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With the advent of television and the widespread adoption of primaries, the national parties' nominating conventions have largely been reduced from decision-making bodies to a rubber stamp function.  The conventions are, in fact, tightly scripted made-for-TV spectacles.   Nonetheless, these quadrennial gatherings still fulfill a vital function in the life of the political parties and can provide a boost for the nominee. 


2000 Republican National Convention

July 31 to August 3, 2000 at the 
First Union Center in Philadelphia

2000 Democratic National Convention

August 14-17, 2000 at the 
STAPLES Center in Los Angeles

The Changing Character of Conventions

In the past, the national convention served as a decision-making body, actually determining the party's nominee. For example, the 1924 Democratic National Convention in New York lasted 17 days and required 103 ballots to select John Davis as the nominee. The last Democratic Convention to go beyond one ballot occurred in 1952, when Adlai Stevenson won on the third ballot; the 1948 Republican Convention went to a third ballot before New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey won the nomination.  Republicans had a close vote in 1976 in Kansas City when President Ford prevailed over Ronald Reagan by 1187 votes to 1070 votes.

Two significant changes have occurred in recent decades. First, most of the national convention delegates are now selected by voters in primary contests rather than by party caucuses and meetings. Second, with the advent of television, conventions have become tightly scripted made-for-TV spectacles.  Each party seeks to present itself in the best possible light and to demonstrate a united front rather than to hash out its differences.

One could argue that modern day conventions are little more than four-day advertisements for the political parties. Because there is no longer much suspense, conventions have suffered declining viewership, coverage by the major networks has been cut, and some observers have suggested that the conventions themselves should be cut to three days.

The conventions may have been reduced to rubber stamps, but they still fulfill a vital function in the life of the political parties. In many ways, the essence of a convention is what happens off of the convention floor. In the lead-up to the convention, the drafting of the party platform provides interests aligned with the party a forum to present their concerns. During the days of the convention itself, hundreds of events, caucuses, receptions, breakfasts, fundraisers, and parties take place in the hotels surrounding the convention hall. At the end of the convention, party activists return to their communities energized for the fall campaign and, if all goes well, the presidential ticket emerges with a convention bounce.

Preparation

The major party conventions are funded and supported by non-partisan, non-profit host committees, by grants from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (the $3 income tax check-off), and to a lesser degree by local taxpayers.  Host committees fulfill a range of functions.  Early on they promote the city's bid.  If the city is successful, as in the case of Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the host committee sets to work raising money and in-kind services, recruiting volunteers and organizing events and activities to welcome delegates and media.  In addition to host committee support, the Democrats and Republicans have each received grants for their conventions totalling $13,512,000 million from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.  [The parties each received an initial payment of $13.2 million in July 1999 and a further $288,000 in March 2000; the overall amount is the $4 million set in 1974 by the Federal Election Campaign Act plus a cost-of-living adjustment].  The Reform Party has been certified to receive a grant of $2,468,921 to put on its convention (FEC, Nov. 22, 1999).

The Republicans: Day-to-day planning for the 2000 Republican National Convention is proceeding under the direction of convention manager Chip DiPaula and a team working out of Philadelphia offices. The RNC's 62-member Committee on Arrangements (COA), co-chaired by Jan Larimer of Wyoming and Alec Poitevint of Georgia, has overall responsibility for planning and running nearly all aspects of the convention.  The COA held its first meeting on July 7, 1999 and has formed 11 subcommittees covering areas from  technology to transportation.  The host committee, Philadelphia 2000, has been raising money and will be mobilizing city residents to provide a warm welcome for convention-goers. 


The Democrats: Democrats named Lydia Camarillo as CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee and announced others in the management team on Sept. 21, 1999. The host committee, L.A. Convention 2000, has committed to providing $35.3 million in cash and in-kind goods and services. Of this, the City of Los Angeles will provide $7 million worth of transportation and security services.  LA Convention 2000 will also work to ensure convention goers receive a warm welcome. 

