We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
From late-night receptions to tea parties, golf tournaments to boat rides, there’s a lot of partying in Charlotte this week — outside the convention hall. Kojo explores which groups are throwing parties and who they’re inviting as they seek to influence Democratic Party politics.
- Liz Bartolomeo Spokesperson for PoliticalPartyTime.org; and Communications Manager, Sunlight Foundation
DNC Fundraisers, Parties And Events
Sunlight Foundation’s Party Time tracks political fundraising by collecting invitations — sometimes directly from the beneficiaries or hosts — and posting them publicly. These are some of the groups hosting events at the 2012 Democratic National Convention:
Playbook Breakfast, hosted by POLITICO.
AAJ Hospitality Suite, hosted by American Association for Justice Formerly Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
Group Runs with Run For Your Life, hosted by Run For Your Life.
Gumbo Ya-Ya, hosted by Conventions 2012.
U.S. Values and Interests in a Changing Middle East, hosted by American Jewish Committee.
Celebrating Voting Rights – The Struggle Continues, hosted by the Georgia Democratic Party.
A Night Out for Charlotte, hosted by Captain Jack Society.
Ethel Screening, hosted by IMPACT Film Festival.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe political parties that host conventions like the one we're attending in Charlotte this week, would like you to believe that they are powered purely by the people. But here in Charlotte you need not look any farther than the parties taking place this week to see that the convention's official and unofficial festivities are made possible by hoards of money flowing in from companies, interest groups, unions, even if the path some of that money takes -- even if the path that some of that money takes are often difficult to decipher.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut this is shaping up to be an election defined by spending from outside groups, something that's becoming more and more apparent every time we turn on the TV and see political ads. Joining us to explore how money is influencing the politics, both at this convention, but more broadly, at this fall's election, she also joined us in Tampa, Florida for the RNC, is Liz Bartolomeo, editor of politicalpartytime.org, and communications manager with the Sunlight Foundation. Liz, good to see you again.
MS. LIZ BARTOLOMEONice seeing you.
NNAMDIThis was supposed to be the convention that banned direct contributions from corporations to the host committee, yet here we are. Verizon has sponsored a celebration for the Montana Delegation. Delegates can take boat rides on Lake Norman, courtesy of the Nation Marine Manufacturer's Association. When it comes to the amount of corporate money influencing the business that's going on here, how is this convention different from the one that took place last week, and how is it still the same?
BARTOLOMEOThe only thing that's different is the Democratic National Host Committee here in Charlotte voluntarily said no to corporate money, no to PAC money, and no to lobbyist money. But all these auxiliary events that are happening because it's a convention, there's all these delegates here and all these influencers from around the country and all these big donors, is that corporations -- this is part of their policy game.
BARTOLOMEOYou know, this is part of their advertising. They're getting their name and their federal issues out there in front of, you know, thousands of people.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Do you feel you have a sense of where the money flowing the candidates and parties is coming from? What for you would make this process more transparent? 800-433-8850. Liz, Tony Podesta, the democratic super lobbyist told the Los Angeles Times that between the corporate fund-raising rules and the general state of the economy, fewer shrimp would die for this year's convention festivities because people are cutting back. What would you say to that?
BARTOLOMEOYou know, from what we're seeing from the Sunlight Foundation and our Party Time team here on the ground, is that some of the parties are still going strong. We're counting over 400 happening just here in Charlotte alone this week. They happen morning, noon, and night, and some of the events at night are really quite lavish.
NNAMDIAnd I suspect a lot of people would say if you're saying fewer shrimp will die, you mean compared to what?
BARTOLOMEOExactly. Compared to 2008? Compared to 2004? You know, every single year is different. Every, you know, the economy is definitely different this year, but we're seeing a lot of these bigger events that have many corporate sponsors hosting...
NNAMDIAnd for those people who aren't counting from convention to convention, what we see is a lot, or boogobs, so to speak.
BARTOLOMEOIt's a lot. You know, our Party Time site's only four years old, but we have more than we've ever seen.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Liz Bartolomeo. She's editor of politicalpartytime.org, and communications manager with the Sunlight Foundation. If you have questions or comments, what sense do you have for who's funding the onslaught of political ads we're seeing on TV these days? Would it change your perspective to know more about where the money is coming from? 800-433-8850. The main official event was Carolina Fest, a free outdoor festival in town -- downtown, that was open to the public. How do you think the optics of opening the convention with a public festival square with the nature of the rest of the week's official and unofficial events?
