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Is a national convention a good idea for the Twin Cities, or just its pols?

The public's view of conventions as hollow spectacle may be one explanation for the reluctance of many cities to bid for them. Cost, however, remains the foremost concern. In Tampa-St. Petersburg, which is competing with Minneapolis-St. Paul for the 2008 Republican convention, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio recently made headlines after declaring she would cap the city's spending on a convention at $1 million. Iorio issued that promise after learning that the host committee's bid proposal called for the expenditure of about $28 million from city, county, and other local governments. That number only became public after a Tampa newspaper sued to gain access to the document. (Meanwhile, two other Florida cities have declined to submit bids for the GOP convention. Orlando dropped out of the running, citing financial concerns. Miami, on the other hand, bowed out because the dates of the convention conflict with another event it hopes to host: MTV's annual award ceremony).

So how much public money will Minneapolis and St. Paul pony up in the event either city winds up with a convention? Both mayors' offices refuse to release the Twin Cities bid proposals, citing the "proprietary" nature of the information and a state law that specifically earmarks convention bids as non-public information. Greg Ortale—who is the president of the lead entity preparing the bid, the Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Bureau—did not return a call seeking comment.

For his part, Rybak spokesman Hanson says it's premature to talk dollars. But, Hanson promises, the public component will only be "a fraction" of the overall tab, currently estimated at a nebulous "over $50 million." Much of the rest of the money is expected to be raised from local corporations, which receive an exemption from normal limits on soft money contributions to political parties when convention time comes.

Given the corrosive effects of such unregulated money, says the Campaign Finance Institute's Weismann, that loophole is just one more reason for smart cities to shy away from convention bids. "Some mayors may believe a convention would have great economic benefits. But I think the more important benefit for most of the mayors is being seen," Weismann adds. "If I was the mayor, I think I would have more important things to spend my money and attention on."

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