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Convention delegates happy, despite cost

ST. PAUL -- National political conventions cost millions of dollars -- some from the federal treasury -- but even many fiscally conservative delegates don't mind.

It is worth the money, Minnesota delegates from both major parties said, because it draws attention to presidential candidates.

"It gives those somewhat interested a moment to pause to listen to the candidate," said Jessica Rohloff of Willmar, who plans to ride a train to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

"It is a great way for Republicans and Democrats to put forth their philosophies in order to recruit more people to the party," added the Rev. Gus Booth of Warroad, a Republican delegate who admits the convention also will be "certainly a bunch of pomp and circumstance."

Minnesota sends 110 Democratic delegates and alternates to Denver, for the convention beginning Aug. 25. Seventy-eight Minnesotans will represent the state when St. Paul hosts the Republican convention starting Sept. 1.

Convention organizers have not released the full projected cost, but each party probably will raise and spend more than $50 million in private and public money for its four-day extravaganza. About $16 million for each convention comes out of the federal budget, and there is talk that Denver may request more from Washington.

Much of the funding comes from private donors, mostly lobbyists and other groups that want to bend delegates' ears.

The two conventions' host communities will receive $50 million in federal money for security, on top of actual convention costs. And above all of that comes the cost of hundreds of parties and other peripheral events.

The Taxpayers for Common Sense group has doubts about paying for conventions.

"Sure, much of it will be picked up by wealthy donors and corporate contributions," says a report from the national watchdog group. "But that doesn't end the taxpayer's costs -- a company's contributions to the host committees are tax-deductible," so the federal government loses revenue.

Most delegates interviewed in recent days said they never considered the cost of a convention, just its benefits.

The Minnesotan who knows more about conventions than most is a delegate to the Denver event, and said there is little official business to conduct.

"The decisions largely are made," said ex-Vice President Walter Mondale, also a former presidential candidate.

Nominees are all but officially decided for the two major parties. They will pick their own presidential candidates. Even platforms, which outline parties' political beliefs, are predictable, Mondale said.

"You probably could write the platform right now," he told political reporters.

The cost bothers Richard Koch, an alternate Republican delegate from Jackson, but until there is a better answer, he is proud to attend the St. Paul event as an alternate.

The top convention priority, he said, is to write a platform. Others agreed.

"If you just have got hundreds of candidates and you have to study each candidate's position in detail ... it becomes a very unwieldy process," Rep. Kent Eken, a Twin Valley Democrat, said, and a platform that provides general information on a party's stand on important issues helps voters.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.