill at the Ritz Carlton and six-figure cost for housing convention staff, plus plenty more.

The Committee on Arrangements for the 2008 Republican National Convention also used its $14.9 million gift from taxpayers to defray hotel, housing, and travel costs, plus its $32,250 bill for “speech coaching services.”

The politicos are also allowed to buy booze on the taxpayers’ dime. Much of it is folded into “catering” or dining line items, but the DNCC’s 2008 expense reports shoes $75 at Paul’s Liquor in Denver and $208 at Golden Triangle Wine & Spirits. Republicans had at least six figures worth of catering and meals but nothing on their 2008 expense report is explicitly for alcohol. Instead they spent $87.50 for a subscription to the Wall Street Journal.

At $30 million, this is admittedly an incredibly small amount of money compared to the size of the Federal Budget, but if we can’t agree on cutting the small and ridiculous stuff like this then how are we going to be able to agree on the big stuff? There are plenty of line items in the budget like this that involve wasteful and improper uses of taxpayer dollars. To paraphrase one famous saying, $30 million here and $30 million there, soon we’re talking about real money. Moreover, fiscal responsibility isn’t the only reason to eliminate the PECF. There is something inherently wrong about the idea subsidizing what, in the end, is little more than one big party for party bigwigs, convention delegates, and reporters. Political party conventions haven’t had anything consequential about them since Adalai Stevenson threw the question of who his 1956 running mate should be to the floor and a young John F. Kennedy nearly beat Estes Kefauver. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing abut them worth watching outside of the speeches by the nominee and the running mate, and even those tend to get tiresome and pedantic. There’s absolutely no reason for the taxpayer to be paying for this.

Senator Coburn has the right idea. Which is precisely why it’s likely be ignored.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Chad S says:

    35-40 million…thats its?

  2. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Great post.

    Unfortunately, however, as your final graf suggests, the chances of getting the Feds and thus federal taxpayer dollars out of the convention business nearly are the same as getting all the beer out of Boston or all the Botox out of Beverly Hills.

  3. @Tsar Nicholas:


    The party’s control Washington so they won’t agree to change this.I don’t agree with Coburn all the time but he isn’t afraid to buck his party, and that’s always good

  4. James H says:

    I assume you’d make an exception for the Secret Service security details for presidential and VP nominees?

  5. @James H:

    Obviously I am not including the Secret Service in this (although we don’t want to be paying for their strip club visits) But of course those are not part of the PECF funds at issue here, and the money doesn’t go to the parties.

  6. al-Ameda says:

    Actually, Conventions have become so predictable that I believe they could outsource most of the convention business to call centers in Hyderabad or Bangalore.

    If that is objectionable, why not build a permanent Political Convention Facility on Midway Island, to be used by both parties (or all parties).

  7. Peterh says:

    why not build a permanent Political Convention Facility on Midway Island, to be used by both parties (or all parties).

    Oh the horror….the albatrosses would never survive….I think Bikini Atoll might be more applicable…..

  8. Kolohe says:


    Haven’t those poor people suffered enough?

    We could bring back Gingrich’s moon base idea, though.

  9. Davebo says:

    Your tax dollars should not be paying for this.

    And they aren’t paying for this. Taxpayer donations are.

    Sort of blows the entire concept doesn’t it Doug?

  10. ernieyeball says:

    @Davebo: And they aren’t paying for this. Taxpayer donations are.

    Maybe. The $3 check off on the 1040 Tax form does not increase your tax liability or decrease your refund. The Federal Treasury gets the $3 if you select yes or no.
    You are designating that the money is allocated to PECF.
    If that is a donation then I guess all the money taxpayers owe the Federal Government is donated every April.

  11. Let’s see, we had a post about getting the government out of the marriage business and now one about the government getting out of the convention business. I’ve got an idea: let’s get the government out of the government business, for as Dr. Phil might ask, “How’s that working out for you?”

  12. merl says:

    I think it’s funny that the repubs had to spend almost $33,000 to coach Palin on how to speak plain English and make sense.