BARTOLOMEOI think it made the city of Charlotte really proud. I feel like they were showing their pride. They're really happy to welcome all these delegates, welcome the media, welcome these folks into Charlotte to, you know, nominate -- for the Democrats to nominate Obama for president. But if you walked around Carolina Fest, you know the host committee is not taking corporate sponsors, but at corporate -- you saw corporate sponsors at Carolina Fest everywhere, including in banners on the street. They included AT&T, Bank of America, local Duke Energy, Time Warner Cable, and there was about 15 all together.
NNAMDIWhich brings me to this. Some people have pointed out that the rules, you say you can't contribute directly to the host committee, but that the rules have a lot of loopholes. Is that what seems to be happening here?
BARTOLOMEOThere are some loopholes. In terms of just giving to the host committee, these conventions are very expensive to put on. They get $18 million from the federal government. That's taxpayer money. The rest of it they have to raise. For the Democrats, they're saying no to corporate money, but that doesn't mean that corporations can give in-kind contributions. Duke Energy, the local company here, has done everything from, you know, helping give them, you know, access to the area and Wi-Fi and some, you know, business loans. So there's many ways that can have in-kind contributions.
NNAMDIPublic employee unions clearly see a lot at stake in this year's election, and in this convention. A lot of members of Congress think it's a pivotal election for public employees too. Our producers, Michael Martinez and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, visited with the Virginia delegation to the Democratic National Convention last night where they ran into Congressman Gerry Connolly. Here's what he said he thought was at stake for federal workers this fall.
MR. GERRY CONNOLLYYou know, if federal workers had any illusions about where the Republican leadership was taking this country, I think the last two years of Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has cleared that up. They are virulently anti-federal employee. They are willing to significantly change the contract between federal employees and the federal government in terms of compensation and benefits. They disparage public service and the nobility of that calling, I think to their shame. I would hope that the message is loud and clear in terms of which of the choices federal employees ought to be making November 6.
NNAMDICongressman Gerry Connolly talking with our producers last night here in Charlotte. He's here, like we are, for the Democratic National Convention. Liz Bartomoleo, this isn't necessarily party related, but yesterday was Labor Day, and it is my understanding that you have uncovered quite a lot of money trails leaning back to unions from here in Charlotte. What are we talking about as far as their investment and their influence?
BARTOLOMEOYou know, what we're really seeing with the unions here is not a lot out on the official calendar. We know that the SEIU and their families USA Group, is having a health care reform event happening this week. It's a policy discussion looking at everything that's happened since the health care bill passed and the Supreme Court decision and the like. But, you know, a lot of the big unions, the AFLCIO, the National Education Association, and others you know, they're not quite there having these big events that are being publicized.
BARTOLOMEOBut I was just walking around Carolina Fest yesterday, and there was a lot of the local chapters of these unions were having booths. The AFLCIO had a hashtag on Twitter called #hugathug, and you could get a hug to help promote the labor union.
NNAMDIHow are unions choosing to direct their influence? Are any contributing directly or have any of them moved to form superPACs at this stage in the game as far as you know?
BARTOLOMEOThe unions are active in the superPAC arena, whether they have -- they created their own superPAC, or they have contributed to a superPAC, and you can follow all this information on the Sunlight Foundation's Follow the Unlimited Money website. We're talking millions of dollars here being spent by these groups primarily going to support Democratic candidates.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you feel you have a sense of where the money flowing to candidates and to parties to have parties is coming from? What for you would make the process more transparent? 800-433-8850. I raise that question because it's getting harder and harder for even some of the more educated voters to know who's funding the political ads that we're seeing on TV. It's not like the general names of the superPACs we hear at the end give a whole lot away. They're all combinations of America, Americans, Future, but Sunlight has come out with a mobile app that helps people learn more about who's funding the television ads that they watch. How does Ad Hawk work?
BARTOLOMEOAd Hawk is really simple. It's available for if you have an iPhone or an Android phone. It's all for free from the respective places that download it, and it works -- it recognizes the audio in a political ad. So when you see an ad on television, hear one on the radio, or even see one on YouTube, all you have to do is open up the Ad Hawk app, hold it up to the speaker, and within 30 seconds the app will identify who placed the add, how much that money is, and how much money they're spending, and where it's going.
NNAMDIAnd I should point out that Ad Hawk is a play on words. It's Ad H-A-W-K, not Ad H-O-C. It's Ad Hawk H-A-W-K. Is that correct?
BARTOLOMEOThat's correct, like the bird.
NNAMDIAnd you just point it in the direction of the ad, it will pick up the sound of the ad and give you the information that Sunlight has been able to dug up about it -- dig up about it.
