There once was a time when political conventions were vital to conducting American democracy. There also once was a time when horse-drawn carriages were essential to travel long distances.

Today, the national conventions are, from a practical standpoint, obsolete and as anachronistic as the straw hats many delegates wear.

And so are the taxpayer subsidies they feed on.

The Democratic and Republican parties received a total of $136 million in federal funding for their recently concluded conventions. Congress appropriated $100 million — $50 million for each convention — to cover the cost of security (which has been over the top at both sites). Each party also received public grants of $18,248,300 for their conventions, funded through the Presidential Election Campaign Checkoff.

What did Joe and Joanna Taxpayer receive? Heavily scripted affairs of partisan speeches full of emotional appeals and gilded lilies, and little nutritional content. Ironically, they draw lots of media coverage — 15,000 or more reporters, pundits and other related employees — but produce so little real news.

It’s not like politics is starving for money. Both major parties are awash in billions of special-interest dollars, more of which could be used to underwrite the conventions. Indeed, the use of tax dollars frees up private donations that the parties can spend elsewhere on non-convention politicking. Why should the public do them a favor?

Defenders of the tax subsidy argue that conventions are a good investment in the democratic process. But do we really need to publicly fund political circuses to get voters involved in the election? In the modern media age, the parties don’t need conventions to get their messages out.

If Washington is to tighten its belt, one of the first notches to be punched should be ending the convention subsidies.

— The News Herald,

Panama City, Fla., Sept. 7

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