PHILADELPHIA ― After addressing the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night, former President Bill Clinton appeared on another, more private stage at the Reading Terminal Market just before 1 a.m. Clinton thanked the crowd for supporting his wife and the Democratic presidential nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He said he was glad that everyone could hear him “tell the story of the person that I know best.”
Hillary Action Fund, one of two joint fundraising committees raising money for Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, provided the funding for this official Clinton post-convention party. Inside, Clinton campaign officials milled with Democratic Party bigwigs, lawmakers, donors, celebrities and activists.
This was by no means the only event this week that linked party insiders with donors, big money or even corporate interests. In fact, corporations, their trade associations and billionaire mega-donors have been omnipresent around the city and especially in the Wells Fargo Center.
Comcast, easily the most visible corporate sponsor of the convention, has its logo emblazoned on every lanyard for convention-goers, and has giant welcome signs on the side of the convention arena and inside 30th Street Station. Facebook hosts a bar for select guests inside the hall. There’s even an official Uber drop-off zone, with a cool-off tent featuring free water and Kind bars.
Washington lobbyists were also in on the act, with events in Philadelphia throughout the week.
Heather Podesta and her ex-husband Tony, both registered lobbyists, threw competing brunches on Monday and Tuesday. The law firm Dentons hosted a happy hour at the Kimmel Center’s rooftop garden on Wednesday. Squire Patton Boggs, another law firm, hosted former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), now a registered lobbyist, at 30th Street Station. And Akin Gump, the most well-compensated lobbying firm of 2016, held a celebration of the career of longtime Clinton friend Vernon Jordan.
After eight years of being banned by the Obama administration and campaigns, lobbyists are finally able to give to the Democratic presidential ticket and the Democratic National Committee. There appeared to be laws in place governing events where registered lobbyists and federal candidates or officials mingled.
One clear example was at the Hillary Action Fund celebration, where the food provided by dozens of Reading Market vendors came in single servings ― modest portions constrained by official regulations. You could sample the breaded eggplant with sweet and sour sauce and arugula served on napkins, or the chicken dumplings served in small Chinese takeout containers.
Super PACs funded by mega-donors, meanwhile, were even more visible at the convention hall than they were in 2012. NextGen California, a super PAC funded by the billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, hosted a bar for select VIPs and delegates on the ground floor. On the suite level, House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC, the two main Democratic Party super PACs working to elect congressional candidates, provided a curtained-off private space for VIPs to relax, eat, watch the convention and even play video games. Why video games? The private space was sponsored by the Entertainment Software Alliance, the lobbying arm of the gaming industry.
Both House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC have also joined together with Priorities USA Action, the main pro-Clinton super PAC, to host the final party of the convention week, featuring a performance from Snoop Dogg. Two of the few disclosed donors for the festivities include the lobbying arm of the pharmaceutical industry and Anthem, Inc., a major health insurer.
All of this stood in stark contrast to the refrain from inside the convention hall, where calls rang out from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and President Barack Obama to overturn Citizens United and fight back against the influence of lobbyists.
There were other outside events throughout the week sponsored by corporations and trade associations. Railroad companies CSX and BNSF, Professional Aviation Specialists and the lobbying firm McGuireWoods Consulting sponsored a transportation industry event. NextGen Climate, Anheuser Busch, Geico and Southwest Airlines sponsored a Latino Leaders Lunch.
A long list of corporations sponsored the popular Distilled Spirits Council party. (Who doesn’t like free alcohol?) The majority of the sponsors were not from the alcohol industry. They included the Entertainment Software Association, Ford, McGuireWoods Consulting, Boeing, Quicken Loans and Monsanto. The Wall Street Journal was also a sponsor.
This was not the only overlap of the media and corporate influence.
Twitter treated reporters to an entire bar of free food, booze, coffee and Wi-Fi for the duration of the convention. (The social media company did the same in Cleveland last week for the Republican National Convention.)
Both Politico and The Atlantic hosted roundtable discussions sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, the main oil industry lobby. Those speaking at some of these discussions explicitly endorsed the policies advocated by the oil industry.
At one, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat who has worked for natural gas companies since leaving office, defended fracking by saying that wind energy has its downsides because it kills birds. At another, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) compared a ban on fracking to life in the Soviet Union.
Even though the Obama team has banned lobbyist contributions at the presidential level for eight years, one government affairs representative for a Fortune 500 company told The Huffington Post he saw no real difference in terms of corporate or lobbyist activity between this week’s event and the last two conventions, which both nominated Obama.
The continuity between the Clinton, Obama and corporate worlds was on display at events thrown by Airbnb and Uber. The two Silicon Valley companies released new presidential polling data and hosted an event to celebrate the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Speaking at the press briefing were Airbnb’s Chris Lehane, a former Clinton aide, and Uber’s David Plouffe, the former political director for Obama.
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