BARTOLOMEOPrecisely. And it also gives you information on some of the more popular ads that are being placed on television. So, you know, if you open up the app now, you'll see things like Priorities USA, an Obama for America ad, a Romney for President ad, and that's going to change as these ads get more and more on television. So it works for presidential campaigns, congressional campaigns, so if you're listening on TV locally, or on the radio locally, it also works on -- it also works on superPAC ads, issue ads that are out there.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Liz Bartolomeo. She is editor of politicalpartytime.org, She's also communications manager with the Sunlight Foundation. Are there any superPACs involved with parties or events here at the DNC in Charlotte?
BARTOLOMEOThe one we're really watching is a sort of super superPAC. Three of the top Democratic superPACs, Priorities USA Action, House Majority, and Majority PAC are throwing what they're calling a super O-Rama. There's about three events that we know of via Party Time. It's a brunch. There is a reception this evening that's being dubbed as cocktails and a policy briefing, and then there's also a big concert, kind of final big bash after Obama's speech on Thursday night.
NNAMDIHere is Jim in Chevy Chase, Md. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMHi. I don't know if it's really necessary to find the specifics of all this. It seems to me that if you get more money and money means corruption, which we all know it does, it's just so obvious, then the Republicans are way, way out there in front in corruption. It just seems obvious. I don't know if that's true, but I'd like to find out. Can you tell me?
NNAMDIDoes that seem obvious to you, Liz Bartolomeo, in terms of who's ponying up money for the parties at each -- for the party parties at each of these conventions?
BARTOLOMEOYou know, money does equal power. Money does equal access. That's what the Sunlight Foundation really found last week at the Republican National Convention. You know, here in Charlotte, we are seeing that the more wealthy have access. The Obama bundlers, their finance committee is out hanging at the swanky Ritz bar last night, as I encountered. But, you know, the big thing about sort of the money game to look at, yes, overall, money does equal power.
BARTOLOMEOBut the Sunlight Foundation found, even within the presidential campaigns, the Romney campaign's actually trying to play catch up to amass and reach the amount of cash the Obama campaign and the Democrats actually have.
NNAMDIJim, thank you very much for your call. We move onto Phil in Washington D.C. Phil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHILKojo, your previous -- or a previous guest was suggesting that a really good reason to vote (unintelligible) was certain candidates do not respect federal service, public service. I think there's another fundamental reason how to choose who to vote for. One is the future of the Supreme Court. How do you think the Supreme Court ought to be? Should it be a court that gives us Citizens United, or a court that gives us Roe v. Wade? Second is, who do you want one heartbeat away from the presidency for the next four years?
PHILDo you want a guy who has only been a Congressman and hangs around Washington all his life, do a guy with a few years on him, a geezer if you will, like me?
NNAMDIWell, when you mention Citizens United, of course Liz Bartolomeo, he's making a reference to the money that's flowing into these campaigns and the anonymity of people who are passing this money on. What parties have you been going to, and have you been able to find out anything if you've been getting into these parties?
BARTOLOMEOYou know, some of the parties we have gone to already here in Charlotte for the Democratic Convention is our reporter on the ground here has been very interested in the Democratic Governor's Association. It's a 527 group, so not a superPAC that has spent about $35 million so far this year to help get Democratic governors elected to office. Last night's had a go-go disco theme that included an Abba cover band, open bar, passed hors d'ouevres and the like.
BARTOLOMEOSome other ones we have been looking at, you know, last night there was Nancy Pelosi concert in honor of her 25th year in Congress. This evening we're looking at some after parties that's being held by RJL Companies, the group has been founded by Bob Johnson, one of the big sort of corporate sponsors and supporters of the president. We're also looking at, you know, some of the big concerts happening for the festivities with the rock bands and the popular music acts coming in. We're also looking at, you know, there's a Hispanic outreach group called Voto Latino that we're keeping our eye on tomorrow night as well.
NNAMDIIt's hard work, but somebody's got to do it. And how early or late do you normally get to bed on convention nights?
BARTOLOMEOIt's lucky if I get to bed by 2:00 a.m.
NNAMDIGood grief. Good luck to you.
NNAMDILiz Bartolomeo is editor of politicalpartytime.org and communications manager with the Sunlight Foundation. Liz, thank you so much for joining is.
BARTOLOMEOThank you very much.
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. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Special thanks to all our engineers in Washington and Charlotte making this week of broadcasts happen, including Timmy Olmstead, Andrew Chadwick, and Jonathan Charry at WAMU, our engineering and support team at the Ground Crew Studios in Charlotte includes John Cosby, Josh Sacco, Ross Wissbaum and Katherine Goforth. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, CDs, and free transcripts are available at our website, kojoshow.org. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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