Five years ago this week, a federal election regulator predicted that corporate sponsorship of political conventions would eventually be as common as it is for football bowl games.
“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,” joked Bradley Smith, then a Republican member of the Federal Election Commission.
That day has pretty much arrived.
The Democratic and Republican conclaves this summer in Denver and St. Paul, Minn., will be financed overwhelmingly by private money from some of the nation’s largest corporations, says a report released Wednesday by the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan study group. From AT&T to Xcel Energy, companies have lined up to pay for the two events in exchange for the promise of access to the nation’s most powerful politicians, the report says. The group estimates private funds likely will amount to 80 percent of the meetings’ $112 million combined pricetag.
Since 2002, federal law has barred the political parties from accepting unlimited corporate contributions known as “soft money,” a ban enacted to get rid of the donations’ corrupting influence. But the FEC has continued to allow big bucks to flow from corporations to local committees set up to host the conventions, reasoning that they’re more focused on promoting their cities than on politics.
A closer look at the groups’ fundraising, however, blows away that rationale, says the institute’s Steve Weissman. “Only Democrats are fundraising in Denver, period,” he says, and Republicans in St. Paul. “Contrary to the FEC’s conclusion, political considerations have a lot to do with host committee fundraising activity,” the report concludes. Further evidence of that, it says, is that about half the private money for this year’s conventions is to come from out-of-state companies.