Plan would strip conventions of taxpayer money

In this photo dated August 28, 2008, a spectator waves American flags during the Democratic National Convention at Invesco Field in Denver, Colo. A Senate bill may end $36 million in funding for Republican and Democratic national conventions -- money that pays for everything from patriotic flags to the teleprompter.

Kai Ryssdal: Here's today's little known fact about political money. Despite the boatload of cash that's been raised this election cycle -- from companies and unions, rich people and regular people -- did you know both the Democrats and Republicans get tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to throw themselves that big party called the national conventions once every four years? Yeah, me neither. There's a move afoot in the Senate -- a bipartisan move, we should say -- to cut convention public funding.

We asked Marketplace's Adriene Hill to find out what difference that might make.


Adriene Hill: Conventions aren't cheap. They require a whole lot of sparkly bits.

Terry Madonna: Let's face it, national conventions arenow little more than glorified, made-for-TV moments.

Terry Madonna is a public affairs professor at Franklin & Marshall College. Consider, he says, last time out's Democratic Convention with its dramatic soaring columns.

Madonna: For what not arguably was one of the most splendiferous conventions in convention history for effect.

So would a convention, without public money, go from balloons and streamers and loads of confetti to a more humble affair, in a worn hotel conference room with lukewarm coffee and politicians reading from 3x5 cards? It's unlikely.

Sheila Krumholz is executive director at the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.

Sheila Krumholz: The vast majority of the funding comes from large contributions, hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars from major corporations, organizations and individual donations.

In 2008, $118 million in private money poured in for the conventions -- far more than the $36 million in taxpayer dollars at issue in the proposed legislation. But cutting those millions could still mean change.

Stephen Hess: What we could see, which would make a lot of sense, are much shorter conventions.

Stephen Hess is with the Brookings Institution.

Hess: It's reached a point where they bore the people anyway because there's no serious decisions to be made.

I guess there are only so many cocktail parties a person can attend in a week.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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