Senate votes to end taxpayer funding of political conventions

Greg Nash

The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would end the use of taxpayer money for presidential nominating conventions.

The legislation, which is now headed to President Obama's desk, would take the $126 million that is used to fund the annual convention parties and instead designate it for pediatric medical research.

ADVERTISEMENT
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asked and received unanimous consent to pass H.R. 2019, the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, on Tuesday morning. The House passed the same bill late last year in a 295-103 vote.

"It’s hard to imagine that there would be any objection to moving these funds to something we can all agree is a high priority — pediatric research," McConnell said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) praised the Senate for passing the bill, which he championed in the House. The bill is named after Gabriella Miller, a 10-year-old girl from Virginia who died in October from a brain tumor after making a public push for increased funding for cancer research.

"So often everyone is focused on what Congress cannot accomplish that we overlook the good that can be done when both parties work together," Cantor said. "One courageous young girl, Gabriella Miller, inspired bipartisan action to help research, treat, and cure pediatric diseases and disorders."
 
The taxpayer subsidies that pay for part of the conventions come from people who opt to contribute $3 on their federal income tax returns.
 
Experts say that public money accounts for 23 percent of convention funding, the rest coming from sponsors. If Obama signs the bill, it would present a major funding hole for the Republican and Democratic national committees when it comes time to stage their conventions in 2016.

In the December House vote, 72 Democrats supported the bill, but 102 Democrats opposed it — some called it a "sham" and a "ruse," and one lawmaker called it a "joke." Democrats who opposed it argued that the bill does little to restore funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that Republicans have cut over the last few years.

Democrats have criticized Republicans for allowing funding for the NIH to be cut through sequestration.

“This is a small amount of money but it will be extremely helpful to the NIH,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday. “I wish my Republican colleagues would join us in increasing funding for NIH.”

Reid pointed out it was only an authorization bill, not an appropriations bill. “It will not happen until we appropriate money for this,” Reid said.

— This story was last updated at 11:44 a.m.