Campaign finance: How much would you pay?

Many Iowans lucky enough to make it through the highly competitive process of becoming a delegate to their political party’s national convention are still hard at work as they solicit money for the trip.

You may have seen the pleas in your social media feeds or heard them firsthand at organizational events throughout the state. Being elected a delegate to the Republican or Democratic national convention is an expensive proposition.

Not only do many would-be delegates underwrite the cost of their election campaigns, but each is responsible for taking time off work, writing checks for convention fees and paying all their own travel and lodging expenses.

How much does it cost? It varies each year, depending on your political persuasion and the convention location, but always runs in the thousands.

Children sit on the roof of a truck as part of a parade in this Gazette file photo.
Children sit on the roof of a truck as part of a parade in this Gazette file photo. (Laura Segall/The Gazette)

Democrats will be gathering in Philadelphia during the last week of the month, and Republicans are only two weeks away from their convention in Cleveland. Delegates on both sides of the aisle are scrambling to gather between $3,000 and $8,000 per person, with Democrats bearing a larger cost burden this year.

The DNC has blocked out rooms in roughly 26 hotels around the convention site, and most hotel rates have spiked. The block of rooms set aside for the Iowa delegation typically run about $300 a night, but during the convention the rate has nearly doubled.

Democratic delegates, many of whom have never been involved in politics beyond volunteering, have set up online fundraising profiles and have reached out to affiliated organizations, such as unions or advocacy groups. A few county parties, confronted with especially young delegates, have chipped in, but the state parties have made clear they won’t absorb any of the cost.

The Federal Election Commission has said presidential candidates can help delegates pay for travel and hotel costs, although most local delegates aren’t counting on such help from above.

Superdelegates — mostly elected officials and state party members — are allowed to use candidate funds to finance their convention trip. And there are a few affluent delegates and elected officials, such as Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson, who are “mentoring” some younger delegates by helping to cover their expenses.

Hotel rooms in Cleveland have also been raised during the week of the Republican convention to an average $400 per night. Delegates not only will need to travel to the chosen cities, but will need to purchase their own food and source local transportation.

Taylor Mason, communications director for the Repubican Party of Iowa, reports hotel cost for the Iowa delegation is roughly $260 per night.

A few of GOP delegates have been using online fundraising, but RPI Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said he’s heard that is “not going well at all.”

He attributes that, at least in part, to the fact so many people want to go to the convention.

“If you can’t pay your own way, there are five or six others who want to go and can,” he told Gazette political reporter James Q. Lynch.

Each state political party does select alternates to the national convention, not only in case of emergencies but because it is known the cost may be insurmountable for some. And that knowledge has sparked discussion of inequity, as it does every convention cycle.

I’ll be part of The Gazette team that is traveling to and covering the Democrats in Philadelphia. As a lead-in to that coverage, I’ve been speaking with convention delegates from the 1st and 2nd Districts, and plan to follow at least four — two Bernie Sanders supporters, and two Hillary Clinton supporters.

I’ll be introducing them, and discussing their fundraising progress, in future columns.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 3, 2016. Photo credit: Laura Segall/The Gazette