Do­na­tions buy a lot of ac­cess to Repub­li­can Party leaders

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

ST. PAUL, Minn. | Got $5 mil­lion burn­ing a hole in your pocket? At the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion, that tidy sum would have got­ten you VIP ac­cess and lux­ury-level seats, en­tree to exclusive par­ties and pos­si­bly din­ner or a round of golf with the party’s leaders.

A $250,000 do­na­tion to the Repub­li­can Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion’s con­ven­tion pack­age bought a 10pack of tick­ets to par­ties hosted by RGA leaders, a con­cert by for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee and lunch with for­mer Speaker of the House Newt Gin­grich, among other perks.

In what out­side watch­dog groups call the largest loop­hole in to­day’s cam­paign-fi­nance laws, the host com­mit­tees be­hind the na­tional con­ven­tions can ac­cept un­lim­ited con­tri­bu­tions, prompt­ing them to of­fer big perks in ex­change for cash.

“Th­ese com­pa­nies are not con­tribut­ing only be­cause they’re from the host state. They have many in­ter­ests [. . . ] in­clud­ing try­ing to in­flu­ence fed­eral pol­icy or pre­vent an­other party from re­tal­i­at­ing in the form of leg­is­la­tion,” said Steve Weiss­man, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor for pol­icy at the Cam­paign Fi­nance In­sti­tute (CFI), a non­par­ti­san group.

Con­tri­bu­tions to most po­lit­i­cal groups are capped, but the con­ven­tion host com­mit­tees have 501(c)(3) char­ity sta­tus on the the­ory that the funds they re­ceive go to­ward show­ing off the host city and not to ad­vanc­ing the par­ti­san in­ter­ests of the con­ven­tion.

The Min­neapo­lis St. Paul 2008 Host Com­mit­tee had raised $39 mil­lion as of July and was hop­ing to have $58 mil­lion in the bank for the gath­er­ing.

The host com­mit­tees aren’t re­quired to dis­close their list of donors un­til af­ter the event. The donors iden­ti­fied by the St. Paul com­mit­tee so far are cor­po­ra­tions, about 40 per­cent of which are based in Min­nesota.

Com­bined, the pub­licly ac­knowl­edged donors have spent $1 bil­lion on fed­eral lob­by­ing in the past three years, sug­gest­ing that a host-com­mit­tee do­na­tion is just an­other path to try­ing to in­flu­ence law­mak­ers, Mr. Weiss­man said.

For ex­am­ple, the Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Re­search and Man­u­fac­tur­ers of Amer­ica (PhRMA), a ma­jor health care lob­by­ing group, has spent nearly $58 mil­lion on fed­eral lob­by­ing since 2005, ac­cord­ing to CFI. The group also has do­nated to the Min­neapo­lis St. Paul 2008 Host Com­mit­tee.

In ex­change, the com­pa­nies got a chance to ed­u­cate law­mak­ers and del­e­gates on their is­sues.

The list of “donor ben­e­fits” re­leased by the host com­mit­tee in­cludes such en­tice­ments as VIP ac­cess and lux­ury seats in the con­ven­tion hall. The largest donors also get exclusive tick­ets to par­ties, the first shot at primo Twin Cities venues for pri­vate events and a chance to be an “of­fi­cial spon­sor” at the con­ven­tion.

Ini­tial ver­sions of the donor ben­e­fits sheets, ob­tained by CFI, re­veal that donors of $5 mil­lion or more ini­tially were of­fered a pri­vate din­ner and round of golf with Repub­li­can lead­er­ship and a pri­vate re­cep­tion with Repub­li­can Min­nesota Gov. Tim Paw­lenty and other lo­cal of­fi­cials.

Those ben­e­fits were not listed on the sheet dis­trib­uted to the press. Spokes­woman Teresa McFar­land said that the of­fi­cial host com­mit­tee events were still be­ing fi­nal­ized and that ben­e­fits are cus­tom­ized based on donors’ re­quests.

In fact, the donor packet doesn’t list much dif­fer­ence in the perks from do­na­tions of $5 mil­lion, $2.5 mil­lion and $1 mil­lion. Donors with a $5 mil­lion check do get an op­por­tu­nity to be listed as an “of­fi­cial provider” to the host com­mit­tee.

“With ex­ec­u­tives, to get this money, you have to also tell them you’re go­ing to tie them into the fed­eral power struc­ture,” Mr. Weiss­man said.

In an ef­fort to prove their com­pany’s bi­par­ti­san­ship, sev­eral Min­nesota com­pa­nies mak­ing do­na­tions this year sent checks to the host com­mit­tee for the Demo­cratic con­ven­tion in Den­ver as well.

“With the con­ven­tion right next door, we were a nat­u­ral place for the host com­mit­tee to ask for help. We were proud to help, and we also have stores in Colorado,” said spokes­woman Amy Reilly of the Min­neapo­lis-based re­tailer Tar­get Corp. “We want to make sure we were do­ing both.”

“We chose to be cor­po­rate spon­sors to both be­cause of the com­pany’s bi­par­ti­san in­ter­est in bring­ing health care is­sues to the fore­front,” said Chuck Grothaus, spokesman for Medtronic Inc., a med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy com­pany that also has head­quar­ters in Min­neapo­lis.

Many of the com­pa­nies, es­pe­cially those based in Min­nesota, say they made their do­na­tions be­cause they wanted the coun­try to see the best side of the Twin Cities.

“As a proud and long­time ci­ti­zen of the St. Paul com­mu­nity, with our com­pany head­quar­ters in St. Paul for more than 150 years, we were pleased to sup­port the bi­par­ti­san ef­fort to at­tract both the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can na­tional nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tions to the Twin Cities,” said Trav­el­ers Cos. Inc. spokes­woman Jen­nifer Bag­dade.

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