"Firms donated at least $112m to conventions" by Bryan Bender, Globe Staff | August 31, 2008
WASHINGTON - After it was discovered that ITT had received a favorable antitrust ruling in return for donating $400,000 to the 1972 Republican National Convention, Congress barred the use of corporate funds and established a public financing system for political conventions.
Nevertheless, this year one of the largest financial backers of the Democratic and Republican conventions is none other than AT&T, another telecommunications giant.
In what watchdog groups say is a gaping loophole in campaign finance laws, public records show that nearly 200 pharmaceutical, information technology, automobile, airline, and other corporations have donated at least $112 million to the "host committees" organizing the 2008 political extravaganzas in Denver and St. Paul. In addition, they are bankrolling countless parties and closed-door receptions for lobbyists and members of Congress attending the conclaves.
One of the co-chairs of the host committee in St. Paul is Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who is also co-chairman of Senator John McCain's presidential campaign.
Pawlenty hosted meetings with corporate CEOs to raise funds for the GOP convention, according to records obtained by the Campaign Finance Institute under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. "Talking points" drafted by the governor's staff for one of his pitches instructed telling the CEOs that donations would give them the opportunity to "connect with influential government officials."
The Minneapolis-St. Paul host committee asserts, however, that it is following the regulations set forth by the FEC.
"We are playing by the rules," said Teresa McFarland, a committee spokeswoman. "We are trying to relieve the burden that would otherwise fall on the local community," such as the cost of transportation, insurance, media facilities, host committee offices, and providing "hospitality" for thousands of delegates and other attendees. These companies have come together not because of politics but to showcase our cities," she said.
The outright lying really bothers me.
Private contributions to host committees have skyrocketed from about $1 million in 1980 to $8 million in 1992, $56 million in 2000, and $142 million in 2004, according to disclosure forms. The totals for this year are not yet known because the committees are not required to report the data until 60 days after the conventions.
All this money in politics while this nation has so many neglected needs. Just warms you right you, doesn't it?
But the cozy relationship among corporations, their lobbyists, and elected officials has been on full display. One Denver event organized by a collection of banks, credit card companies, and mortgage lenders included at least three members of Congress with direct oversight of the banking industry. The message of the event, according to attendees: that the industry is properly educating consumers and does not need further government regulation.
There have been countless other gatherings, including breakfasts, lunches, and parties sponsored by firms with lobbying interests. One in Denver by the Truman National Security Project, which advocates for more hawkish defense policies, was sponsored by defense giant Lockheed Martin.
"It is not unlike what goes on in Washington every day of the year," Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, said by telephone from Denver, where he was investigating the corporate influence on the Democratic convention before heading to the GOP gathering starting tomorrow in St. Paul. "The characters are all the same."