The Democrats are first, rolling into the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado from August 25-27 and INVESCO field on August 28th. The Republicans then arrive in St. Paul, Minnesota where their convention will be held at the Xcel Energy Center from September 1-4. Both conventions will act as a 4 day political ad for each respective party with media attention focused on speeches and the nominating process itself. Each convention will have music, performances, speeches from various delegates, and will culminate in the acceptance speech by the presumptive nominees for President...John McCain and Barack Obama.
Both conventions will have their share of protests and as in 2004, the practice of limiting protests to "free speech zones", will be a strategy that the authorities use to attempt to keep the peace.
As these lavish political productions approach, it is interesting to take a look at who pays for all of the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the conventions and the connection between funding the conventions, policy making, and access to political candidates.
Take a look at an image of the welcome bag that delegates and entrants into the convention will receive at the DNC in Denver:
AT&T is one of 146 companies or organizations that have given money to the Democratic and Republican Conventions. 70 companies have given money only to the Democratic host committee to fund the convention, 39 companies have donated solely to the host committee for the Republicans, and 37 companies have donated money to both conventions according to the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute. It is interesting that AT&T's logo is on the welcome bag to the DNC considering it was the Democrats (including Barack Obama) who joined with the Republicans recently in passing the FISA legislation which gave retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies (like AT&T) which broke the law and spied on Americans.
The amount of soft money that has been given to these host committees for both parties, is very high and seems to work directly against the type of campaign finance reforms that both major party candidates have pledged to follow. In an interview on Democracy Now! this week, Steve Weissman from the Campaign Finance Institute stated:
“In return for this money, the parties, through the host committees, offer access to top politicians, to the president, the future president, vice president, cabinet officials, senators, congressmen. They promise these companies who are giving that they will be able to not only get close to these people by hosting receptions, by access to VIP areas, but they’ll actually have meetings with them.”
This sounds to me like a great opportunity for these companies to meet with some of the most important decision makers within both parties, and discuss issues and policies that would greatly benefit each organization. Money does indeed buy access.
There are three tables that the Campaign Finance Institute has put together to break down the campaign contributions of some of the companies that have donated to the conventions thus far.
This table shows the Organizational Donors to the Host Committee for the Democratic Convention and their Federal Contributions and lobbying expenditures.
This table shows the Organizational Donors to the Host Committee for the Republican Convention and their Federal Contributions and lobbying expenditures.
This table shows the Organizational Donors to the Host Committee for BOTH the Democratic and Republican Conventions and their Federal Contributions and lobbying expenditures.
Since the Campaign Finance Institute's first report was released, 39 other companies were acknowledged as donors and that information appears here. In addition to this information, the CFI wrote to all 146 and requested that they provide how much money they contributed to each convention's host committee. Not many companies responded, but of the ones that did you can see their contributions here.
Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, wrote in a follow-up to her interview with Steve Weissman:
Disclosure of what corporations are giving is not required until 60 days after each convention, which is essentially Election Day, so there is no time to challenge a candidate on particular corporate donors. Weissman reports that most of the corporations that are giving to the convention “host committees” also have serious business before the federal government.
Serious business before the federal government, much like the lawsuits that have been filed in response to the newly passed FISA legislation which directly affects the likes of AT&T.
Corporate sponsorship of the biggest gathering of top-level decision makers within the government, complete with special access in order to discuss important policies. Call me crazy, but something doesn't sound quite right about this process. It should not strike anyone as odd when the Democrats join with the Republicans in passing legislation that benefits corporations while the majority of the population of this country does not benefit from the same policies. After all, those that disagree with such a process are locked away in "free speech zones", out of earshot of the convention. The free-flow of corporate dollars into the election process continues to pollute democracy. As the CFI suggests:
More fundamentally, Senators Obama and McCain should take steps to permanently end the soft money system for political convention financing. Specifically, they should support the recommendation of CFI’s diverse and bipartisan Task Force on Presidential Primary Financing for legislation that would ban host committee soft money for convention expenses and instead allow the parties to collect and spend limited hard money contributions to help fund their conventions.
This would be a step forward in ending the type of corporate funding of the conventions, but we also need to look beyond and support ways which will help to reverse the corporate sponsorship of our government.