Their parties, taxpayers’ tab

Balloons drop from the ceiling at the end of Republican U.S presidential nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) speech on day four of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2008. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Political conventions are, in a sense, the original reality TV.

But there’s something surreal — and appalling — about the realization that the federal government funds those spectacles for parties already rolling in dough.

When Republicans meet in Tampa from Aug. 27-30 and Democrats meet in Charlotte from Sept. 3-6, the tabs will be picked up by the taxpayers, not the parties.

Even as our record national debt continues to climb at an alarming rate, Congress has appropriated $36 million of our money for the two big parties’ big parties. Many of the same lawmakers who rightly condemned an $823,000 bash that the federal General Services Administration threw for itself in Las Vegas in 2010 approved $18 million each for this year’s Democratic and Republican bashes.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., recently ranked public financing of conventions No. 1 in his annual “Wastebook.” Last week, he wrote letters to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a House member from Florida, urging them to correct that congressional mistake.

The senator’s common-sense challenge: “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.”

OK, so technically, that convention funding comes from the $3 tax-form option that allows Americans to direct some of their taxes to federal financing of presidential campaigns. By law, if all of that fund isn’t spent in that year, it carries over to the next presidential election cycle.

But while public campaign financing might be viewed as a way to counter the huge donations aimed at buying influence, federal funding of party conventions shouldn’t qualify for those funds.

After all, the two major parties and the campaigns of their presidential candidates are expected to raise at least $1.5 billion for this year’s elections. That’s not even counting the big-buck Super PACs that, while independent of the parties, boost their candidates.

Yet DNC spokesperson Kristie Greco summoned sufficient gall to give ABC News this response to Sen. Coburn’s proposal: “Political nominating conventions are an essential part of our democratic process, voluntarily funded by the taxpayers. Contrary to Senator Coburn’s assertions, we use the federal grant to fund the functions necessary to renominate the president and vice president.”

In a rare case of bipartisanship, RNC spokesperson Sean Spicer concurred, explaining: “Conventions serve an important role in the process of nominating candidates for president and vice president of the United States. 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.”

How about the parties’ own ample coffers?

Voters, regardless of their political affiliations, should demand that candidates for federal office stop using public money to pay for their parties’ conventions.