Obvious political hay-making aside, Salt Lake County Democrats have a valid point: Taxpayers should not be subsidizing political parties, including their conventions. Even to the tune of the $2,600 discount given the Salt Lake County Republican Party for rental of the Salt Palace in 1997 and the $3,450 break afforded them last week.
Convention subsidies stopped when state law changed in 1994. Before then, the Legislature each year would approve a specific amount of state money for qualifying political party conventions. Allocations depended upon how many votes parties received in elections. Minority parties complained the policy was unfair. Lawmakers ultimately agreed and said political groups should fund conventions themselves, a reasonable expectation.That said, the $3,450 rental waiver given Salt Lake Republicans last weekend is indicative of the need for Salt Palace policy review more than political scandal. A rental reduction also was offered county Demos, who refused it. Facility manager Cliff Rippetoe says an evaluation will occur to see if discounts for political parties should continue.
That appears to be an easy one. They should not. Salt Palace policy proffers discounts to government and non-profit organizations. Legally speaking, political parties are neither. They certainly play an important role in a democratic society. But with local, state and national sensitivities about all aspects of political fund raising and party support, they should function free of public money including subsidies.
Though the recent GOP county convention wasn't quite on par with the riotous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, it had an interesting sideshow or two aside from the rental issue. The most salient was an attempt to prohibit passing out unapproved conservative GOP literature, which led to the arrest of two persons.
Evaluation of Salt Palace guidelines for distributing materials in and around the convention center will result, according to Rippetoe. An appropriate balance between free-speech rights on government property should be weighed against clients' rights to conduct business without undue interference.
Violators last Saturday were inside the center's main doors but outside the arena. Allowing people to distribute their literature outside the building near those same main doors is one consideration that sounds reasonable and fair. Salt Palace policy clarification should head in that direction.