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Across Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., night clubs, art museums and aquariums are morphing into entertainment hubs, as political candidates and interest groups host events and fundraisers for convention delegates. We explore how the two parties party with a Washington event guru. We also talk with muckraking activists who are building a digital record of the parties and partygoers at the RNC and DNC.
- Freddie Wyatt CEO, Jamestown Entertainment
- Liz Bartolomeo Spokesperson for PoliticalPartyTime.org; and Communications Manager, Sunlight Foundation
RNC Fundraisers, Parties And Events
Since 2008, the Sunlight Foundation has tracked invitations to political fundraisers, chronicling small receptions and lavish getaways. These are some of the events taking place at the 2012 Republican National Convention:
- Cocktails & Cosmetics, hosted by the Personal Care Products Council.
- Fueling the Future with Zac Brown Band, hosted by Vote 4 Energy.
- Homocon 2012, hosted by a variety of individual and group sponsors.
- Patriots for Romney/Ryan 2012, hosted by a variety of individual and group sponsors.
- Nuestra Noche: Midnight in Ybor, hosted by Ed Gillespie and Al Cardenas.
- Treasure Life Lunch with Rick Santorum, Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Louie Gohmert, hosted by Phyllis Schlafly, Republican National Coalition for Life and Tony Perkins.
- Freedom to Marry Brunch, hosted by Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry.
- Space Jam.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe weather may have disrupted the official festivities at the Republican National Convention but away from the Tampa Bay Times forum the parties are going on full speed ahead. Across the city nightclubs and art museums are morphing into entertainment sites. The Republican National Coalition for Life is throwing a treasure life luncheon tomorrow at the Tampa Aquarium with a treasure hunt theme. The Personal Products Care Counselor is throwing a cocktail and cosmetics lunch the same day at the Ebor city neighborhood. The Aerospace Industry is sponsoring a space jam 2012 event to explain the benefits of our space program.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThese events can play a critical role at conventions bringing activists and lobbyists, staffers and political leaders face to face. But they also sometimes raise red flag, especially since most of them are completely walled off from the prying ears and eyes of journalists and bloggers. Joining us to discuss this is Liz Bartolomeo. She runs politicalpartytime.org, a website that keeps track of who is sponsoring all the parties at the two national conventions. Liz, thank you so much for joining us. First, what is Party Time?
MS. LIZ BARTOLOMEOPoliticalpartytime.org is a website that's run by the Sunlight foundation and we are a nonpartisan, nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. And we use technology, websites, mobile apps and the like to create a more open and transparent government. So Party Time has parties for congressional fundraisers, convention events like we're seeing here this week and next. And you can go on the site and see a calendar and we have over 15,000 fundraisers on the site dating back about four years.
NNAMDIHow many parties will be taking place at these two conventions?
BARTOLOMEOThat we know of on Party Time is over 200.
NNAMDIOver 200 parties...
BARTOLOMEO...in each city.
NNAMDI...in each city. We should mention that Liz will also be joining us when we get to Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention. So you'll be hearing more from her there. But political conventions are all about status. We journalists look at each other's credentials with envy when we see that so and so has a pass to get onto the floor or deeper into the rings of security. And one of the most important status symbols may be the guest list of the exclusive parties taking place all over the city. You'll actually not be invited to almost all of these parties but you do know about the ones that seem most intriguing. What appear to be the parties to watch?
BARTOLOMEOThe ones that we're really watching are the ones that they're -- you know, they're really showing, they're really showing off how much influence they have. They're being thrown by corporations, by lobbying groups, by special interest group. And we know they're high value, high of interest parties because we just know from the invites how much it costs to even attend to host and sponsor an event. It might be $5,000, $25,000, $50,000. In fact, one of the invites we have in politicalpartytime.org has host stuff starting at $50,000.
NNAMDIWe've got some excellent examples of those invitations on politicalpartytime. You can find them at our website kojoshow.org. And part of your project involves trying to get into those parties.
BARTOLOMEOThat's correct. We actually have a reporter with the Sunlight Foundation Keenan Steiner joining us here in Tampa this week. And he's going to be the party crasher. He is going to be, you know, trying to go to the events, get a sense on what is the money situation there. What is influence happening? Why are these people in this party at this certain time? And that's what Sunlight Foundation tries to do year round. But this is a very short period of time. A lot of board delegates, board attendees are stuck in the rain situation here right now trying to see exactly what the influence is on the ground.
NNAMDIWhich are some of your favorite invites you've come across thus far?
BARTOLOMEOI think you mentioned a lot of them at the top of the segment but, you know, sort of the more creative the better. If it's just sort of a delegation breakfast for a state it's kind of dull, but the ones -- there is one this evening called Nuesta Noche, it's in the Ybor City area, and it's going to be, you know, sort of celebrating all the Hispanic leaders here in Tampa this week, but it's looking to be a DJ, open bar, that kind of stuff.
