June 18, 2008 — -- More than 100 corporate donors will enjoy VIP privileges and access at this year's Democratic and Republican conventions, according to a report released today from the Campaign Finance Institute.
The CFI, a non-partisan watchdog group, has identified 106 host committee donors representing a wide range of industries, including insurance, finance, energy, telecommunications, and pharmaceuticals. Since 2005, the companies have collectively contributed nearly $100 million to federal campaigns and political parties through their political action committees and employees, and spent $700 million on Washington lobbying, according to the report.
This year, the companies are drawing from their corporate coffers to contribute as much as $112 million total in cash and in-kind donations to put on this year's party conventions in Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul. As convention host committee sponsors, they will be treated to access to politicians, preferred bookings at hotels, luxury seating at convention sessions, and special invitations to private events, as previously reported on The Blotter. Their donations are tax-deductible, unlike campaign contributions.
"The host committees have now become big partisan ATM machines for the party," said Steve Weissman, the author of the report.
"These people who are contributing are national corporations, some of them based in the home state, and at least as many based elsewhere across the country, and they have a lot of political goals," said Weissman.
Weissman says that host committees' fundraising efforts, which are led by partisan officials and operatives, exploit a loophole in campaign finance laws that allows the committees to collect unlimited "soft money" contributions, when the parties themselves cannot.
"There is a thin veneer here that has been created of myths that the host committee is non-partisan, and that companies are really not seeking political favor when in effect neither is true," said Weissman.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Host committee has defended its 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."
The Denver host committee did not have a response to the Institute's findings.
At least 25 companies have signed on as sponsors to both conventions. Exactly how much each has contributed to date is unknown, but the host committees' sponsorship packets encourage donors to contribute as much as $1 - $5 million to become top-level sponsors.
The full list of donors and the exact amount of their contributions will not be disclosed until weeks after the conventions.