by Patrick Martin
The Democratic National Convention underway in Boston will
be the most expensive political spectacle ever staged in the history
of the United Statesat least until next month, when an even
more lavish commercial advertisement will be staged in New York
City for the Republican Party. Both events are being bankrolled
by giant corporations, which are making use of the conventions
as a form of legalized bribery of favored politicians.
Under federal election laws, the Democrats and Republicans
each receive $15 million in taxpayer funds to pay the costs of
their conventions. But this suma huge government subsidy
for the two parties of big businessis dwarfed by the gusher
of money pouring in from corporate America. The host committees
for Boston and New York City have pledged to raise a combined
$110 million in private contributions to wine and dine the convention
delegates. This staggering sum is more than the cost of the entire
presidential election campaign in any year before 2000.
Changes in campaign finance laws have facilitated the flood
of corporate cash to the conventions. The passage of the McCain-Feingold
Act in 2002 outlawed huge soft-money contributions
to candidates from corporations, unions and the wealthy, but it
did not bar similar contributions to the local host committees
which sponsor the conventions and are nominally separate from
the party organization. Then last year the Federal Election Commission
eliminated a regulation, adopted in 1994, that required companies
contributing to a host committee to be locally based. The result:
while nine companies gave substantial amounts to both Democratic
and Republican conventions in 2000, 20 companies have done so
According to preliminary data supplied by the host committee,
150 big corporations and other wealthy donors have pumped $39.5
million into receptions, parties and other events surrounding
the Democratic convention. Four companiesRaytheon, the big
defense contractor; New Balance, a Boston-based shoe manufacturer;
IBM; and Fidelity Investmentshave given at least $1 million
apiece for the Boston affair. AT&T, Nextel Communications
and Amgen each gave at least $500,000.
Dozens of large companies are hosting tributes
for favored Democratic congressmen and senators, in many cases
rewarding them for specific legislative favors. A New York
Times account described an atmosphere of boat cruises,
golf outings, concerts and late night events in locations like
the trendy club Saint, which features an all-red bordello
room and beds for patrons to lounge.
The huge drug-maker Bristol-Myers Squibb is co-sponsoring a
bash at Symphony Hall in honor of Senator Edward Kennedy, whose
initial support for Bushs Medicare drug plan was critical
to passage of a measure which amounts to a huge federal subsidy
to the pharmaceutical industry.
Two dozen corporations and trade associations are sponsoring
a retirement party for Senator John Breaux of Louisiana, perhaps
the most prominent pro-business dealmaker in the Senate. According
to the Times, the event at the New England Aquarium is
expected to draw some 1,000 people, including up to 40 lawmakers.
Sponsors spent $10,000 to $30,000 each to create a Caribbean theme,
where guests will sip rum drinks and listen to Ziggy Marley perform
as eels, turtles and sharks drift in a tank nearby.
MBNA Corporation, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America and other
finance companies will host a lavish brunch for the Democratic
members of the House Committee on Financial Services and the Senate
Banking Committee. Another party for the Democratic whips in the
Senate and House, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada and Representative
Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, will draw more than a dozen companies
paying $25,000 each, including Motorola, FedEx, Altria Group (Philip
Morris), BellSouth, Fannie Mae and Motorola.
Democratic lobbyist Anthony Podesta told the Times,
Its an opportunity to do something nice for two big
leaders in the Democratic Party who are very influential on many,
many decisions that are made. Theres no question that is
on the mind of everybody who decided to sponsor this.
A particularly significant donor is Microsoft, which is providing
over $100,000 to the Democratic convention. The worlds biggest
software maker is also the largest corporate donor of campaign
contributions over the past five years, with a total of $11.4
million. Microsoft gave disproportionately to the Republican Party
in the 1990s, especially during the period of the Clinton administrations
antitrust lawsuit against it. But since Bush took office and the
antitrust suit was dropped, the company has swung back to an even
handed approach to buying politicians on both sides. Democrats
have collected 58 percent of Microsofts campaign contributions
for the 2004 election campaign.
Besides corporations paying for lavish tributes to politicians,
there will be other parties and dinners in which politicians will
pay tribute to wealthy donors, including a Wednesday night dinner
to salute those who raised at least $200,000 for Kerry.
The Washington Post summed up the atmosphere at the
Democratic convention in an analysis Monday which declared, Money
in politics is cool these days.
According to the Post: The multimillion-dollar
extravaganza, paid for largely by private donations, is testament
to the unabashed impact of election-year lucre. Discretion has
been overwhelmed and not merely at the convention itself. All
over town, interest groups and lobbyists are underwriting hundreds
of parties for elected officials and their staffssome for
fun, all for the purpose of currying favor, and a few to put even
more dollars into incumbents campaign coffers. The Republican
convention in New York at the end of August will be just as garish
and over-the-top. Yet no one at either place will apologizequite
the opposite. In 2004, a brimming treasury is a symbol of status,
not of shame.
Further comment is almost superfluous. Such is the decay of
American capitalism and the complete domination of big corporate
money over the political system, that the assemblages of the two
major parties give off an odor that has more in common with the
late Roman Empire than anything deserving the name of democracy.