Party Platforms

The platform outlines the party's philosophy and priorities.  Truth be told party platforms are not widely read documents, but the process of writing a platform affords the party the opportunity to publicly seek input from its various constituencies.  During platform discussions some points of contention do arise, such as the Republican Party's quadrennial battle over its abortion plank, but generally any major dissension is ironed out before the platform reaches the convention.
The Republicans: Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson chairs the committee charged with drafting the GOP platform.  The RNC held platform hearings on June 19 in Dayton, Ohio and June 23 in Billings, Montana and will also host an Internet hearing. >
The Democrats: Democrats announced with great fanfare an interactive platform process that allowed citizens to submit suggestions over the Internet.  The Democrats' 15-person Platform Drafting Committee, which prepares the working draft of the platform, is headed by Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina as chair and Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as vice chair; the Platform Committee itself is co-chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (IL) and Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton of Minneapolis.  The DNC held one platform hearing on July 6 in St. Louis, Missouri. >


Third Party Conventions

While the big networks have been giving less coverage to major party conventions in recent years, they generally have ignored third party conventions altogether.  Fortunately C-SPAN does cover these gatherings, as they provide one of the best opportunities to learn about ideas and viewpoints beyond those of the Democratic and Republican parties.
 
Third Party Presidential Nominating Conventions
U.S. Taxpayers Party
September 1-6, 1999 at the Regal Riverfront Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri.
Association of State Green Parties

Convention Report

June 24-25, 2000 at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver, Colorado.
Libertarian Party

Convention Report

June 30-July 3, 2000 at the Anaheim Marriott in Anaheim, California. release
Reform Party
August 10-13, 2000 in Long Beach, California. rules
Natural Law Party
Convention Report
August 31-September 2, 2000 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Third Party Formulas for Apportionment of Delegates to Their National Conventions



Links
Republican National Convention
Coverage
philly.com's GOP2000
Interest Groups
Republican National Coalition for Life
Republican Pro-Choice Coalition
Demonstrations/Counter Activities
The R2K Network
Unity 2000 March and Rally--July 30, 2000
Philadelphia Direct Action Group
Shadow Conventions 2000
Convention Demonstration Permit Application Process (Philadelphia Police Department)
More
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Report: "Blacks and the 2000 Republican National Convention" (July 28, 2000)

Democratic National Convention
Democratic Interactive Platform
Demonstrations/Counter Activities
D2KLA: Mobilization to Protest the Democratic National Convention 2000
Shadow Conventions 2000
Demonstration Reservation Application (Los Angeles Police Department)
More
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Report: "Blacks and the 2000 Democratic National Convention" (July 28, 2000)

Third Parties
Green Party Platform 2000
National Platform of the Libertarian Party
Constitution Party 2000 Platform


Site Selection Process: Why L.A. and Philly?

  • The RNC began its site selection process back on December 5, 1997, and in January 1999 the full RNC approved the choice of Philadelphia. 
  • The DNC began its site selection process on December 3, 1997, and announced the choice of Los Angeles in March 1999. 
Only about 30 American cities have the facilities, infrastructure and wherewithall to host one of the major party's quadrennial nominating conventions. For both the Democrats and the Republicans, the process of selecting the convention site takes almost a year.  A national convention provides a city with a substantial public relations and economic boost (Chicago and San Diego, sites of the 1996 conventions, each tallied well over $100 million in direct economic benefits) so there is intensive wooing.  Members of the parties' respective site committees, during their visits to the cities being considered, are feted with tours, rallies, and fine meals as each city seeks to make the best possible impression. 

More on Site Selection


 
Sites of Recent Conventions

REPUBLICAN DEMOCRATIC
2000 Philadelphia, PA Los Angeles, CA
1996 San Diego, CA Chicago, IL
1992 Houston, TX New York, NY
1988 New Orleans, LA Atlanta, GA
1984 Dallas, TX San Francisco, CA
1980 Detroit, MI New York, NY
1976 Kansas City, MO New York, NY
1972 Miami Beach, FL Miami Beach, FL
1968 Miami Beach, FL Chicago, IL
1964 San Francisco, CA Atlantic City, NJ
1960 Chicago, IL Los Angeles, CA

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.


 



Notes:
Logo used in 1999 and the first part of 2000 New logo launched June 14, 2000.

Police had large presences in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles to respond to demonstrators.  There were about 400 arrests in Philadelphia, while the LAPD reported making 194 arrests.  However, many cases were dropped or led to acquittals, and a number of civil suits ensued.