Fundraising Party Time at the National Conventions

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Imagine the postcards that delegates to the Democratic and Republication conventions will send to their families back home the next couple of weeks:

Attended lots of fundraisers for charity at the convention, got to hobnob with our favorite lawmakers, met lots of people who I think might have been lobbyists, but they didn’t really have to say so, grabbed lots of corporate knickknacks, do-hickeys, and whatnot that they handed out, a good time was had by all, see you soon!

Yes, happy days are here again, for the special interests that get to use the national parties’ conventions as venues where they can coagulate around lawmakers and delegates to ply their trade without the formalities of bothersome practices like much transparency and disclosure. They can thank the Congressional leadership of both parties for having loosened the reins on how lobbyists and special interests might use charities as venues for cozying up to national legislators.

The Democratic Party’s national convention to nominate Barack Obama began this week in Denver.Their Republican counterparts ostensibly uniting around John McCain’s candidacy will gather in St. Paul at the end of August heading into Labor Day.Amidst all the purported political activities of import such as choosing presidential candidates and penning party platforms, there will be reportedly more than 400 parties held at the conventions—and the number appears to rise daily.

Other than long speeches and faux demonstrations, just as we predicted in the August 6th CR, “The Great Lobbying Fix”, the politicians will be partying in some cases under the cover of nonprofit fundraisers, at which there will be a lot more buying and selling of political influence than heartfelt charitable fundraising and problem-solving.

As CR pointed out, the announced modifications of the Congressional lobbying rules that created autobahn-sized loopholes for lobbyists and special interests to purchase face-time with political leaders, currying political favor shielded by the confidentiality afforded to donors to 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

Although Congressional leaders pooh-poohed as negligible the loosened lobbying rules announced just in time for the conventions, it was pretty obvious that the result would be an opening of the spigot for more ways for corporate and other interests to sidle up to their targeted lawmakers.There will be lots of fun charitable gatherings:

  • The Poker Players Alliance’s event in Denver will raise money for the Paralyzed Veterans of America at one of the conventions.While PVA does a lot of good work, the Poker Players Alliance has an agenda that is less about the disabled vets than it is, as stated on its website, to “Tell Congress to Support Poker” arguing that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 should not apply to “games of skill” like internet poker (not surprisingly, the Alliance prefers self-regulation). The PVA itself is no stranger to charitable controversy, having gotten an “F” grade from the American Institute of Philanthropy due to high fundraising costs (the BBB Wise Giving Alliance doesn’t agree and allows PVA to count some of those marketing expenditures as “educational”) and other factors.
  • With Kanye West as its drawing card, the Recording Industry Association of America’s gig in Denver promotes the One Campaign and its programs on global AIDS and poverty. Besides certifying gold and platinum CDs, the RIAA has an active policy effort aimed at getting Congress to strengthen legislation against copyright infringement, including legislation (H.R.4279) that creates new and higher penalties for copyright infringement.
  • Some controversy occurred around first night events at the Democratic National Convention regarding a big party to honor Friends of New Orleans, which quickly showed its nonpartisan colors by planning a comparable fundraiser at the Republican National Convention.It isn’t hard to imagine the coagulating politicians at the nonpartisan FONO All-Star Jambalaya Fundraiser, given FONO’s multipartisan board members including James Carville, Donna Brazile, and Tommy Thompson, along with the FONO founder and board chair, powerhouse Washington lobbyist Gloria Dittus. Worth noting is FONO’s co-host, Tipitina’s Foundation, dedicated to preserving the musical heritage of New Orleans, a charity that unlike the vast majority of its 501(c)(3) peers posts its audit on its website, even its draft 2007 financials.Would only that other charities, political and otherwise, do the same.
  • At both conventions, the National Association of Realtors, fretting about the slowdown in the housing markets, will be hosting luncheons on “housing in America”, with the hook of honoring a local organization that helps homeowners.

Stop these fundraisers at national party conventions?That’s impossible, given the throngs of delegates, politicians, and special interests populating the conventions.Stop lobbying at party conventions?Not gonna happen.

What’s needed is a simple fix: For each nonprofit fundraising event at the conventions, the names of donors or ticket-buyers should be revealed, including who they work for, and the amounts of their donations should be disclosed along with their identities.That’s part one.Part two of the necessary disclosure is that the names of all federal legislators attending the event must also be disclosed.

That’s it. Let sunlight do its cleansing work.It won’t stop the unregulated lobbying that will occur at these ostensibly charitable fundraisers.But at least the lobbyists and special interests looking to buy face time with pols under the guise of feeling charitable will be disclosed for all to see.Nonprofit fundraisers in Denver and St. Paul these next few weeks should not be venues for special interest and lobbyist cloak and dagger operations.

There is enough history of politicians shilling for specific charities or charities shilling for certain pols to show the results as bad for transparency and accountability in politics and charity.There’s plenty of good behind the NAR, the RIAA, the PVA, and FONO.There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever—at a national political convention—that the donors to those organizations at fundraising parties should resist having their names and their charitable generosity made known to the American public.