Putting on the Ritz, VIP Treatment for Big Money Democrats

Cocktails and canapés in the sky box while delegates line up for $7 hot dogs.

ByABC News
August 27, 2008, 1:54 PM

DENVER Aug. 27, 2008— -- While its elected officials say it is the party of "the working people," Democrats are quietly running an elaborate VIP program that rewards wealthy contributors with luxury perks and insider access at the Denver convention, part of what the party calls a "business plan."

Republicans run a similar program for their top donors and the Democrats seem to have learned from it.

"You have helped us put in the business plan for winning elections," Democratic party chairman Howard Dean told donors at a private party this week, attended by an ABC News reporter.

"Without your money none of this happens," Dean said.

Watch the full Money Trail report tonight on ABC's World News with Charles Gibson.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) created the "Pelosi 100" for people "who contribute and raise $100,000 in personal funds," according to documents obtained by ABC News.

The wealthy members of the "Pelosi 100" attended a private, lavish party Monday night in the penthouse suite of the Denver Performing Arts Center, featuring Tony Bennett, John Legend and James Taylor.

There was a heavy security presence with police telling reporters "no media is allowed," although observers on the balcony of a nearby apartment building could view the scene.

Also included in the $100,000 Pelosi package was "preferred booking" at a top downtown Denver hotel, four convention hall credentials and access to luxury sky boxes overlooking the convention floor.

Last night, the wealthy donors in the sky box watched as Sen. Hillary Clinton praised Barack Obama for knowing "the government must be about we the people, not we the favored few."

Watch Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos at the Democratic Convention - TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET on ABC

The favored few in the Democratic Finance Committee skybox were treated to an open bar and food in silver chafing dishes.

Delegates outside the closed curtain of the sky box stood in line for $7 hot dogs and were not permitted to bring food to their seats at the Pepsi Center.

"It feels very elitist," said Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit group that pushes for openness in politics. "To flaunt the fact that there is a higher elite class of people who are big political donors, who have reached that status because they have more money, feels fundamentally undemocratic," she said.

Federal election laws permit individuals to contribute a maximum of $2,300 per candidate but contributors say the Democrats show how to work around the limit.

"They present us an entire menu and it can involve a million dollars or more spread around various candidates and committees around the country," said one wealthy lawyer who did not want his name used for fear he would be cut off from the VIP program.

Among those seen this week at one private luncheon for big donors and top Democratic Senators, was Fred Baron, the Texas lawyer who helped hide the one-time mistress of former Senator John Edwards.

Baron is a member of the "Legacy Circle" because he has given more than $25,000 to Democratic candidates for the US Senate.

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