Party Time at the Conventions

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Today’s edition of The New York Times profiles Steven Farber, a very successful lobbyist, who helped secure the Democratic National Convention for Denver.  According to The Washington Post’s The Sleuth column, it’s shaping up to be quite the party. Meanwhile, Farber is feverishly finishing raising the $40 million plus to fund the convention, and he is very well suited for the job. “In terms of lobbyists,” writes The Times, “few are more connected – both west of the Mississippi and in the corridors of power in Washington – than Steve Farber.” He’s the co-founder of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which collected almost $13 million in fees during 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ lobbying database.

Back in January 2007, soon after the Democrats picked Denver to host the convention, Faber set a goal of raising $60 million. But that figure appears to be too ambitious. The Times reports that they are at least $11 million from reaching their goals. The typical tactic has been selling access to party leaders, members of Congress and their staff, and to possibly the soon to be occupants of the West Wing of the White House. As The Politico’s Jeanne Cummings termed convention fundraising, it’s an “oversized loophole in campaign finance laws.”

Last month, ColoradoBiz magazine printed an interview of Farber where he called his gig for the DNC “the ultimate challenge in political fundraising.” He also discusses how he was able to renew the interest of the corporate world to get involved. Farber recounts how he surveyed corporations across the country to gauge their interest in contributing. “And some of them were disappointed in past conventions that they didn’t get as much value for their contributions at the conventions as they had hoped for.” He asked, “What would corporate America be looking for at a convention so that it would have some value?”

And through discussion that ensued, we came up with the concept of a seminar, a symposium, and whether the investment banking community would discuss public/private partnerships.

Through 11 separate symposiums, corporate representatives will meet with elected officials “to develop concepts, to educate people on what’s going around on other issues, from health care to drug issues, to women’s issues, to investment banking issues,” he said. “The business executive with whom we were discussing it loved the concept.” He said that to his knowledge, never before has there been symposia and seminars at the conventions. “So it’s an opportunity to develop concepts, to educate people on what’s going around on other issues.”

The Times quotes Farber as saying he was not selling access to the politicians attending the event, but promoting regional pride and the chance to participate in a historical event.

That’s all well and good, I suppose. I question, however, if regional pride and the desire to participate in history is what motivated $1 million donations from the likes of UnitedHealth Group, AT&T, Comcast, the National Association of Home Builders, Western Union and Google. And where’s all this money going to be reported?

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