Political Party Time: Corporations, Donors With Billions at Stake Fund Lavish Events at DNC
The celebratory mood in Charlotte was on display Tuesday night as thousands of delegates kicked off the Democratic National Convention and millions watched on TV. But the political party continues beyond what the public sees on prime-time broadcasts or even inside the convention center. There are exclusive events underway that range from corporate-sponsored parties hosted by the powerful Democratic Governors Association to a Super-O-Rama party hosted by the the three top Democratic super PACs, where the recommended contribution starts at $25,000. We’re joined by the Sunlight Foundation’s Liz Bartolomeo, who has been keeping an eye on the hundreds of events reserved for big donors and powerful figures.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We are "Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency," our two hours of daily coverage from here in Charlotte, North Carolina, on the second day of the Democratic National Convention. I’m Amy Goodman.
The celebratory mood here in Charlotte was on display Tuesday night as thousands of delegates kicked off the Democratic convention and millions watched on television. But the political parties continue beyond what the public sees on prime-time broadcasts or even inside the convention center. There are exclusive events underway here that range from corporate-sponsored parties hosted by the powerful Democratic Governors Association to a "Super-O-Rama" party hosted by the three top Democratic super PACs, where the recommended contribution starts at $25,000.
Well, our next guest has been, well, keeping an eye on the hundreds of events reserved for big donors and powerful figures. Liz Bartolomeo is with the Sunlight Foundation, which is tracking money and influence here at the DNC. They’ve put together a website called politicalpartytime.org that lets you know who’s fundraising and where. And Liz has attended many of the parties herself.
Liz, welcome to Democracy Now!
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: So, it has been pouring outside, but also inside.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: It’s raining money. You know, lots of—all the rain last night didn’t stop the party scene happening after the convention proceedings ended.
AMY GOODMAN: Just one second here. I should probably be wearing my credentials, because you can’t get on the convention floor without them. But, let’s see, my credential has the AT&T logo on it.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: As do mine.
AMY GOODMAN: And what’s interesting for the journalists, and of course all the delegates, as well, AT&T was also one of the major sponsors of the 2008 convention. Originally, Senator Obama said he would filibuster any legislation that granted retroactive immunity to AT&T and other companies for spying on American citizens, but when actually the bill was on the floor, he voted for it. And within a few weeks, the Democratic convention 2008 had AT&T branded on the delegates’ bags. But it’s not only AT&T—that’s on the lanyard. Let’s see, just the ID we have to wear to get into, for example, Bank of America Stadium, we have here, and on the ID here it says—this is for Tuesday and Wednesday, my ID—Time Warner Cable Arena. So, Time Warner, AT&T, Bank of America. Talk about what else you’ve been collecting.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: We’ve been collecting a number of events’ swag, as we like to say, from events and also capturing what’s on the corporate signage, because what the Democrat host committee has voluntary chose to do is not accept corporate money in terms of cash. They’re allowed to receive in-kind donations. But all these auxiliary parties that are happening—morning, noon, and night—around the Democratic convention here have numerous corporate sponsors. You’re seeing Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, AT&T again, Verizon again; even Google and Facebook are having events here in Charlotte.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s Wal-Mart doing?
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Wal-Mart, I know they were listed as a sponsor for a Congressional Black Caucus event. The Congressional Black Caucus is throwing a series of luncheons, evening events, and they’re one of their listed sponsors.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how do you find out who’s sponsoring what party?
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: A lot of it has to do, going to the site. One thing that Sunlight does on our "Political Party Time" website is we know how much it might cost to host one of these events, to be listed as a sponsor. It could be $25,000. It could be as high as $150,000. So, as my colleague and I go to these events, see the influence that is happening, the money on the ground here at the convention, we snap a picture of the corporate logo as we walk around talking to people, kind of ask, "Oh, who are you here with? How did you get your tickets?" It might be, "Oh, you know, we’re one of the hosts. We got 25 free tickets." But most of the times it’s just really finding that corporate signage.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the largest sponsors of the Democratic convention, and then we’ll go back to the Republican convention—
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Mm-hmm, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —and you can match them up.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Sure. I mean, we’re seeing a lot of the same names all around town, in terms of the corporate sponsors, also in terms of the folks hosting events. As I mentioned earlier, Facebook has been hosting stuff. Google has had a big presence.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do they get for this?
