Money Trail: Big Business Means Big Fun for Congress Members at RNC

Federal loophole allows corporations to throw lavish parties, spoil congressmen.

September 23, 2008, 11:53 AM

September 4, 2008— -- MINNEAPOLIS -- From the moment they arrived at the Twin Cities airport, Republicans have been reminded that this convention is being brought to them by corporate America.

Including a Swiss-based bank, UBS, under investigation by the government for allegedly helping the rich avoid billions of dollars in US taxes. The bank says it is cooperating with Congressional and federal authorities.

"I think it's very clear that those who give to the host committees are getting access and influence that they desire, said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center.

In addition to spending millions on lavish parties, big corporations have put up $58 million dollars for the Republican convention.

They put up about the same for the Democrats in Denver.

The heavy funding of convention events is thanks to a huge loophole in the federal election law that otherwise bans corporate money in politics.

"It's really ironic too because this whole federal election campaign law was developed because in 1972 the Nixon administration had set up a slush fund through the 1972 Republican National Convention," said Craig Holman of the congressional watchdog group, Public Citizen. "We've gone full circle."

Nine conventions after Nixon, many of the corporate sponsors still try to keep what they're doing from being seen by the press or the public.

But inside, the corporations make sure the Congressmen know just who is responsible for the good times.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the top House Republican, was seen dancing at the "Best Little Warehouse Party", an event put on by corporate lobbyists close to Boehner at the last four conventions.

In some places around town this week, the corporate logos were even flashed on giant TV screens.

It's a complete contradiction of John McCain's decade long effort to get corporate money out of politics.

"We have to have campaign finance reform and return the government to the people and take it out of the hands of special interests," McCain said in 2000.

Yet, at his nominating convention this week, the big money donors were seated in the prime skyboxes overlooking the proceedings below.

A kind of Republican royalty, whose multi-million dollar contributions to pay for this convention do not have to be disclosed for 60 days after election day.

"If we don't do anything about the way the conventions are financed, we have a danger that our democracy is going to be severely damaged by unequal access and unequal influence by convention donors," said Steve Weissman, of the Campaign Finance Institute.

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