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Sunday, August 01, 2004

DEMOCRATS vs. REPUBLICANS: The Race for Corporate Cash 

From today's Observer (UK): USA Inc pays cash for access

EXCERPT: At the Democratic national convention last week, big business put on its biggest party at a political event. The return on its investment was simple: access and influence.

The American Gas Association budgeted to spend $700,000 on bashes at both major parties' conventions, evenly splitting its entertainment fund - typical corporate behaviour in what is expected to be a mighty close presidential contest.

While John Kerry accepted the Democratic nomination, the real action was in the skyboxes ringing the conference arena - making a mockery of Democrat criticism of Bush being in the thrall of 'special interests'.

Here, money guarantees access. It's something Bobby Savoie, who has raised over $200,000 for the Kerry campaign, laps up. Savoie's firm created the laser-guided system used during the Iraq war to target a restaurant where Saddam Hussein was thought to be eating. Last week, Savoie enjoyed invitations to 30 galas and lunches and had prime access to the convention hall and the exclusive 'sixth floor'.

Last week saw the first real sign that corporate America thinks Kerry can win. Sensing change was in the air, it lobbied potentially influential politicians and policymakers in a frenzy. Big business footed the bill for dozens of lunches, galas and nightclub events where the powerful guzzled champagne and consumed enough shellfish to empty a small sea.

Corporations have neatly sidestepped recent US legislation banning the donation of unlimited 'soft money' to political parties from business, unions and the wealthy. But funding official hosting committees that sponsor conventions is perfectly legal; and in a further boost to multinationals eager to buy influence, last year the Federal Election Commission withdrew a 10-year-old regulation that required companies contributing to host committees to be locally based.

Business has jumped through these loopholes with both feet. Campaign Finance Institute figures show that private donations to conventions have jumped from $8.4 million in 1992 (14 per cent of total funding) to $103.5m this year (60 per cent)....

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