Lobbyists Seek Influence at the RNC

Cruising past the barricades and velvet ropes, lobbyists and their corporate clients are hitting New York City's most exclusive hot spots with a major purpose.

They're throwing hundreds of parties to entertain and influence the powerful GOP politicians in town for the Republican National Convention.

Watch Brian Ross' Money Trail this week on World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.

"This is the place where the elite gets to mingle with the people who write the laws overseeing them," said Micah Sifry, author of a new book, entitled Politicians in Your Pocket and an analyst for Public Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.

The Republicans started the party on Saturday with a raucous event sponsored by major industry players including the National Rifle Association, a big liquor promoter and a tobacco company. In a videotape obtained by ABC News, the scene inside the party showed freely flowing alcohol and dancing girls on a stage.

"It's reached the stage of being beyond excessive now," said Fred Wertheimer, president of the campaign finance watchdog group Democracy 21. "I mean, it overshadows the conventions at the convention, because this is the main organizing principle of the convention."

Not to be outdone, General Motors threw a lavish party at Tavern on the Green, a renowned restaurant located in Manhattan's Central Park, for Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who has a lot to say about legislation requiring greater fuel efficiency in cars.

General Motors invited former House Majority Leader Dick Armey to New York as one of their lobbyists. When asked if attending these parties was key for lobbyists like himself, Armey told ABC News, "Well, I guess so. I'm here because of my relationship with the speaker.

"I guess lobbyists generally like to be where the people you know in office are," added Armey. "They're going to work with these folks. This is a chance and we're really celebrating the officeholders. There's a partnership relationship often."

Free Spending

The lobbyists and the corporations are not required to reveal how much they spend at the political conventions, and most of it is not meant for outsiders to see.

This was evident at several events when ABC News was repeatedly denied access, or met with threats to call security.

An example of the close ties between lobbyists and politicians, David Norcross is chairman of the Committee on Arrangements, a key organizing committee of the RNC, while also working for a top Washington lobbying firm, BlankRome.

When told that he has been described as "sort of the ultimate conflict of interest," Norcross repeatedly told ABC News, "That's nonsense, that's nonsense, that's nonsense."

But the hot ticket in town Sunday night was a private concert by the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, which even attracted President Bush's daughter Jenna.

Among the several corporate sponsors was the electric power industry whose lobbyists have successfully fought calls for tougher regulations in the wake of the blackout that shut down New York City and much of the East Coast just a year ago this month.

ABC News' David Scott, Vic Walter, Maddy Sauer and Simon Surowicz contributed to this report.

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