by Ashley Balcerzak
If you thought Republicans partied hard in Cleveland, just wait till you hear what's going down on the other side of the aisle. While the RNC shindigs seemed to suffer a slow start, the Democratic National Convention hosted a successful first 24 hours of cushy events that promoted mingling between those on the public payroll and the corporate chieftains and lobbyists that underwrite the festivities.
Some of Tuesday's schmoozing took place out on the Delaware River. The National Marine Manufacturers Association hosted a mid-morning "Workshop on the Water," complete with rides on a 19-foot jet boat that's worth about $60,000-$70,000, courtesy of event sponsor Yamaha.
A number of Democratic members of Maryland's congressional delegation, including Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, gathered at the Independence Seaport Museum sporting blue Yamaha caps and dug into a maritime-themed hors d'oeuvres menu that included smoked salmon and herb cheese tea sandwiches.
A slew of other boating companies also were sponsors, including Correct Craft, Regulator, SureShade, HydroHoist, Freedom Boat Club and MarineMax. A Yamaha representative said the event was a great chance to promote the maritime industry to lawmakers.
The NMMA hosted a similar event at the Republican National Convention last week on Cleveland's Lake Erie, attracting nine members of Congress and their staffs. Though the group gives to candidates and party organizations on both sides of the aisle, its contributions lean Republican -- more than $110,000 this cycle, compared to just under $50,000 for Democrats.
The Dems' Host Committee kicked off the festivities Monday evening at the tallest building in Pennsylvania, the Comcast Center skyscraper, at a party sponsored by Nasdaq and Comcast, the DNC's broadband network and one of the host committee sponsors. The committee's full donor list and detailed report will not be made public until 60 days after the convention, said spokesperson Anna Adams-Sarthou, but sponsors who wanted to be identified included big corporate names such as AT&T, Xerox, PNC Financial Services and tech giants such as Microsoft, Samsung, Twitter and Facebook. (A judge this week denied independent journalist Dustin Slaughter's request for the quarterly reports the committee must file with the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development, which they must do in exchange for a $15 million credit line for the event; those reports would have disclosed all the sponsors.)
While Demi Lovato and Paul Simon graced the stage at the main event inside the Wells Fargo Arena, country and soul singer Elle King performed her hit Ex's and Oh's with a full band onstage at the Comcast shindig.
OpenSecrets reporters were not on the invite list for either the boating party or the Comcast celebration, but obtained access anyway after identifying themselves and their affiliation. Host committee organizers handed invitees branded pens and donkey-shaped stress balls labelled "C-SPAN 2016."
The venue featured a beer garden, photo booths and a high-ceilinged lobby with full wall screens flashing images of aerial acrobat dancers and European alleyways. Tables overflowed with elaborate finger food such as jumbo shrimp, truffle macaroni and cheese and green gazpacho with crab. One of the spreads featured a decorative (depending on your point of view) whole roasted pig nestled on a circle of palm leaves in between plates of sliders. The two main sponsors each had their own specialty cocktails -- a spiked rosemary lemonade for Comcast, and a Listerine-blue cosmo for Nasdaq. Feeling more like coffee or some sweets? Adjacent tents hosted booths for La Colombe coffee and Sweet Pea Ice Cream.
Comcast and its employees have given more than $4.5 million to federal candidates and committees so far this cycle, a near even party split with Republicans and Democrats receiving more than $2 million each. If past years are any indication, however, that might change -- Democrats have gotten the lion's share of the company's contributions in every cycle since 2008. Comcast also spends upwards of $15 million annually to lobby on telecommunications and taxes, consistently placing the company in the top 20 for lobbying outlays. (That wasn't enough to get the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger approved last year, though.)
Nasdaq's PAC, filled with contributions from President Adena Friedman and Edward Knight, the group's general counsel, and other employees, has leaned Republican with its gifts this cycle, though it has given evenly ($5,000 each) to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee. Nasdaq has invested more than $290,000 so far this year lobbying mainly on finance and tax issues.
Host committee chairman and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell roamed the packed tent. On the municipal level, Philadelphia City Councilman Derek Green and Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell partook in the fun.
On the sponsor side, Josh Machiz, director of integrated marketing at Nasdaq, tweeted out a shot from a TapSnap photo booth posing in front of wallpaper plastered with sponsors' logos. OpenSecrets Blog reporters also spied Michelle Singer, Comcast's vice president of political engagement and corporate administration. Wandering guests sported gear labeled with American Federation of Government Employees and American Airlines logos, many of them decked out with Clinton campaign buttons and gold pins.
Even a sudden, near-biblical rainstorm wasn't enough to put a stop to the fete, with guests ushered out of the tents and into the Comcast Center's lobby as the sky opened up. We were extremely grateful for the Comcast-branded ponchos we were given when we had to brave the rain.
Later Monday evening, after the convention's speeches were done for the day, partying continued -- including an invite-only Nelly concert with an open bar sponsored by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Benefiting the charity Musicians on Call, which brings performances to hospitals, the event's attendees included several members of Congress (including Sens. Bob Casey and Maria Cantwell) and Ashley Biden, the veep's daughter, according to Politico. Unfortunately, OpenSecrets reporters were turned away at the door for not being associated with the sponsors. (Sounds like we missed a good time.)