Conventional Practices

The Democratic and Republican National Conventions are nearly upon us, and in and amidst the rampant VP speculation and who-invited-who gossip it bears repeating that conventions are a major vehicle for corporations and lobbyists to pour cash into lavish parties for political VIPs. Campaign contributions may have a few limits on them, but when it comes to these schmooze-fests, the sky's the limit. Champagne waterfalls all around.

As this article in the San Francisco Chronicle notes, those pledges about ethics reform and curbing the influence of big money get harder to hear when they're made from inside a party hosted by Visa:

 

Congress approved the new rules to end the practice at past conventions of committee chairs being honored at expensive parties paid for by companies they regulated. But the rules still leave plenty of opportunities for the well-connected to cozy up to lawmakers.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is hosting "hospitality suites" where top donors can meet Pelosi and other House leaders. At the GOP convention, Honeywell, Citi and Anheuser-Busch have hospitality space to connect with politicians and VIPs. At both conventions, the host committees have invitation-only events for the corporations and unions that spent millions to help put on the conventions.

"These are all the same people who have a big lobbying presence in D.C., and they all have major issues before Congress and the executive branch," said Nancy Watzman, who is spearheading the Sunlight Foundation's Web site, www.politicalpartytime.org, which lists the convention parties and the sponsors.

 

As the nominees for both major parties were more or less decided months ago, and media coverage of convention events declines with every passing election cycle people have asked what purpose they really serve. At least for corporations, they serve as an end run around contribution rules and a chance for very valuable time with influential legislators.

Oh, and that's not all. The conventions may bill themselves as uniting events for the party but there's plenty of preferential treatment going around for the big donors:

 

Barack Obama's big-money donors are being offered premier seats to his acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High, according to information obtained by The Denver Post.



 

Top fundraisers for the "Obama Victory Fund" were offered club-level seats through the end of Monday for $1,000 apiece. Also, the biggest donors to the Democratic National Convention's host committee and select VIPs are getting ultra-plush suites at Invesco.


The Obama campaign and its partners at the Democratic National Convention Committee have 8,300 club-level seats. If all were purchased, it could mean a cash infusion of $8.3 million.


But a senior adviser to the campaign, Jenny Backus, said not all club-level seats will go to donors. Backus declined to say how many will be available to the public.

Yeah, but the donors are still looked after first. I get that the party, and the candidates have to raise money for the months ahead but for the one night it'd be nice if everyone were on a level playing field.