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Big Money Influence at the Conventions

Written by Zoe Bridges-Curry and Angela Canterbury.

"I look forward to the day, by 2008, when Americans can turn on their TVs and watch the Nokia Democratic Convention, or the AT&T Republican National Convention."

                                                        - Bradley Smith, former Republican member of the FEC

What happened to putting voters first?  Well, yesterday, our own Craig Holman threw down the gauntlet and told CQ [$] that campaign finance and ethics watchdogs will be out in force, keeping tabs on the events and making noise over rules violations.

Campaign finance laws like the Fair Elections Campaign Act (FECA) were created in part to end the undo influence of corporate donors.  Contradicting the spirit of these laws, political parties continue to use the national party conventions to secure millions of dollars in corporate contributions, funneling contributions through the supposedly nonpartisan host committees.  The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has even approved this maneuver, thereby allowing wealthy corporations privileged access to elected officials at the conventions.

For the political parties, the conventions are the perfect opportunity to circumvent existing restrictions on soft-money donations, because donors can make lavish contributions to the conventions’ host committees. A report recently released by the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI), estimated that approximately 80% of the estimated $112 million needed to hold the conventions will come from private donors, primarily large corporations.

As both the report and a quick visit to the DNC convention website make clear, in return for sizeable donations, host committees for both parties offer corporations and other big donors exclusive access to elected officials at the conventions.  The greater the donation, the greater the access to advertising opportunities and influential convention attendees. In his talking points for meeting with potential corporate donors, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty from Minnesota offered corporations the chance to “connect with influential government officials (Cabinet, President, next President)” [New York Times, June 7, 2008]. An added bonus for donors: corporate donations to the host committee are tax deductible, meaning that, ultimately, it is taxpayers who subsidize corporate privilege at the conventions.

The CFI report documents that “Presidential” donors who give $1 million to the DNC Convention receive VIP access to the Pepsi Center convention hall and all Host Committee-sponsored events, numerous advertising opportunities, and the opportunity to attend private events with Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, U.S. Senator Ken Salazar, and other party officials. As advertised in brochures given to potential donors, corporate donors to the GOP Convention receive similar perks for a $5 million donation.

To ensure that voters’ voices are not drowned out by big-money interests, it is crucial that Congress act to prevent unlimited soft-money donations to convention host committees and to ensure public financing for elections.

Take Action! Tell your members of Congress to comply with existing ethics laws at the conventions.

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