Companies Buy Influence at Conventions

Big business is underwriting most of the $104 million to stage both the Democratic and Republican national conventions this year. It's the kind of corporate meddling the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was supposed to end when it was passed two years ago.

But a loophole for conventions in the legislation means the corrupting role of big money in politics is still a persistent problem.

Case in point: One powerful company, Time Warner, sponsored a lavish party and fireworks show Sunday night at Boston Harbor for the benefit of one powerful politician — California's Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.

It is just one of some 250 such corporate events scheduled this week in Boston, thanks to a loophole established by Congress for both parties' conventions.

According to regulations issued last August, the Federal Election Commission allows unlimited, tax-exempt donations to convention host committees, with the understanding that such contributions are ''motivated by a desire to promote the convention city and not by political considerations."

Fred Wertheimer, president and founder of Democracy21.com, a nonpartisan watchdog organization, thinks the loophole allows lobbyists to infuse the parties with large sums of soft money.

"I can't give you $51 as a member of Congress, but I can throw a $100,000 party or a $200,000 party which is your party. It's an ethics-free zone for these kinds of events and it's wrong," said Wertheimer.

Partying or Politicking?

At Sunday night's Boston waterfront party, Time Warner Chairman Richard Parsons enjoyed almost two hours of access to Pelosi.

His cable and telecommunications company has a variety of issues before Congress and is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"The companies know what they're doing, and the people being honored know why the check is being picked up," Wertheimer said.

An ABC News crew sought comment from Pelosi at the event, but she ducked the cameras and went on to her next event.

"The member of Congress becomes king or queen for a day," Wertheimer said. "The conventions are the big honey pot now for big-time interests trying to buy influence."

The corporate lobbyists and executives from virtually every industry know it. They arrived in force in Boston this weekend on their corporate jets, many also carrying key Democrats, including Chelsea Clinton, daughter of the former president and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

There are no middle airplane seats, lost luggage, or $35 cab rides for this privileged group. Boston party planners say the Democrats are demanding nothing but the best — the biggest lobsters, the finest champagnes, the most glamorous flowers.

Said party planner Bryan Raffanelli: "Look, we want to show people that our parties are as good as or better than any New York party."

American Express hosted a golf outing for lawmakers today, while Verizon and Lockheed Martin hosted an event for African-American legislators. A who's-who of blue chip companies sponsored a midnight concert by blues act the Neville Brothers for conservative Democrats.

"Everything is available," said award-winning Boston chef Robert Fathman. "They ordered the top shelf bar. Apple martinis, mojitos, anything they want."

Hottest Ticket in Town

It was all on display Sunday night at the hottest ticket in town — a private event in a hotel ballroom high above the city, honoring Sen. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton.

Reporters were kept out of the shindig, but ABC News obtained pictures of the high-powered hobnobbing from someone who was inside.

The estimated $500,000 bill for the elaborate party was paid, in part, by a wealthy Boston couple — Gerald and Elaine Schuster — real estate tycoons who have been labeled slum lords and union-busters by a Boston newspaper — allegations they deny.

Nevertheless, it is an unmistakable display of the clout big corporations and the rich and powerful expect to have in the political process.

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