Debates are welfare for Paul, Perry

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal’s front page announced that President Obama is sponging off taxpayers to pay for round one of his reelection campaign. Is anyone surprised? Probably not, because that’s what Democrats do: live off government largesse and other people’s money. Planes, trains and automobiles paid for by taxpayers or corporate subsidies await their beck and call. Even Republicans in the White House have done it, too, says the Journal. That doesn’t necessarily surprise. Absolute power corrupts. But aren’t you a little surprised that puritanical small-government, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps constitutional bigots like Ron Paul are sopping up the campaign pork too? I’m talking about the TV debates. Pure and simple, they are becoming income-redistributing welfare programs for hypocritical politicians like Paul and Rick Perry.

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Here are the facts. If it were not for the endless series of TV debates, more than a dozen thus far, robbing all of us of 20 hours of our lives we can never get back, most of the candidates would have been run off long ago — even the better fundraisers like Perry. Instead of allowing Darwinian inevitability to send these bottom feeders into extinction, they get to stick around for more free media on the off chance that a front-runner like Mitt Romney might make a mistake in debate No. 18, causing the fickle finger of fate to push the reset button on the race. Here is what it’s like for Rick Perry. He takes a trip to Las Vegas to try his hand at cards. Within a day or two he’s lost most of the money he brought with him and is on the phone to his Texas bankers trying to get some more funds wired into his casino account. But when he shows up on the casino floor, they say it’s all good, just as with young Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation.” “Your usual table, Mr. Papagiorgio?” Perry’s money is no good here because it’s all for free in this magical cycle. The price of admission is just a pocketful of plane tickets to haul this cowboy to the next rodeo. And the next.

Think about it! Who is paying for all these debate spectacles? Do you think that it’s really completely free? Think again. When Fox or CNN “sponsors” a debate, who is paying for that set, moderators, other production costs and airtime? Do you think they are “donating” all this? No way. They and a few co-sponsors may claim some tax-deductible charitable write-offs, but they are passing a lot of it along as a “cost of business” to sponsors. And who pays the sponsors’ bills? Consumers like you and me.

I have also uncovered another source of the welfare transfer payments: poor students, their parents and the taxpayers who subsidize higher education. A news report out of Tampa reveals that the University of South Florida Student Government and University Communications and Marketing are paying some of the “incidental costs” for security, cleaning and room rentals for an upcoming January presidential debate. So in the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, student service dollars are going to subsidize Ron Paul’s quixotic quest for the presidency. Rank-and-file students should just say no. Tell the Texans to pay for their own stinking presidential campaigns in Florida. Someone should look into all the so-called sponsorships of all these debates.

If Ron Paul discovered that a corporate entity sponged off a public agency to further its interests at home or abroad, we’d have to listen to a sanctimonious sermon about how wrong it is. Well, walk your talk, Mr. Paul. Stop living off debate welfare to keep your campaign afloat and in the public eye. Pay for your own TV face-time.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.