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At the Conventions

We're on site for the 2012 Republican and Democratic national conventions. Check out our coverage of the Tampa and Charlotte party scene, donor influence profiles and more.

Convention Funders Revealed

Though the party conventions are long over, the special interests that paid for them were only revealed to the public yesterday. It's not a surprise that, despite a self-imposed ban on corporate cash to fund their Charlotte convention, the Democrats relied on plenty of it.

For their bash in Tampa, Republicans brought in donations from super PAC donors, an oil industry trade group that's running its own political ads, and some of the same corporate donors who underwrote the Democrats convention.

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Texas-sized lobbyist bundler shuns Democrats' super PACs

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Democratic super PACs and other outside political groups will be deprived of the party's most generous 2010 bankroller this election: Donor and bundler extraordinaire Ben Barnes is repudiating the outfits that don't provide full financial disclosure.

Ben Barnes

Since the 2008 election, the 74-year-old Texan has been the lobbyist who, along with his family, has given the most to Democrats  -- more than $900,000 in donations to candidates and committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He has been in Charlotte all week for the Democratic convention with a few aides and was spotted busting a move on the dance floor at the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) late night bash at a downtown club Tuesday night.

In Charlotte, Democratic leaders have launched a concerted effort to catch up with the Republican super PACs that have outraised their Democratic counterparts by a nearly three-to-one margin. Teddy Johnston, national finance chair for the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action, said here that during the past two months Democratic super PACs have gained traction with party donors. But Barnes is not among them. He vowed not to give to super PACs or their sister nonprofit groups that do not disclose their donors.

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The fun list

Chairs and lights and people at RNC Google Lounge

Just as I did last week in Tampa, I will turn off my MacBook and just take in the final night of the Democratic convention this evening. Before I do that, though, let’s run through some numbers from my personal experiences:

10 — days altogether spent at the RNC and DNC conventions

9 — minutes spent waiting to take yoga at the Huffington Post Oasis

8 — live radio interviews from Tampa and Charlotte

7 — most hours slept for the whole trip

6 — hours delayed at the Baltimore airport

5 — times saw the Daily Show filming (Bingo!)

4 — dollars spent to ride the Lynx Light Rail, which has an honors system

3 — people who were genuinely thrilled to meet someone from Sunlight

2 — stories told to get into parties

1 — Sunlight Foundation flickr page where you can check out photos from the conventions

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A look at the Democratic super PAC targets

Two of the guests at an exclusive brunch in Charlotte Wednesday where Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel attempted to steer donors toward Priorities USA, the super PAC supporting President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, are seasoned campaign bankrollers -- one of them with a past that leans Republican. 

A look at the campaign giving histories of New York investor Orin Kramer and Chartwell Hotels CEO George Tsunis, identified by the New York Times as having heard Emanuel's official debut as a pitchman for the super PAC, gives an example of the type of donors Democrats are targeting as they try to catch up with the cluster of super PACs backing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. One sign of stepped-up urgency on the part of the president's party:  Emanuel, who served as Obama's first White House chief of staff, has just given up his honorary post at the Obama campaign to spearhead the drive for super PAC donations. Federal law prohibits super PACs from "coordinating" with candidate committees though the ban so far has been loosely interpreted, as Emanuel's past affiliations attest. 

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First Lady courts LGBT donors over lunch

After a rousing convention speech Tuesday night that, among other things, commended LGBT Americans for their courage to marry, Michelle Obama spent about an hour Wednesday at a downtown Charlotte Marriott trying courting well-heeled gay donors.

According to one political consultant and LGBT activist there, she knocked it out of the park. “It was like a conversation in a living room almost,” said Palm Springs, Calif. LGBT activist and political consultant Greg Rodriguez.

That may be important, as a recent analysis showed that one in six bundlers for President Obama are gay. Another report identified 33 gay bundlers.

Obama's "evolution" on gay marriage--which he opposed when running in 2008 but embraced in May 2012--came after some big contributors said they would withhold their support over the issue.

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No Sleep ‘til Acceptance Speech

pie chart of when political convention events are happening

Two point five. That’s the numbers of hours I slept Tuesday night and just about the percentage of convention events in Party Time I attended since August 27.

The political conventions are a whirlwind for all participants: delegates, speakers, journalists … two Sunlighters. As Party Time shows, there are events happening morning, noon and night. As the Democratic National Convention prepares for its final day, I wondered when prime time for parties really was.

Looking at both the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week and the Democratic convention this week in Charlotte, the best time to attend an event is in the 10 o’clock hour. Breakfast was on the menu at these mid-morning events for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the American Association for Justice and nearly 100 others. The least popular time was 7:00 a.m. (Speaking from experience, early start times here are not so fun.)

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In Terms of Transparency, the First Step is Admitting There is a Problem

In its platform, released yesterday, the Democratic Party decrees that, “We are committed to the most open, efficient, and accountable government in history, and we believe that government is more accountable when it is transparent.” Us too.

Indeed, the platform’s broad strokes in support of a more transparent government contain little for us to quibble about. It recognizes the dangers of the Citizens United decision, and embraces lobbying reform and more robust disclosure of money in politics. (A position past Republican platforms championed as well.) There is tension, however, between the aspirations of the party platform and reality. For while the platform accurately notes that neither the president nor the national Democratic Party accept contributions from lobbyists, both accept and contributions from other influence peddlers, including big bundlers who don’t happen to fall under the Lobbying Disclosure Act regime.

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Democratic convention watch: Join the conversation tonight

Sunlight Live screenshotThe Sunlight Foundation is at the Democratic convention, literally and virtually, and you can join us online Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Our colleagues in Charlotte, Liz Bartolomeo and Keenan Steiner, are following the (oops - did we see corporate? And super PAC? yes we did!) money at all the parties. They can't possibly make all 400+ that we've got in our Party Time database. But they are doing their best.  See something we don't know about? Let us know!

And we are exposing the Democrats to Sunlight at night via Sunlight Live. This platform enables our team to provide real time analysis and informative data (punctuated by the occasional snarky aside -- hey we are human too!) along with a video stream of convention activities. You can join in. Let's talk with each other as the politicians talk at us. Isn't that what democracy is all about?

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Turning the Camera on Romney Bundlers

Unidentified romney bundler in light blue shirt

Last week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, ABC News reported on a private yacht event exclusively for Romney campaign bundlers, a.k.a. its Victory Council. The event was “attended by no more than 50 people, along with Romney relatives, including older brother Scott.”

As guests left the yacht, ABC News put faces to their wallets in an attempt to identify who are bundlers to the Romney campaign. (The campaign does not voluntarily disclose them, but Obama does.) However, a number of people could not be identified. Can you help out?

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At Democratic super PACs briefing, strategists ask for more cash

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If there were millionaires at Tuesday's happy hour for prospective donors of the three major super PACs backing congressional Democrats and President Obama, they were not the recognizable backers of the groups. And there was not much exclusive about the affair.

At the door of a cozy, downtown bar a short walk from the site of the Democratic Party’s convention, an employee checked off names of attendees on an iPad. But he did not seem to stop anyone, and so this reporter walked on through the door. 

The event was one of several being hosted this week by Unity Convention 2012, a combine of Priorities USA Action, Majority PAC and House Majority PAC. The three Democratic super PACs are lagging their Republican counterparts in the race for outside money in the 2012 election by about a three-to-one margin. Priorities USA Action made a bit of progress last month -- reportedly its best fundraising month ever, pulling in $10 million.

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