The Presidential Election Campaign Fund is paid for by taxpayers. The money comes from those who check the box at the top of their 1040 to redirect $3 of their tax payment. Because checking the box doesn't increase your tax liability, this is, in effect, a 100 percent tax credit on a $3 contribution to politicians. It's one of those "tax expenditures" President Obama claims he's targeting.
In addition to providing matching funds for presidential candidates who limit their private fundraising, the PECF cuts a big check every four years to pay for the major party conventions. The amount is adjusted for inflation every cycle, and the Treasury checks are issued on July 1, the year before the convention.
This isn't security spending. Obama, Vice President Biden and the Republican nominees are protected by the Secret Service. Homeland Security Department's budget covers additional security (a dubious enough expense for a 100 percent partisan political event).
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.
Most convention spending comes from outside these convention committees -- the corporate-funded host committees, which do not receive federal funding, foot the lion's share (the Democratic and Republican Host Committees spent about $60 million each).
The House passed a bill in January that would have ended the PEFC, and thus ended federal funding of conventions (the bill sits dormant in the Senate). Some Democrats argued the PEFC was not really taxpayer-funded, because taxpayers have a choice to fund it or not. But, again, the three dollars that about 7 percent of the population gives to the PEFC has reduced
federal revenue by billions since it began in 1976. Were the program abolished, income tax revenues would be higher and debt would be lower.
So, our deficit is financing parties, flights and hotel stays for politicians and party operatives. Remember, conventions aren't really nominating events any more. Notably, both convention committees spent most of their money on video production. So taxpayers are paying for political theater -- or propaganda.
A Federal Elections Commission official confirmed that Republicans have requested the 2012 convention subsidy and the FEC has approved the request. Democrats haven't filed their paperwork yet, but a party spokeswoman told me in an email "we plan to do so soon."
A convention subsidy looks equally bad for both parties, if for slightly different reasons. Republicans nationwide have fought to defund the federally subsidized private institutions that either lean Left (like NPR) or serve as arms of the Democratic Party (such as Planned Parenthood and public-sector unions). How can this same party, while demanding spending cuts across the board, pocket taxpayer money for a WSJ subscription and hotel rooms in Tampa, Fla.?
Democrats undermine Obama's critique of "tax expenditures" by taking this money, but there's a more interesting twist: Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy -- which lobbies for and stands to profit from the cap-and-trade global warming plans Obama supports -- is financing the 2012 Democratic National Convention in the company's hometown by guaranteeing a $10 million line of credit for the host committee. If the DNCC foreswore the $18 million taxpayer subsidy, the host committee would have to cover more expenses, with any deficit falling on Duke Energy's shareholders. The result: U.S. taxpayers could, in effect, be bailing out Obama patron Duke Energy.
All Americans want Washington to be fiscally conservative, as long as their own subsidies and favored programs are untouched. The Republican and Democratic parties are no different.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.