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: They get publicity. They get their name out there. You know, the political conventions are four days, thousands of people, a lot of media here, as well, with really not much to do. They’re sort of shuttled from site to site, walk around town, stroll around town. And, you know, in both conventions, the delegates, the attendees are very excited to be nominating their choice for president. So there is a party atmosphere. There are also a lot of influencers here: members of Congress, members of the administration, local and state officials, as well. So, with all that sort of power play in motion, these groups, they spend thousands, millions of dollars just so to get their name out there.
AMY GOODMAN: Citizens United. Talk about what’s happened since the Supreme Court decision, and also talk about something we used to hear about in the past, 527s, and their role today.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Yeah, I mean, this is the year of the super PACs, the election of the super PACs. They have spent over $214 million so far placing ads on television, doing the phone banking, creating websites and the like. But we’re not really seeing that big of a super PAC presence at the conventions. Some of the major players are hosting events. For instance, here in Charlotte, PrioritiesUSA Action, House Majority PAC and Majority PAC are throwing a series of events they’re dubbing as "Super-O-Rama," under the tag "Unity Conventions 2012."
AMY GOODMAN: Unity Convention.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Unity Convention 2012.
AMY GOODMAN: The nuclear companies. Yesterday we had a conversation with two local activists about their concerns about Duke Energy and nuclear power. But Duke Energy is not the largest U.S. company involved with nuclear power. Exelon is. Talk about Exelon’s presence.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: You know, I actually have—personally have not seen Exelon in around town. They might be sponsoring events, but, you know, I just don’t know at—I haven’t seen them, their name come up yet. I’ve seen Duke Energy, though, everywhere.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell me about Duke Energy.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: You know, Duke Energy is one of the largest businesses here. They have a giant tower right down the street from here. They’re providing, you know, a lot of services that the convention needs to operate. They have provided, you know, some loans to the convention host committee, and they also helped sponsor CarolinaFest, which was the big community festival, which did accept corporate sponsors because it was thrown by a nonprofit on Labor Day here.
AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Sunlight, Public Citizen, you signed a letter making a demand of lawmakers. What was that?
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: You know, we’ve signed a lot of—we sign a lot of letters.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m talking about the letter that asks these lawmakers not to go to lobbyist-sponsored events.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Mm-hmm, oh, yes. You know, it’s something that we have joined with Public Citizen, you know, as we really—you know, ethics watchdog, on the ground, seeing if this so-called toothpick rule is there. I will say I’ve seen governors at events. I have seen members of Congress on the street. I have not seen a member of Congress at one of these events yet.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the 527s—527s, super PACs. How are they different? How are they the same?
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: You know, super PACs can accept unlimited funds. They have to disclose their donors. They can use this money to place issue ads. They often, you know, are in support of or against a candidate, and they tell the FECthat. 527s, like the Democratic Governors Association, which has some events Sunlight has been looking at this week, you know, can accept money, can spend it on independent expenditures, but they are more—they were big in 2004 with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. A lot of times these 527s have created super PACs, just so they can take as much money as they want to spend to try to get the people they want in office in office.
AMY GOODMAN: Priorities USA, who are they?
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Priorities USA is one of the largest Democratic super PACs. One of the main runners of it is Bill Burton—used to be an Obama press secretary. They have happily announced, in a press release I received yesterday, that they raised $10 million last month. However, compared to the Romney super PAC, Restore our Future, Restore our Future has raised $89 million overall. And Priorities USA Action has only raised about $25 million overall. You know, it was one of the calls that they made at their event yesterday that my colleague attended.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what else you’ve got here on the table.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Yeah, when you go to these events, you get passes. You get swag, as I like to call it, mementos to take away. Sometimes it’s just like—it’s just an invite. So this is the access card that you need to get in the Democratic Governors Association late night event at Mez on Monday night. It was disco-themed. Gave you directions on the back, showed it to security when you entered the door.