BARTOLOMEOThere's another event this evening that's sponsored by the Distilled Liquors Council, and that's actually one that Sunlight tried to get in, and we were turned away by it. And, you know, those are sort of going to be very high value, high -- you know, it might not be a high cost to really attend, but we know they're to be of interest.
NNAMDILater in the hour, we'll -- in the broadcast, we'll be talking to a guy who actually is sponsoring that Distilled Liquor party that you're talking about. Through one light these parties often do look sinister, especially when we're talking about secret sponsors, secret guest lists and no media. There was one fascinating report about somebody who had brought over an entire club for the entire week, and it was a mystery as to who had done it. Were you able to track it down and find it?
BARTOLOMEOWe actually were able to track that down.
NNAMDII knew you would. Who is it?
NNAMDIAhh. AT&T is the mystery buyer.
BARTOLOMEOIs the mystery buyer, and there is actually going to be -- we're going to give a little more detail this afternoon on the Sunlight Foundation website. We should have -- we'll have more information about the lobbying interest behind it, why AT&T bought this, you know, sort of upscale restaurant here in downtown Tampa called Jackson's Bistro is the name of it, and we're going to see what their interests are.
NNAMDIWhy -- and they're the special telecommunications provider for this convention, correct?
BARTOLOMEOThat's correct. I used their free wi-fi earlier this morning.
NNAMDIWhy would they want to keep it a mystery as to who -- as to fact that they're the ones who are sponsoring this whole week's events?
BARTOLOMEOYou know, it's a good question. I mean, there's a lot of people, they use this as a public affairs type of thing, but other times they're just, you know, this is just what they do. You know, I don't -- they don't want people to be at their events, or they want to eliminate -- excuse me, limit the number of people there. So there could be other events like this. We only just know of this because there was media reports out there.
NNAMDILet's move on because I don't want to lose my wi-fi. Parties also play an important role at conventions and in Washington. Later this hour, as mentioned, we'll be talking to a guy who actually throws these parties. But I'm curious whether you are critiquing the parties themselves or something else.
BARTOLOMEONot critiquing the parties at all. We understand that this is how Washington happens. But what Sunlight really wants to do is bring greater disclosure about when these parties are happening, why they're happening, who is funding these parties, and unfortunately, our campaign finance laws have great lag time, so we created websites like Party Time so you can see in advance who is already giving the money to support these candidates and groups.
NNAMDILiz Bartolomeo is editor of politicalpartytime.org and communications manager with the Sunlight Foundation. She will also be joining us in Charlotte, North Carolina. Good to see you, Liz. Look forward to talking to you again next week.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, a man who throws a number of these parties for a variety of sponsors, Freddie Wyatt. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIMost people arrived in this city with distinctly partisan goals, electing Mitt Romney president, networking among fellow Republican activists, and putting on a media event that presents the grand old party in the best of lights. But Freddie Wyatt arrived with a different non-partisan mission, putting on a week of great parties. He's masterminded exclusive parties at every Republican and Democratic convention since 2000. This year he'll be hosting parties in Tampa and in Charlotte. Freddie Wyatt is the CEO of Jamestown Entertainment. Thank you so much for joining us.
MR. FREDDIE WYATTThank you for having me.
NNAMDII have been coming to Republican and Democrat National Conventions since the year 1980, and over that time, things seem to have changed quite a bit. You've been throwing parties at these conventions since 2000, so this is your third cycle of parties. How has the actual spectacle and the planning of a convention party changed during that time?
WYATTI think the whole process has changed just due to the people that you're seeing attending, the ages. We seem to -- in the nightclub -- it seems to be more nightclub and entertainment driven than back in those days. I think I've seen -- it's how do you get it cooler and fun-er and even better within, you know, now we're LEDs and now we're doing all the fun stuff that pretty much it's like the MTV generation we've just seen so much. So you have to push the limits a little further, and that's one of the reasons that we came down and actually popped up this big One Oak nightclub here in the middle of Tampa's...
NNAMDIWe're going to get to that in a second. But what you seem to be saying is that over the years, delegates have been demanding more. There was a time when they were just satisfied to be like with one another, but now they want more entertainment.
WYATTYeah. They want to -- they want more entertainment, and I think it's pushing the limits of technology and how we use everything, oh, yeah. I mean, even our ticketing system now is all on your smartphones.
NNAMDIAcross Tampa and Charlotte, nightclubs, art museums, aquariums are morphing into entertainment hubs hosting fund raisers, lobbyist events and old-fashioned parties for convention delegates, but you opted for different route here in Tampa that you mentioned earlier. What is a pop-up club?
