Here’s one bright spot in a bleak election year: This summer’s Democratic and Republican conventions were not subsidized by taxpayers.
In 2012, the public contributions to those distinguished demonstrations of democracy—the shows where you could see Clint Eastwood hectoring an empty chair or a weepy video tribute to Ted Kennedy—ran upwards of $18.2 million each (not including the cost of security), according to a May 2016 report from the Congressional Research Service. But this year, for the first time since 1972, the parties and their host cities’ host committees were on the hook to raise all the money to stage their own four-day infomercials. Under the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, passed in 2014, funds that once went to subsidize political conventions have been diverted to pediatric health care research.
Supporters of convention subsidies argued—in the words of that Congressional Research Service report—that “conventions had a history of questionable fundraising and that eliminating public funding raised the prospects for real or apparent corruption.” Yet corporations have been openly sponsoring the conventions for years, even as public funds were also available. In that context, relying slightly more heavily on private financing seems a trivial concern.
A more substantial concern, at least for the Republicans, was certain corporations’ skittishness about having their brands associated with any event where Donald J. Trump was expected to receive a presidential nomination.