Election fever is in the air as the Republicans gathered in Cleveland the 18th of July followed by the Democrats in Philadelphia this week. Conventions certainly generate economic activity for their host cities, but there are considerable costs as well. How do cities come up with money for their expenses? Are public funds available? We are all familiar with the box on our tax returns that we check if we want $3 of our tax money to go to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. It used to be that a part of that money went to fund party conventions. In 2014, the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act redirected that portion into a ten-year pediatric cancer research fund. While the political parties themselves no longer get taxpayer money to pay for their conventions, grants from the Department of Justice to the cities of Cleveland and Philadelphia played a major role in providing security for the two events.
National Special Security Events
The two political major conventions, along with presidential inaugurations, high-level dignitary visits, world leader summits and prominent sporting contests like the Super Bowl are classified as National Special Security Events (NSSEs). There are several considerations the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security factors in when deciding to classify a gathering as a National Special Security Events (NSSEs), including attendance by dignitaries; the size of the crowds; the event's historical, political or cultural significance; and the potential threat of terrorism or widespread civil disobedience. Once an event is classified as a NSSE, the U.S. Secret Service becomes the lead agency for security. It is up to them to coordinate with federal, state and local law enforcement and public safety agencies to plan, direct and implement security. Typical security activities usually include surveillance, additional law enforcement officers, bomb-sniffing dogs, surveillance, flight restrictions and road closures. A designation as an NSSE event alone does not provide automatic funding, as the Secret Service is not authorized in this area. Congressional appropriations through the DoJ’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistant Grant made the funds available for the two convention cities.
Security Grants for the 2016 Conventions
The City of Cleveland received $49.9 million from the DoJ for the Republican National Convention. NBC reports that $30 million of that was for personnel and $20 million for equipment. Over 5,000 officers were assigned to the RNC, including an estimated 3,000 federal officers, 2,000 out-of-state federal officers and 500 from the Cleveland Police Department. Purchases to assist them in maintaining security include:
- 10,000 extra sets of plastic handcuffs
- 2,000 sets of riot gear
- 300 bikes for the crowd control officers
- 1,500 body cameras
- A bomb-diffusing robot
Philadelphia received over $43 million from the DoJ for the Democratic National Convention. In April, the Philadelphia local NBC affiliate NBC10 provided a projected breakdown of what the money will be used for:
- $8.03 million for payroll costs including overtime for safety personnel
- $7.70 million for equipment from police radios to sophisticated technology to detect chemical weapons
- $9.66 million for safety supplies like phone batteries and chargers, traffic cones, defibrillators
- $10.7 million for contracts for transportation, parking lots and credentialing
- $1.02 million for sanitation and car rentals
- $550,000 for private security consultants
- $76,000 to cover travel and food for law enforcement
Both cities will get to keep much of the security equipment obtained for the conventions. The ten-page grant approval document and the conditions cities must comply with are available online.