AMY GOODMAN: And who sponsored it?
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: There was a number of sponsors there. We had about 15 overall. They included—I believe Comcast was one of them. I believe Aflac was one of them. They had a totally different slate of sponsors their first night, on Sunday night. They had more of a young people’s DJ dance party. Sometimes you have more issue-based swag, where this is from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund event. It’s condoms that say, "Protect yourself from Romney and Ryan," give information on how you can go online to sort of say this is—
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, it says, "Protect yourself from Romney and Ryan"?
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Yes, and gives the website to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. This was all over the cocktail tables at the event last night. People were grabbing them, sort of talking about them, and keeping in the hot pink theme that the party had. This is just a sort of beer koozie that I found on a table at the Ritz. It’s from the Blue Bash, which was the state party for Alabama, Florida and South Carolina, sort of big mouth bass type of thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Liz, we talked about money in the Republican convention last week, but that was at the beginning of the week. Talk about your summary of what happened last week in Tampa.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: One thing that became really quickly clear in Tampa is it was a pyramid convention in terms of access: the more money you had, the closer to the top of the most senior members of the party you got. We were very interested in sort of the mid-level lobbying-type events that you had to basically be an event sponsor to get there. But my colleague was tracking what the super PAC donors, people like Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, were doing. And Mr. Adelson showed up at an event for the Republican Jewish Coalition, which he has given about $6 million to this election year. Members of Congress were in event. It was closed to press. And at one point, Sheldon Adelson was putting on a button that said "Obama, oy vey!"
AMY GOODMAN: Well, people also can go to our website at democracynow.org, because Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke attempted to ask donorsheldon">Sheldon Adelson exactly how much money he would be spending on this election, but his daughter intervened, grabbed the camera of our videographer Hany Massoud, was taking it into the Adelson suite, and then when our team reached for it, she dropped it on the ground, also pushing our producer back. That was our team’s attempt to try to find out just how much money is being spent.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Yeah, I mean, a lot of the more secretive donors just would not talk to the press, would not really acknowledge how much money they spent, even though they are spending millions of dollars or bundling millions of dollars for the Republican campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: The Koch brothers and the Republican Party?
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: You know, David Koch was there last year—last week.
AMY GOODMAN: He was a delegate of the New York convention.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: He was a delegate. The Americans for Prosperity event, which the Kochs have greatly funded—my colleague tried to go to the event and was very firmly told, "You’re not allowed to be here," by our communications—
AMY GOODMAN: You identified yourself as the Sunlight Foundation?
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: We did identify ourselves as the Sunlight Foundation.
AMY GOODMAN: And it’s interesting. When I attempted to interview David Koch within the New York delegation, though he’s a very tall man, he was sitting, and everyone around him stood up, and he sort of cowered behind them, so it made it impossible to ask him a question. All the delegates around him stood up to protect him from a reporter’s question.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: Yeah, and we’ve been finding, though, here in the Charlotte convention, we’re talking to super PAC donors at both conventions. And, you know, my colleague ran into Jim Simmons, who has given to a few Democratic super PACs, last night, as we were entering the Time Warner Cable Arena. And he was chatting up. He, you know, was in a little bit of a rush, but didn’t try to push away, not want to talk about it. So, the donors here seem very—you know, they’re happy to be talking about the funding and the fundraising they’re doing for the Democrats.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the convention itself is happening in the Time Warner Cable convention center. AT&T is around our necks, the lanyards on our necks. And legislators are legislating constantly around issues of the telecoms, some of the most powerful corporations in this country.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: They really are, and I don’t think it’s going unnoticed.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, President Obama will be speaking at the Bank of America Stadium, though the Democrats have renamed it the Panthers Stadium for the week. Thank you very much, Liz Bartolomeo. I want to thank you all for being with us. Liz Bartolomeo is with the Sunlight Foundation, which is tracking the money and influence here at the Democratic Party’s national convention.