WYATTPop-up means that you're taking a brand and you're moving it into a place that it usually isn't. So they started doing pop-up like Target does pop-up stores in Manhattan because they can't really get -- or they don't choose to be in Manhattan. I actually saw a Target store pop up in a rented house in the Hamptons, and you could just -- you could order the item and they would ship it to you tomorrow, but you can buy it. You know, Red Bull does pop ups, all the big clothing manufacturers do it, and it's become a kind of a thing in the nightclub business, is that they pop up Tao, and they pop up One Oak, and they do it at festivals an even Sundance.
WYATTSo a great friend of mine is a guy named Scott Sartiano who owns the Butter Group, and One Oak was part of his thing, and I said, I got a crazy idea, why don't we just bring one of the best nightclubs of the United States, put it in a park and see what we can do.
NNAMDITell us what this kind of pop-up club, what will it look like?
WYATTThe -- I guess that you could say the bones of it is a 30,000-square-foot tent, and within the bones we went to New York City with our designers and we took the actual elements that makes One Oak, like the real -- they have letter walls, and the furniture, and these incredible chandeliers and we took everything that they used as their signature, we went back and reproduced it. As a matter of fact in Alexandria, Virginia in our warehouse, and we trucked it down here. UPS brought it down and brought it to us the other day, and now we've put it in. So literally if you closed your eyes and you'd been in One Oak in New York or Las Vegas, and you opened your eyes in Tampa, you'd pretty much think you were in the One Oak right here.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Freddie Wyatt. He is CEO of Jamestown Entertainment that will be putting on parties at this Republican National Convention here in Tampa, Florida, and at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. You're a bi-partisan party thrower this year as we pointed out. You're working with both parties, and working with the Distilled Spirits Companies of the United States, and a very high end nightclub chain to throw events and Tampa and Charlotte, including the closing party at both sites. Have you noticed any differences at all between the way the two parties party?
WYATTOh, absolutely. If you want to take it back to Washington where we're all based from, I think the best part is if you take Smith Point in Georgetown which is a basement, you know, simply a bar, you know, great place, I mean, it's just a bunch of guys hanging around in plaid suits. I hate too, you know, put a label on them. And then you could take something as entertaining as, you know, the park in Washington D.C. that seems to be a little bit more driven by the entertainment.
WYATTIt seems that the republican side like a little bit more of just, you know, commonality and to tell stories and they don't really need the large, large entertainment people out there. Yet, granted, we do have Kid Rock and all these guys that are coming, but that goes back to the point before is I think that that's the new trend of it, and I think it was actually started more with the Democratic side and it made the Republican side feel like we didn't bring these big names, you know.
WYATTA bunch of guys sitting around drinking scotch and having a cigar, so now we're trying to catch up to that side -- at this side. But the, you know, the Democrats, they like the entertainment a lot more, and it's not that there's a big difference, but it's pretty funny see how they're driven.
NNAMDIGetting a look from the inside of the party planning process. A lot of people looked at our political institutions and concluded that they are broken. Some people actually point to the decline in parties in Washington. The logic goes like this, back in the day, Congressmen and Senators lived in Washington and attended the same parties. They got to know each other, they forged friendships over martinis and hors d'oeuvres. Today there is less of that, if you will, cocktail circuit, and that may mean people don't get to know each other as well. Do you think entertainment can help to forge bipartisanship?
WYATTAbsolutely. I think that, you know, I don't think that if you take a look at any great, you know, meeting of people, if you put them together in the same room, I mean, I believe it was like Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill who used to go -- Tip O'Neill when he left the hill after beating Reagan up the whole day would go over and sit down and have a drink with him and they'd chuckle about what they did. If you could put your hat down and realize that the other person is exactly the same, you know, they're a person, and not get it so offensive, I definitely think that that can happen.
WYATTIt'd be interesting to take a poll at the Verizon Center for a concert and figure out who was Democrat and Republican who walked out the door and didn't realize you were standing next to somebody that was different.
NNAMDIYou know, I remember the late Senator Barry Goldwater used to talk about how he and his opponent used to go out and whistle stop meetings. He and his Democratic opponent would go out to whistle stop meetings together. He said we'd get up on the stage and beat the hell out of each other, and then we'd get into the same car, share a bottle of whiskey, and then go on to the next whistle stop meeting. Those were the days, and that's the kind of environment you're trying to bring together again.
WYATTYeah. I think that that's the best way to -- well, you -- that's the real foundation of what we're all here for. I mean, the reason that you guys cover it, the reason that we partnered with Camp Freddie and we partnered with the Butter Group and Discus and we all see this is the process. We're all human beings, we're all existing here, so let's just, you know, figure it out. Maybe it's an easier way. We should throw better parties in Washington and bring both a Republican and a Democratic side and see what we get.
