Convention cash nixed by Congress

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Taxpayer money will no longer be used to pay for presidential political conventions if President Obama signs a bill that is headed for his desk.

In a Congress that has been defined by intense partisanship, the parties came together to pass legislation that directs $126 million over 10 years to pediatric research. The funds will be taken from the presidential election campaign fund and directed toward the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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The bill’s passage marks a major victory for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who shepherded the “Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act” through Congress.

The legislation was named after a 10-year-old Virginia girl who had an inoperable brain tumor and died in October. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), whose son has fragile X syndrome, co-sponsored the bill.

The House late last year passed the measure, 295-103, over the objections of Democratic leaders, including party chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.). Some Democrats at the time accused the GOP of playing politics and being hypocritical on medical research funding.

Cantor worked with Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) to move the bill in the upper chamber. On Tuesday, the Senate approved the measure via voice vote.

Government watchdogs that support taxpayer funds to finance elections opposed the bill.

Noting this would be the first time that the government would not fund presidential conventions since it started the practice in the mid-1970’s, Campaign Legal Center policy director Meredith McGehee said Senate Democrats took the easy road.

Democratic Senate leaders made the choice to move the measure, she said, to avoid political fallout of “sick kids versus money for politicians.”

Public money accounts for about 23 percent of convention funding, with the rest coming from sponsors. The passage of the pediatric bill presents the Republican and Democratic national committees with a funding dilemma. But others maintain that the 2016 presidential conventions will be less costly than prior years because they will probably be shortened to two or three days instead of four.

Common Cause President Miles Rapoport issued a statement urging Obama to veto the bill, which he believes would not increase funding for pediatric research. Critics note that the legislation authorizes the NIH money, but it doesn’t appropriate it.

Rapoport said, “This bill takes a cynical approach to two serious problems. First, it strengthens the hold of millionaire donors, corporations, trade groups and other special interests on our political parties and their candidates. Those big donors will swoop in to cover convention expenses now absorbed by public funds, and they’ll extract all manner of special favors in return.”

The White House did not respond to questions on whether it would sign or veto the bill. It is highly unlikely, however, that Obama would veto the bipartisan legislation. If he did, Congress appears to have the votes to override a veto.

Cantor was moved to act after hearing Miller’s story. She sought to increase awareness of cancer research with powerful videos that were posted on YouTube. Miller and her family were featured on CNN last year; the segment helped generate momentum for the bill.

The majority leader last year huddled with Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who had long pushed legislation to eliminate public funding of the four-day party conventions. Cole agreed to use his bill to pay for the Miller bill.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Virginia Republican credited Gabriella’s parents, Mark and Ellyn, with convincing Kaine and Warner, their home-state senators, to champion the bill in the upper chamber.

“Putting pediatric research over politics was the entire point of this bill, and we have achieved that in more ways than one. Gabriella Miller’s amazing spirit stirred the Capitol into action, and I hope it continues to do so for years to come,” Cantor said.