Special Interests Pour in Convention Dollars


Both Barack Obama and John McCain have issued lofty statements regarding their efforts to reduce the influence that lobbyists have on the hill and throughout the American political system. But, while the candidates often speak candidly of reducing the impact that special interests have in Washington, there are still a number of unaddressed loopholes. Despite the incessant rhetoric spewing from both sides of the aisle, little has been done to regulate the donations that have been pouring in for the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Both candidates want to be perceived as reformers. Unfortunately for both McCain and Obama, true change is all encompassing. Touting one's status as a reformer does next to nothing if all regulatory measures have not been considered. This is the subject of Fredreka Schouten's piece in the USA Today entitled, "Donors Pick Up the Convention Tab." According to Schouten,

Political action committees (PACs) of unions can give only $5,000 directly to a candidate for a primary or general election. Individuals are limited to $2,300. There is no cap on how much any union, company or individual can give to a political convention.

While individuals and PACs are reasonably restricted on the candidate level, large labor unions, companies and wealthy individuals have an unregulated playing field through which they can disseminate limitless funding to the Republican and Democratic conventions. Forget the loop; this hole is gaping.

Schouten points out recent -- and might we add astronomical -- donations from The American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Both institutions donated nearly $500,000 to the Democratic National Convention. Additionally, Quest Communications "…has committed $6 million in cash and in-kind support to both conventions." Even though companies are restricted from donating directly to the candidates, they, too, may provide funds for the conventions.

Beyond the fact that these donations still illicit influence over the parties and their respective candidates, there are other ramifications to consider. In addition to companies' and unions' potential fiscal influence, some organizations and corporations are also planning a physical presence at the conventions.

Last week, Bill Alliston, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, penned a piece that focused on special interests and the flagrant lack of regulatory measures that surround various convention activities. According to Alliston,

"Lobbyists wine and dine party insiders and elected officials, big donors feast with the party insiders who depend on their deep pockets, and corporations with business before the federal government pick up most of the tab."

After scouring event lists released by a top Washington lobbying firm, Sunlight discovered a number of corporate-sponsored events. In sum, there are some 370 planned parties that are to be sponsored by large companies and organizations. According to Alliston, this revelation comes even after new ethics rules brought about via the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 have restricted lobbyists from throwing parties in honor of specific lawmakers.

While Schouten points out that Obama doesn't take monies from PACS or from federal lobbyists and that McCain does not allow lobbyists on his paid campaign staff, one wonders why neither candidate has attempted to restrict the influence of unions, companies, and wealthy individuals and institutions that are currently infusing both parties with unregulated monies.

True reformers? Not entirely.