Investigator | Following the RNC money trail

Investigator ' Following the RNC money trail

CLEVELAND - CLEVELAND -- It promises to be a grand old party, an exclusive soiree' using at least $65 million of tax money to help the Republicans celebrate their choice for president.

“This is like having the Grammy's four nights in a row," said Joe Roman, president of the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

Local planners of the Republican National Convention are doubling down with your tax money, gambling that Cleveland's lucrative investment will pay dividends for decades to come.

Economics experts urge caution.

"If I were Cleveland, I would certainly welcome the convention. But let's not promise something that's nothing close to what's actually going to be delivered," said Victor Matheson, a Holy Cross College economics professor who has studied the financial impacts of past political conventions.

Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and the state have all contributed millions of tax dollars to the RNC organizers. How it will be spent, is not all together clear.

Cash-strapped Cleveland and the county each contributed $2.5 million. The state, through the JobsOhio program, delivered another $10 million.

Cleveland has also spent millions renovating parts of downtown, and investing in development projects, while preparing to put on a fresh face for the national close-up.

JobsOhio is the state's economic development arm created by Gov. John Kasich. The office, which labels itself as a private, non-profit corporation, has been criticized for its perceived lack of transparency regarding how it invests millions of tax dollars for business development.

"JobsOhio was supposed to create good paying permanent jobs,” said Sandy Theis of Progress Ohio. “It wasn't supposed to waste our tax money throwing a party."

A JobsOhio spokesman defended the agency's support of the RNC saying "its investment in this convention will further JobsOhio's economic development mission by promoting the great assets and strengths of Cleveland the the state of Ohio."

The greatest chunk of public money – a $50 million federal grant - will go for security at and around the RNC.

Dr. Marc Allan Feldman, a Cleveland Clinic doctor and the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate, said tax dollars should not be used frivolously.

"I think that everyone has a right to party, but we shouldn't be asking the taxpayers to pay for it," he said.

The security tab will be used to fortify downtown Cleveland, especially around the Quicken Loans Arena where the main convention events will unfold July 18-21.

Cleveland is already spending down the security grant money. From past conventions in places like St. Paul, Minn. and Tampa, Fla., cameras, fencing and concrete barriers were installed to corral the public - specifically protesters.

More security dollars will go toward paying as many as 5,000 police officers from Cleveland and surrounding cities and states. Money will also be used to purchase body armor, helmets, shields and vehicles.

Still, Cleveland police are concerned that officers will not be properly trained and equipped before the thousands of visitors - and thousands more protesters - arrive.

“You'd be idiotic not to have bad vibes," said Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland police union.

An estimated $49 million more in private donations are expected to be heaped on the RNC. However, because of the presence of Donald Trump, the GOP’s presumptive nominee, some corporations such as Walmart and Coca-Cola are hesitating to match their donations of previous conventions.

RNC planners, however, say they will achieve their fund-raising goals. They say it’s imperative that the city is properly prepared.

“It makes sure that the way we look to the rest of the world is in the best manner possible," Roman said.

The RNC is expected to be a boost to Cleveland – some $200 million in direct economic benefits by some accounts. Others, however, worry that those figures are overstated and political unrest may trump any gains.

Indeed, Cleveland is using security grant money - $1.5 million – to purchase $10 million of insurance in the event the city is sued for things such as police misconduct.

“This could end up really backfiring for Cleveland," said Craig Holman, a government lobbyist for Washington-based Public Citizen.

Matheson, who studied 18 political conventions over three decades said he found no impact on personal income or local employment in the host cities.

He said boosters routinely inflate the economic contributions.

"Take whatever the boosters are telling you, move the decimal point one place to the left and that's a pretty good estimate of what you're going to get," he said.

Regardless of the math, nearly all agree the national exposure will give Cleveland a chance to make a splash and produce results that go beyond a four day convention.

"The biggest benefit of having this convention in Cleveland is what it does for us one year, three years, eight years down the road,” said David Gilbert, CEO and president of the RNC Cleveland host committee.


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