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Big Business Bankrolls Both Party Conventions

Big Business Bankrolls Both Major Party Conventions: What's the Quid Pro Quo?]

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A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in mainstream media For release Aug. 7, 2000


Big Business Bankrolls Both Major Party Conventions: What's the Quid Pro Quo?

*With the help of "friendly corporations" Republicans and Democrats are breaking fund-raising records in this year's election campaign

Although street demonstrations and civil disobedience actions by progressive activists briefly stole the media spotlight during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, the corporations that provided millions of dollars to fund the GOP convention -- and to the Democrats for their upcoming gathering in Los Angeles in August -- are sure to get their money's worth.

The 2000 GOP convention cost more than $50 million dollars, while the Democrats are expected to spend about $35 million. Federal matching funds will provide each party with $13.3 million for their respective soirees, with the rest coming from corporations hoping to influence policy decisions in future legislative sessions.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Larry Makinson, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, who analyzes what favors these corporate donors were looking for when they wrote those six figure checks.

Larry Makinson: The first thing you see about the 2000 elections is a vast increase in the amount of money that's come in. George W. Bush spent at last count, $93 million, which was more than twice what anyone had ever spent before. Another example is the Senate race in New Jersey where John Corzine spent $35 million just to win a Senate primary. He blew away the previous record for spending, and he did it mostly with his own money.

So there's lots of action in the 2000 election. It's a very crucial election year. We're electing a new president and we may be shifting control of the Congress. Right now it's just razor thin in the House of Representatives between Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats really think they can take back the House. That's not being talked about a lot outside Washington, except in those districts where there are races that might determine who's going to be in control of the House next year. So for all these reasons and all the uncertainty about it, money is pouring into the 2000 elections like never before.

Between The Lines: In tracking contributions to the Republicans and Democrats for their convention extravaganzas, where is the money coming in from corporate America and what is that money is being provided for?

Larry Makinson: Well, a lot of it is in-kind donations. AT&T is in both cities with telephone connections and Microsoft is in both cities with computer services. UPS is another big donor.

My favorite example of why people give, what they're after, and how they don't really care in many cases whether it's Democrats or Republicans, is the case of US Airways and United airlines. United wants to buy US Airways now, and US Airways wants to be absorbed into United. The merger has to be approved by the regulatory agencies in Washington. US Airways was the official airline of the Republican convention in Philadelphia and United is the official airline of the Democratic convention in Los Angeles.

General Motors is going to be on hand with plenty of cars. Basically this is a Superbowl of political fundraisers, a place where big corporations can make lots of friends. Normally when you get to town you have to rent a car; General Motors doesn't provide one for you. But if you're a member of Congress, and you're at the Democratic or Republican conventions, that's one of the perks you get.

There's a lot of money being showered (on the two parties) by corporate America and I presume they'll say they want to get good publicity in the city where the conventions are being held, but the real aim is not the public at large, but quite obviously to get at the politicians inside the halls who are going to be regulating their industries over the next decade or so.

Between The Lines: What's the total amount of money that these corporations will be contributing to the major political parties? I know they do get some matching funds from the federal government as well.

Larry Makinson: It's quite similar to the presidential race in that there are public moneys that go into these conventions, somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million or $15 million. We're expecting that the Republican convention is going to cost in the neighborhood of $50 million, Democrats' about $35 million. So you can see that there is an awful lot more corporate money going into these conventions.

You know the reality in politics today -- and the convention is a good example of this -- is that it is so expensive to run, that unless you're a millionaire you can't afford to do it yourself. You have to raise money from a lot of other people. So you wind up essentially being "sponsored" by the time you get to Washington. The reality is that when a politician gets to Washington these days, they've got not just one set of constituents to take care of -- the people who they're supposed to be representing, the people who voted for them -- but they've got two sets of constituents. They've got the cash constituents, the ones who provided the money for the election and they've got to take care of both sets of constituents while they're in Washington or they know they're going to be in trouble when the next election comes around. What we're seeing happening at these conventions first in Philadelphia and then in L.A. is an example of the way Washington works, which is to say mingling between people who have lots of money and lots of power -- one group honoring the other group. Then there's a third group, the party people trying to slip in the back pockets and take as much money out of these guys as they possibly can.

There'll be a couple of speeches everyone will listen to, but the real action at both these conventions is the process of raising money. Giving a big perk to the donors who paid their way so far, and basically then to try to hit them up for more money as we get into the final election stretch. The amazing thing to think about is that in this election, we've seen every record being broken but we're still not in the peak fundraising season. That doesn't come until September and October.

So, this is really an extravaganza, a Superbowl for political funders that's taking place at these conventions. And it's corporations, in some cases labor unions on the Democratic side, but mainly corporations that are paying that extra freight and it's not a free lunch. They wouldn't be doing this if they didn't feel they were getting something in return.

Contact the Center by calling (202) 857-0044 or visit their Web


Scott Harris is WPKN Radio's public affairs director and executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending Aug. 11, 2000.

Listen to this interview excerpt on our Web site with Larry Makinson at:

Click here! to listen to the interview. Click here! to find it in our archives after Aug. 9, 2000. (Needs RealPlayer G2, 7 or 8)

Between The Lines Q&A is compiled and edited by Anna Manzo. To get details on subscribing to the radio program or to publish this column in print or online media, contact us at (203)544-9863 or

© Copyright 2000 Between The Lines. All rights reserved.

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