May 23, 2008

A look at campaign 2008 lobbying interests: Rocky Mountain News

DNC sponsorships raise questions on motivations

Companies sign on by dozens to help party gathering

By Kevin Vaughan, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)
Monday, May 12, 2008
DNC sponsorships raise questions on motivations

* List of Democratic National Convention sponsors

More DNC 2008

* ACLU, Denver reach partial agreement
* McCain, Obama scheduled to visit Denver next week
* Obama starts search for VP


Everything is for sale, and this summer's Democratic National Convention in Denver is no exception.

More than four dozen national corporations have signed up as sponsors of the convention - everyone from Allstate to Xerox. And almost all of them have the same thing in common: They either have business with the federal government or they lobby on pending issues.

And that prompts a myriad of questions.

Are the big companies simply being good corporate citizens? Or are they looking for access - maybe not to the presidential nominee, but to members of Congress and party officials who can help make sure their issues get heard?

The answer is simple, said former Denver City Councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt: "It's always about access."

"Here's the reality," Barnes- Gelt said, "and this comes from the experience of an old fundraiser: The first people you go to for money are people who have an interest in making sure you're in a decision-making position. And that's true whether you're the DNC, the president of the United States or the local city council person."

Not only Democrats

To date, the Democratic National Convention Host Committee has lined up 56 corporate sponsors.

A few have local ties, like Qwest, Molson Coors and Vail Resorts. Others are huge national corporations, such as Anheuser-Busch, Union Pacific and 3M.

It is not a phenomenon unique to the Democrats or Denver. A slew of corporate donors have lined up for the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, and 20 of them also are sponsoring the DNC.

They include companies like 3M, Allstate, AstraZeneca, AT&T, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., Ford, Merck, Qwest, the Service Employees International Union, US Bank, Visa and Xcel Energy.

"Welcome to the American political system," Barnes-Gelt said of the companies ponying up money on both sides of the aisle.

Chris Lopez of the Democratic National Convention Host Committee acknowledged that sponsors get "opportunities" that depend on the level of their support. Those opportunities can include tickets to events surrounding the convention and even access to the Pepsi Center itself, where the convention will be held.

The host committee does not have to file documents outlining the level of sponsorships until after the convention. But Lopez said the access goes up as the contributions do.

Massie Ritsch of the Center for Responsive Politics said corporations sponsor political conventions for the same reason they sponsor sporting events: to build goodwill. And at political conventions, executives get access to influential people, Ritsch said. "Corporations aren't allowed to contribute directly to political parties or candidates' campaigns, but they can subsidize the gatherings that show off a party's candidate to American voters and get the candidate officially nominated," Ritsch wrote in an e-mail interview.

"Money from these corporate donors helps the party, it helps the candidate, and to call it anything other than a campaign contribution is to make a distinction without a difference."

Interests in government

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may be spending all their time talking about flag pins and the Iraq war, about a gas tax holiday and health care, but federal Lobbying Disclosure Act records show the companies sponsoring this summer's convention in Denver have many other interests in Washington.

Qwest, for example, is interested in a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Molson Coors has an interest in tax policy, alcohol advertising and self- regulation, excise taxes on beer and other issues. Coca-Cola is looking at the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2007 and other issues.

And on it goes - scores of issues the sponsors have lobbied on.

"Since the conventions are basically party functions, and the money goes to pay for what the party wants to do, in part these convention contributions are like campaign contributions," said Steve Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute. "And campaign contributions reinforce lobbying representations because you can get in much more easily to see somebody if you're a donor."

Weissman said he believes that convention sponsorships amount to contributions directly to political candidates.

"We have long made the point that even if some of these companies and individuals have in their mind that they are contributing to support the promotion of the local city, like Denver, that that may not be the only thing they have in their mind," Weissman said. "And whatever they have in their mind, it will be something that can add to the bonds of gratitude of political candidates.

"After all, what is a convention but the largest political ad?"

Staff writer M.E. Sprengelmeyer contributed to this report.

This year's political conventions brought to you by . . .

Organizations that have committed to sponsor both the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis and some of the issues they have lobbied on:


General business issues; rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act; universal service reform; video franchise relief; broadband deployment; protection of records


Climate change, renewable energy-related issues; Clean Energy Act of 2007; Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007; wind production tax credit; Climate Security Act


Contracting out of security guard functions by federal agencies; National Defense Authorization Act

* AT&T

Telecom issues, including implementation of the 1996 Telecommunications Act; congressional oversight and video franchise reform; Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act; cash balance issues in the Pension Protection Act


Drug importation; foreign drug inspection program; Medicaid drug rebates; drug safety; pediatric drug provisions; compounding issues; Children's Health Insurance Program


Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007; Homeowners Defense Act of 2007; National Insurance Act of 2007; Nondiscriminatory Use of Consumer Reports and Consumer Information Act of 2008; Homeowners Insurance Protection Act of 2007

* 3M

Emissions control and safety systems; airline and baggage security issues; federal appropriations; science- based decision-making on water and air quality


Increased funding for National Immunization Program; funding for Food and Drug Administration; patent reform legislation; opposition to drug importation


Legislation related to "black box" recorders on new automobiles; the Cameron Gulbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act of 2007; Damaged Vehicle Information Act; Passenger Vehicle Loss Disclosure Act


Various legislation related to credit card issuer practices


Drug safety; legislation related to pharmaceuticals, including the Patient Protection and Innovative Biologics Medicines Act of 2007


Bankruptcy reforms to prevent foreclosures; tax incentives for renewable energy


Drug-importation issues; Medicare and Medicaid coverage and reimbursement issues; pharmaceutical regulations; tax issues; patent issues


Rail Antitrust Enforcement Act; tax credits, rail capacity, rail infrastructure; Railroad Competition Improvement and Reauthorization Act


Patent reform; health-care related bills, including legislation related to safety of advanced medical devices, promotion of health information technology systems
Legislation reauthorizing New Markets Tax Credit
Farm Bill provisions; other legislation affecting renewable fuels; freight rail issues

Fuel-efficiency issues, climate-change issues; employee benefits, health care and pension issues; corporate governance and tax issues; arbitration rules


Matters relating to the malt beverage industry; family entertainment; regulation of marine mammals, endangered species and wildlife; solid waste disposal issues; legislation affecting recycling deposits [ed. note: Cindy McCain's MONEY}


Legislation that would remove antitrust exemptions and subject insurance industry to Federal Trade Commission regulation

M.E. Sprengelmeyer

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