NNAMDIYou've been doing this for awhile. How did you get into this business in the beginning? How did it evolve so to speak?
WYATTI actually was in New Hampshire at a family house and the gentleman next door neighbor was a gentleman by the name of Michael Whalen who was a tour manager for like Led Zeppelin and Styx and all these people in the '70s, and he and I were cutting down a tree, and he looked at me and said, what are you doing for Thanksgiving? And I said, well, hanging out with the family. And he said, come to New York City and work the Macy's Day Parade with me. So I flew to Manhattan and a horrible night in Manhattan, and found myself at the top floor of Macy's on a 12-inch rail walking a cable all the way down with rain pouring, and I looked at him and he was sitting in a cherry picker next to me, and I said my parents pay you to kill me? And he just started laughing and that was my itch, you know.
WYATTThat was it. I just got -- I got to see the way that you build it, and people enjoy it, and how much it takes, and then the most amazing thing is you just rip it down and then it goes away, and it's almost like that memory, it's just that it's incredible to be a part of the building process and then it's just all gone.
NNAMDIWell, it ultimately is a lot of fun, but clearly it takes a lot of work to make a lot of fun. How do you describe if you will your business model to some young person who comes along and says, Freddie Wyatt, I want to learn how to do the same thing you do. What do you say to that person? Where do you start? Where does one start?
WYATTWell, I think it's a dedication to what you want, you know, however, a lot of people they make goals, and what we do in the entertainment and events business is our goals are short term, you know. We come and work as hard as we possibly can to get something done and put up, and then as I said, it's gone. So, you know, I say that jokingly now, considering we're doing, you know, 20 parties in eight days in two cities, don't sleep a lot, and drink a lot of Red Bull, but after that's finished you feel a real sense of accomplishment that gives you the opportunity to go to the next one.
WYATTAnd yeah, we'll take a couple of days off and we don't -- we're not nine to fivers. We're really in this to get the job done, and some of it's 24 hours a day. I gotta be honest. So as long as they're committed to that side of this process, and that we have to get the job done. You can't put your pen down or your computer down and be like, hey, I can get back to this tomorrow, because tomorrow's too late. You gotta get it done today.
NNAMDIWell, the fascinating thing I find about what you do and how you do it is the fact that look, nobody expected a hurricane to happen in Tampa. As a matter of fact, the newspapers here some months ago said, oh, there's maybe a one percent chance of a hurricane happening. You're planning big events here. The thing I notice most about you is that even though you're dealing with a rapidly changing situation, you are showing no signs of nervousness whatsoever. How do you do that?
WYATTWell, we kind of plan for the worst. Not necessarily -- I didn't bring my slickers down, but no. You have to think about it like that, and, you know, a lot of people, I think that's where the term on Broadway, the show much go on, is because there are incidental things that you can't control. So it's muscle memory. We know how to get this done, and if it does show up, we'll play right throw it. We're not concerned about that. We already have our goal, and we're going to get to it one way or another.
NNAMDIAnd you prepare for just about any eventuality that can occur.
NNAMDIFreddie, what are your contingency plans in the event that the hurricane hits Tampa and sticks around for a little while?
WYATTWell, we've actually -- we made a backup plan. We located a warehouse, it's a matter of fact probably about a hundred yards away from where we are at the park, that they'll have the -- the tent is scoped at 50-mile-an-hour winds that will actually pull the skin off the tent and leave just the bones. And we'll bring everything that's within this place and run it across the way to this warehouse, and we already have our own generators and our own power and our own air conditioning, and we'll just plop it right into this warehouse.
WYATTThe only way that we would totally discontinue is if the RNC said we were going to take a direct hit, and then we would just call it a day. It's obviously the safety about everybody's that around us.
NNAMDIAnd we thought we had a great back-up for the seven or eight guests who may not happen to make it here because of the hurricane. Obviously your plan is a lot bigger and maybe a lot better. But Freddie Wyatt, thank you so much for joining us.
WYATTThank you sir. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIFreddie Wyatt is CEO of Jamestown Entertainment which is planning parties both at the Republican National Convention in Tampa and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. "The Kojo Nnamdi" show is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Tayla Burney with assistance from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. The managing producer is Diane Vogel. The engineers in Washington are Timmy Olmstead and Jonathan Cherry. Our engineers at WMNF in Tampa are (unintelligible) with help from Jake Tremper (sp?) . Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones.
NNAMDIPodcasts of all shows, audio archives, CDs and free transcripts are available at our website kojoshow.org. We encourage you to share questions or comments with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, by joining us on Facebook, or by tweeting @kojoshow. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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