The Democratic Convention: Brought to You By Your Friends in Corporate America

May 21st, 2008 by Phil Mattera

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may be bashing big business (up to a point), but a number of major corporations are positioning themselves to win favors from a possible Democratic administration next year by signing up as sponsors of the party’s convention. Last week, Kevin Vaughan of the Rocky Mountain News reported that the August gathering in Denver has already lined up 56 corporate supporters.

Vaughan notes that these companies appear to be motivated by something other than civic responsibility: “Almost all of them have the same thing in common: They either have business with the federal government or they lobby on pending issues.”

Massie Ritsch of the Center for Responsive Politics told Vaughan: “Corporations aren’t allowed to contribute directly to political parties or candidates’ campaigns, but they can subsidize the gatherings that show off a party’s candidate to American voters and get the candidate officially nominated…Money from these corporate donors helps the party, it helps the candidate, and to call it anything other than a campaign contribution is to make a distinction without a difference.” Also on the list of sponsors is the Service Employees International Union.

The Center’s Capital Eye blog later reported that companies on the sponsorship list are also associated with actual campaign contributions—through their political action committees and individual giving by employees and their families. In this way, the Center says, 38 of the sponsoring companies have provided about $971,000 to Sen. Clinton and 48 have provided about $1.3 million to Sen. Obama.

Vaughan does a good job of cataloging the issues on which the corporate sponsors would likely seek help from the Democrats if they control the White House as well as Congress. For example, AT&T’s concern about liability in connection with its involvement in national security wiretapping; Merck’s opposition to low-cost drug importation; and Visa’s worries about new restrictions on credit card companies.

Other sponsors include leading weapons producer Lockheed Martin, the giant for-profit medical insurer UnitedHealth Group, and utility firm Southern Co., one of the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions. Another of the sponsors, Molson Coors, may be a significant liability for the Democrats even during the convention. Jonathan Coors, nephew of company vice chairman Pete Coors, is leading an effort to put an anti-union right-to-work initiative on the ballot in Colorado.

Isn’t it wonderful that the Democrats display such diversity among those helping to make its historic convention possible.

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