WASHINGTON – Rep. Roscoe Bartlett has made good on a threat to introduce legislation that would halt federal funding of national political conventions, which collected almost $30 million in government subsidies this summer.
The Frederick Republican has faith the measure will ultimately pass, even though one political analyst noted that the bill asks politicians to take the unusual step of stopping something that benefits them.
“I’m bothered by the enormous amount of money in the political process,” said Bartlett, the sole sponsor of the bill, which was introduced Tuesday.
“Money just flows into the conventions and the people are not at all apologetic,” he said. “Ninety percent of the politicians there did not know taxpayer money went into it.”
Taxpayers have contributed $75 million to national political conventions since 1992. This year alone, the Democratic and Republican parties each got $13.5 million for their conventions, while the Reform party cashed in for $2.5 million from the federal government, according to the Federal Election Commission.
The money comes from voluntary contribution by taxpayers, who check off the “presidential election campaign fund” on their tax forms. But that does not sway Bartlett, who said the check-off deceives taxpayers who do not realize the money will also be used for lavish conventions.
The check-off grew out of 1970s legislation aimed at stopping special- interest influence in the political process. The law banned direct donations from corporations, setting up the presidential election campaign fund in its place.
That fund pulls in millions of dollars, but it is still not enough to fund national conventions. To get around the law, the political parties channel cash donations through host committees, which are formed to organize the conventions.
Bartlett acknowledges that his bill could lead to increased special- interest funding of conventions. To deal with that issue, he said he advocates full disclosure of convention sponsors — although his bill would not do that.
“If the Chinese are sponsoring the Democrats then Americans need to know,” he said.
Sarah Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University, said the “deck is stacked against the bill” due to the limited time left in the current session of Congress, Bartlett’s failure to get co-sponsors and the overall difficulty of campaign finance reform.
“You’re asking elected officials to stop something that benefits them,” Binder said of the bill.
But Binder said the thinks the bill would have a better chance if Democrats win control of the next Congress. A spokesman for the National Republican Committee claimed the GOP would support the measure, too.
“We fully support the bill and we hope in the future that an expanded majority in Congress will pass it and President Bush will sign it into law,” said Mark Pfeifle, the RNC spokesman.
Even the Reform Party would support the measure, said spokeswoman Donna Donovan, as long as the Republicans and Democrats were forced to give up their share of federal funds.
For his part, Bartlett said he hopes to just get the discussion started with the bill. He said that by “dropping it in the hopper” now, he could bring attention to the issue and pick up some co-sponsors in the process.