U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, 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 funds to help fund autism research by the National Institutes of Health.
The Presidential Election Campaign Fund, which is supported by the voluntary $3 checkoff on federal income tax forms, not only funds the campaigns of candidates who opt to use the public financing system and observe its limits, but it also partially funds the party conventions. Last year, the 33 million taxpayers who checked off the box subsidized the Democratic and Republican conventions to the tune of $36.5 million each.
Congress has also set aside $50 million each for "security" at the conventions. The total taxpayer bill for two big coronations: $173 million.
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.
These big shindigs decide nothing. Both political parties are quite capable of paying for their political festivals themselves. Party leaders will simply have to hit up a few more high rollers, which will hardly trouble them.
The future of public campaign financing to urge candidates to live within limits 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 redirect the money to something truly beneficial, good for him.