Money Trail: What Hurricane? Lobbyists, GOP Party On
As NOLA Residents Flee, Republican Party Officials Don Pink Boas and Swig Vodka Shots
By BRIAN ROSS, RHONDA SCHWARTZ, AVNI PATEL, ASA ESLOCKER, and ANNA SCHECTER
Sept. 1, 2008
MINNEAPOLIS -- As residents of New Orleans were fleeing Hurricane Gustav, top Republican party officials donned pink boas and swigged vodka shots at a wild whirl of corporate and lobbyist-paid parties this weekend in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Many corporate sponsors and their lobbyists carried through with plans for lavish entertainment of GOP lawmakers and others despite calls from the campaign of Sen. John McCain that Republicans should tone down the convention festivities.
"We will be contacting corporations and others to ask them to be respectful of events in the gulf," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said Sunday afternoon.
Yet, last night lobbyists for the National Rifle Association, Lockheed Martin and the American Trucking Association put on a raucus six-hour party at a downtown bar featuring music by the band "Hookers and Blow." There was no evidence of any actual prostitutes or cocaine.
Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA), a GOP House deputy whip, was seen meeting with a group of lobbyists who bemoaned McCain's call to tone down the parties which had already been paid for.
Shuster said he was praying for the people of the Gulf coast and said, despite Sen. McCain's call to "tone things down," there was no need to curtail corporate parties until after the Hurricane hit land.
Watch Brian Ross reporting on the Money Trail tonight from Minneapolis on World News with Charles Gibson.
Along the Mississippi last night, corporate lobbyists for the chemical industry were entertaining Ohio Republicans on two large yachts.
Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), one of about 700 guests, said he "could not remember" who paid the costs of the river cruise.
Ohio Republicans later said $21,000 had been raised for relief charities during the evening.
Saturday night, 22 big corporations sponsored a pig roast and "booze cruise" for California Congressmen and delegates on Lake Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis.
There appeared to be no plans to cancel any of the lavish corporate parties planned for Republicans, although some lobbyists said they would invite Red Cross representatives and raise money for its relief efforts.
Many delegates at a party Saturday night for GOP convention CEO Maria Cino said they saw no reason to stop the good time because of events in New Orleans.
"Everyone goes through hard times," said Wisconsin delegate Jeff Larson.
More than a hundred people jammed a Minneapolis restaurant where waiters wore pink wigs and guests danced through the night as they wrapped themselves and their partners with pink boas.
Five pink spotlights were set up outside of the invitation-only party. ABC News reporters were told they could not enter.
Asked about the appropriateness of the gathering, Republican National Committeeman Tony Parker walked away from ABC News cameras, saying, "I don't want to talk with you."
Another Republican guest hid his face from cameras, wrapping a pink boa around his eyes and nose.
The executive director of the National Association of Manufacturers, Jay Timmons, a prominent Washington lobbyist, said, "I don't think it's a legitimate question," when asked if he felt funny attending the gala at a time of crisis in New Orleans.
"I think if the hurricane hits New Orleans there will definitely be a lot of change of plans," Timmons said.
At least 200 parties had been scheduled by corporate executives and lobbyists for the Republican gathering, much as they did last week at the Democratic convention in Denver.