Affirming the adage that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) has stumbled upon a good idea.
His idea has two parts: First, the federal government should stop footing part of the bill for the national conventions of the two major political parties. Second, it should spend that money on something worthwhile: Mr. Cantor suggests diverting the money that taxpayers now spend on the presidential nominating conventions to help fund autism research by the National Institutes of Health.
The Presidential Election Campaign Fund, which is supported by a voluntary $3 checkoff on our income tax forms, not only funds the campaigns of candidates who opt to use the public financing system and observe its limits, but also partially funds the party conventions. Last year, the 33 million taxpayers who checked off the box subsidized the two party conventions to the tune of $36.5 million each.
Congress has also set aside $50 million apiece for “security” at the conventions. The total taxpayer bill for two big, meaningless coronations: $173 million.
Neither President Obama nor his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, accepted public financing in 2012. They could raise and spend far more money outside the system.
Neither convention was wholly paid for by government grants. The GOP convention cost $73 million to stage, and the Democratic convention cost $55 million. The parties made up the difference with donations from corporate sponsors.
Mr. Cantor has an ulterior motive: He would like to dismantle the public financing system, and that is a very bad idea. But he is right that taxpayers should not pay for the conventions.
Moreover, these big shindigs decide nothing. Both political parties are quite capable of paying for their conventions themselves. Party leaders will simply have to hit up a few more high rollers, which will trouble Democratic and Republican operatives not a whit.
Another $173 million would bolster scientific study of autism. More funding is urgently needed for clinical trials on pediatric autism research.
The future of public campaign funding should not be up for debate, and Mr. Cantor should not be allowed to dismantle the system. But if he can end the convention boondoggle and re-direct money to autism research, good for him.