A new report from the watch dog group Public Citizen titled “Party Conventions are a Free-for-All for Influence Peddling” details how the political conventions are essentially “free-for-alls” for corporations and lobbyists seeking to influence lawmakers. While conventions are often promoted to local communities as opportunities for “civic boosterism,” the report finds that such claims do not match reality and that the conventions often cost cities in terms of lost business and negative publicity.
So, who is benefiting from the political conventions? According to the report, it’s many of the same corporations that fund the conventions. The conventions rely primarily on private money–much of it from unregulated corporate money–to fund the conventions. In turn, corporations receive a variety of benefits, some of which include time with party leaders and party members. The report details benefits for corporate sponsors at both the Republican National Convention (RNC) and Democratic National Convention (DNC):
The RNC Corporate Sponsorship Packet of the Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) host committee offers seven levels of sponsorship for the RNC convention. These are:
* Viking sponsor. For $50,000 or more, the donor receives credentialed tickets to convention sessions, invitations to all 2008 host committee leadership events, and is listed as a sponsor in official guide books and on the 2008 website.
* Bronze Sponsor. For $100,000, donors get the same perks as Viking Sponsors with additional access to “premier” Minneapolis/St. Paul venues for “corporate hospitality” events and to the Xcel Center Hospitality Suite. Companies that attain this level of sponsorship, such as Land O’Lakes and Waste Management, may also opt to sponsor volunteer uniforms and water bottles.
* Silver Sponsor. For $250,000, donors such as Cargill, Eli Lily, Koch, and Wells Fargo gain “special access” to all host committee parties and events and to the Host Committee Suite at the Convention Center. Their status as a Silver Sponsor also qualifies these companies to be the exclusive official provider of a particular service to the convention.
* Gold Sponsor. For $500,000, donors gain the added perk of participation in tours of the convention spaces and cities during “Get to Know Minneapolis/St. Paul Days.”
* Platinum Sponsor. For $1 million, donors such as Xcel, UnitedHealth, Medtronic, St. Jude Medical, and US Bank, win VIP access to the Xcel Center.21 Originally, Platinum Sponsors were also promised a private reception with Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Norm Coleman, and the mayors of St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Bloomington. This perk was removed from the publicized packet after a number of critical articles appeared in both local and national press.
* Finance Vice-Chair. For $2.5 million, donors were also promised a golfing outing with Republican leadership, another bonus that was met with public outrage and subsequently dropped from the publicized packet.
* Finance Co-Chair. For $5 million, donors such as Qwest gain exclusive VIP access to the host committee media party and VIP tours of the Twin Cities.
The DNC Corporate Sponsorship Packet enumerates five levels of sponsorship and their respective benefits. These are:
* Mile High Plus. For $52,800, corporate donors of all levels receive invitations to host committee sponsored events such as the Media Welcoming Party and recognition in all host committee publications, as well as on the host committee website. Mile High Plus sponsors may choose to place products with the company’s logo in bags for delegates or the media, or they can opt to sponsor five information booths at the convention.
* Silver Sponsor. For $100,000, donors receive general tickets for convention sessions.
Gold Sponsor. For $250,000, donors such as ConocoPhillips, Eli Lily, and Staples gain access to the host committee hospitality suite and an invitation to attend a private event with Denver 2008 Executive Committee members. Executive Committee members include Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Sen. Ken Salazar, and Rep. Diana DeGette.
* Platinum Sponsor. For $500,000, donors are granted access to “premier” Denver venues for corporate hospitality events and receptions.
* Presidential Sponsors. For $1 million, donors collect VIP tickets to the Convention Center and “first consideration” for popular Denver venues. Presidential sponsors of the 2008 DNC convention include Qwest, Xcel, Level 3 Communications, Molson-Coors, and Union Pacific.
Beyond funding the convention and receiving sponsorship benefits that may allow for increased access to influential party members and leaders, corporations also use parties–of which there are over 400–at the conventions to influence delegates. The parties and receptions typically happen in the evening and are sponsored by a variety of corporations, lobbyists, and lobbying organization. While ethics rules recently passed by Congress are designed to curtail influence-peddling at these parties, Public Citizen reports that lobbyists are figuring out ways to get around the regulations:
“For example, even though the rules ban lawmakers from attending a party hosted by a lobbying organization that honors a specific member, AT&T appears willing to host parties that honor congressional caucuses, such as the “Blue Dog Coalition” or the “Republican Main Street Partnership.” This is an apparent violation of ethics rules.”
In order to change this paradigm, Public Citizen advocates that the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) reverse its decisions on corporate sponsorships of conventions. It also suggests that lawmakers steer clear of any parties that honor specific lawmakers or groups of lawmakers, as they may violate congressional rules. The best bet–for both lawmakers looking to avoid legal problems and democracy–would be to bypass the party scene altogether.