Convention Perks Lure Big Corporate Donors

The host committees for the Democratic and Republican national conventions are using the promise of VIP perks and access to help them rake in nearly $100 million to subsidize what some campaign finance watchdogs have termed "the biggest and longest political ad of the presidential campaign."

Both convention host committees have distributed detailed sponsorship packets describing a whole slew of perks and privileges, including access to politicians, that corporate sponsors can expect to enjoy, including "presidential" and "platinum" level sponsorship levels.

The Denver host committee has billed the Democratic National Convention a "once-in-a century" opportunity [click here] for corporate sponsors to reach tens of thousands of attendees, including "232 Members of Congress," and "51 Senators" and "28 governors."

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A $1,000,000 contribution [click here] to the Denver host committee buys the highest level of sponsorship at the convention, including "first consideration" for booking rooms at the convention hotels and reserving "premier Denver venue space" for hospitality receptions. Donors who shell out $250,000 or more will receive special invites to private events with Colorado governor Bill Ritter, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, US Senator Ken Salazar and other Democratic elected officials.

The Minneapolis-Saint Paul host committee touts a similar package of perks for the Republican convention. A top-level contribution of $5 million [click here] gets a donor "luxury level seats" for each convention session, preferred booking for 20 hotel rooms, and more than 200 tickets for "VIP donor" and other host committee events. Corporations donating between $50,000 and $1 million will also receive special invitations to events with a block of tickets depending on the contribution level.

Steve Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute, a non-partisan watchdog group, says that the host committees were originally intended to be bipartisan vehicles for promoting the convention host cities, but have essentially evolved into fundraising extensions for the political parties. In a recent report [click here], the group found numerous examples of partisan elected officials taking the lead in fundraising efforts.

The report calls the host committee fundraising a "$100 million loophole" in campaign finance laws that prohibit political parties from taking unlimited "soft money" contributions.

A spokeswoman for the Minneapolis-Saint Paul 2008 host committee said that the cities eagerly pursued both Democratic and Republican conventions "not because of politics" but because of the exposure the convention would bring to the cities. In the statement, the host committee defended the fundraising stating "there is a rigorous compliance program in place to assure all Host Committee activities comply with the spirit and letter of applicable fundraising, tax and campaign finance laws."

As the political conventions have grown increasingly extravagant, the brunt of costs for putting on the show have shifted to the host committees. In 1992, the host committees raised $8 million, according to the Campaign Finance Institute. This year, the Denver host committee has set a goal of raising $40 million, while its counterpart in Minneapolis hopes to raise $58 million.

Each party will each receive $16.3 million from the federal government to pay for the convention, while each host city will get another $50 million federal grant to cover the cost of security.

While both host committees publicize their major corporate backers, they don't have to disclose all of them -- or how much money they gave -- until weeks after the conventions are over.