This past summer, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn and Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole lobbied for Congress to stop sending $18 million to the conventions, money that comes from taxpayers who check off the $3 box for public campaign financing. Last week the House of Representatives voted 310-95 to do exactly that.
But somehow, the members of the Tea Party and the GOP-led Congress who argue the loudest for reducing federal spending haven't gotten around to examining whether the convention sites truly need $50 million in taxpayer funds for security.
It's an especially cogent question in the wake of this year's conventions, during which street demonstrations drew the smallest number of protesters since the mid-1960s.
A year before the convention came to Tampa, CL questioned whether that amount was necessary in the "Age of Austerity" that seems to dominate certain legislators' minds on Capitol Hill.
And now we hear that security for the RNC's official welcoming party at Tropicana Field cost a whopping $949,647.
That's the amount reported today by the Tampa Bay Times' Mark Puente. The money went to St. Pete police, fire and other city department staffers who worked the day before and the day of the event, which brought approximately 12,000 guests into the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
(Puente obtained the information via a request to the City of Tampa after he was stiff-armed by St. Pete officials).
This reporter had a credential but declined to go the welcoming party for a couple of reasons. First and foremost was the fact that there was way too much going on in the form of events and protests on the eve of the RNC to contemplate attending a party 25 miles away from the main action.
The other reason was simply there wasn't any news to cover at the event, really, except for the protests outside. CL had at least three staffers inside the dome, who reported only via tweets and photos. And that's fine, because it was a party, with lots of food and drink available.
But because it was a National Security Event, security had to be ramped up. Wouldn't it beneficial for all if Senator Coburn and friends could examine whether this expense should be covered by the $50 million federal security allotment?
In 2004 Congress allocated that same $50 million for the RNC in New York City. That was three years after the 9/11 attacks in a city that probably (along with Washington D.C) is the most vulnerable in the country to a terrorist attack. So whether or not $50 million is the appropriate figure, it's not difficult to argue that a convention held in NYC should receive more in federal funding for security than one in, say, Tampa, or Charlotte for that matter.
As we wrote last year, CL asked RNC Chair Reince Priebus about that $50 million. He replied that it was "acceptable and reasonable in our country that nowadays we make sure that we provide for a secure perimeter."
Although Mayor Foster is working hard to make sure that there are no spillover costs to St. Petersburg residents for the party, the fact is we're all paying for it — that is, the 53 percent of us who pay federal income taxes.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn makes a similar point in arguing why Tampa must keep all of its surveillance cameras purchased for $2 million by the city earlier this year for the convention. Getting rid of them now, he maintains, would be an insult to the taxpayers nationally who funded their purchase.
If nothing else, perhaps discussion of paying for security for a party might reduce the federal allocation for conventions in the future to $49 million?