Obama to Sign Bill Giving Convention Money to Pediatric Research

Image: Obama to Sign Bill Giving Convention Money to Pediatric Research

Wednesday, 26 Mar 2014 09:12 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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President Barack Obama is expected to sign bipartisan-supported legislation to turn public funds raised for the Democratic and Republican national conventions over to the National Institutes of Health, where the money will be earmarked for pediatric medical research, the White House has announced.

The Senate passed the The Gabriella Miller Kids Research First Act earlier this month, and once Obama signs it, millions of dollars will be earmarked for financing research on cancer, autism, fragile X syndrome, and other childhood diseases, NPR reports.

The act is named  for a 10-year-old Virginia girl who had an inoperable brain tumor. Before her death last year, she and her parents, Mark and Ellyn Miller, fought for more federal funds to find a cure for childhood cancer.

The legislation is a true bipartisan effort. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., championed the bill in the lower chamber, and Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, also of Virginia, helped push the proposed law through the Senate.

Kaine, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, is a close ally of President Barack Obama. Democratic Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch also championed the bill, and it passed the Senate by unanimous voice vote at the request of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Political parties will be left to scramble replacing the public funds, which represent about a quarter of the costs for the conventions. In 2012, public funds paid for $18 million of each convention, NPR reports.

But Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast last week that he does not care about losing the funding.

"In fact, I probably agree with it," Priebus said. "But then allow the national parties, both the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and the RNC, to go in and raise the money. That seems pretty reasonable to me."

Cities are lining up to host the four-day conventions in 2016, but they may have to find the cash as well, rather than depending on the government.

The funding has been in place since the Watergate era, with taxpayers contributing by checking a box on their federal tax returns and designating $3 of their tax payments to help finance political campaigns, in hopes of keeping politicians from relying on special interest donors.

In his 2012 campaign, Obama refused the public financing. He and Republican contender Mitt Romney each raised more than $1 billion for their campaigns.

David Mason, a former federal election commissioner, told NPR that the public convention funding never applied to third parties, and candidate matching funds in presidential primaries are no longer favored.

"At this point, the only people who maybe are going to take public financing are third-rate presidential candidates who don't have a serious chance of winning the nomination of their party," Mason said.

Several Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have complained the measure is symbolic and won't actually finance more pediatric research, which has been cut in recent years because of spending limits and automatic spending cuts.

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