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Tom Coburn Asks Parties To Give Back Taxpayer Money For Lavish National Conventions

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WASHINGTON -- If politicians are so worked up over lavish conventions funded by taxpayers, the two major parties should give back more than $35 million they are given to hold their extravagant national political conventions, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) argued Thursday.

That's after widespread outrage in Congress over revelations that the General Services Administration blew more than $800,000 on a junket to Las Vegas, complete with gourmet meals, bicycle clinics and a mind-reader.

Coburn, who has been a fierce critic of convention boondoggles run by federal agencies, made his case in a letter to both the Democratic and Republican parties, saying that with politicians lambasting such excess, the two parties should return the $17.7 million that each have already gotten from the U.S. Treasury.

"Can we agree once and for all the party is over when it comes to travel and meetings paid for by the taxpayers?" Coburn wrote to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

"If you agree, I would urge you to reject the millions of dollars of public financing for your 2012 party convention provided by the federal government through the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF) and to return the money to the federal government," Coburn urged.

The Presidential Election Campaign Fund gets supplied by the $3 checkbox on federal tax returns that gets marked by about 7 percent of taxpayers each year. On top of the money the parties have already gotten, a report by the Congressional Research Service says they should each get another $630,000 to account for inflation in 2012.

The money does not go for security, and there are very few restrictions on how the money can be spent, according to the CRS.

That means the committees hosting the shindigs -- in Tampa, Fla., for the GOP and Charlotte, N.C., for the Democrats -- can splurge on food, alcohol and even limited gifts, on top of the staffing and lodging expenses they are allowed.

Coburn thinks it make the GSA abuse look like the bush league.

"These events will be weeklong parties paid for by taxpayers, much like the highly maligned GSA conference in Las Vegas," Coburn wrote. "At a time when confidence in Washington has dropped to all-time lows and the federal debt is growing by more than $1 trillion a year, we need more than election year rhetoric and political posturing. Taxpayers expect leadership demonstrated by action."

Coburn pointed out that in 2008, "it is likely then that taxpayers covered the Democrats bill at the Ritz Carlton and six-figure cost for housing convention staff and the Republican bill for $32,250 for speech coaching services at their convention."

Representaitves for the parties could not immediately comment.

UPDATE: 3:45 p.m.

Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the RNC, responded: “Conventions serve an important role in the process of nominating candidates for President and Vice President of the United States. If Sen. Coburn has ideas on how to overhaul campaign finance laws that will provide political parties with viable alternative funding sources or on the funding for future conventions, he should address them through the legislative process.”

UPDATE: 5 p.m.
Kristie Greco, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Nation Convention Committee said in a statement: "Political nominating conventions are an essential part of our democratic process, voluntarily funded by the taxpayers. Contrary to Sen. Coburn’s assertions, we use the federal grant to fund the functions necessary to renominate the president and vice president."

Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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