by Ashley Balcerzak, Emma Baccellieri and Viveca Novak
Republican National Convention attendees probably won't be limiting their stay in Cleveland to the Quicken Loans Arena. Media, politicians and special interests organized more than 340 outside events. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Numerous Republican elites are ditching their party's national convention in Cleveland this year. (And with some pretty lame excuses, too.) Boy, are they missing out. Sure, on what likely will be a fascinating main event, but mostly they're skipping out on some of the biggest soirées of the season. Special interests, lobbyists, politicians and the media are holding upwards of 340 activities -- that we know of, thanks to a list OpenSecrets Blog obtained on the sly. The fundraising and elbow-rubbing ranges from happy hours and rooftop celebrations to cigar-and-bourbon tastings. Read on to stake out the best spots to see all the schmoozing in action, and maybe sneak into an event or two (not that we'd approve of that).
But first, we interrupt this program for a special alert for federal lawmakers and other public officials: Gift rules apply! "The conventions are not ethics-free zones," said lawyer Ken Gross, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom in Washington. Continental breakfast, fine. Sit-down meal? Nope. Unless it's a "widely-attended event," meaning 25 or more "diverse" guests (meaning not just one firm's employees, for instance), and you (the official in question) make a little speech -- then a full meal is okay. And watch out for concerts, or you could find you've accepted an excessive in-kind or corporate contribution.
Barring consultation with an expert on the various celebrations you want to attend, you're safest in some friendly company's hospitality suite snacking on pigs-in-a-blanket and mainlining piped-in background muzak.
If that's not your idea of a good time, there's this: You can drink as much as you want. The gift rules allow for "unlimited alcohol" at any of these events, Gross assured us.
Now, back to the opportunities:
The sponsors-only welcome parade
Can't wait 60 days after the convention to know who helped pay for it? The Cleveland host committee that handles the logistics and can accept unlimited funds to do so doesn't have to report donor names until then. You might just be able to cheat the system: The group is hosting a welcome reception for sponsors Sunday night. It's listed as being at the home of Natalie and James Haslam, megadonor and founder of Pilot Corporation, an oil company; that could be a misprint, since James lives in Tennessee and it's his son, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, and his wife Dee who paid $4.1 million for a mansion on Lake Erie in 2012. (Another of James' children is Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam).
The Haslam family has long been active in donating to Republican politics. They certainly didn't start out as Trump supporters this cycle: James, Jimmy, Jimmy's sister Ann and his wife Susan gave a combined $125,000 to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's super PAC, Right to Rise USA, early last year.
Since it would be a shame to let such a lovely estate go unused for the rest of the week, Jimmy Haslam's place will be the venue for a Republican Governors Association lunch on Wednesday; we're guessing invitees include, besides GOP governors, representatives of some of the RGA's top donors, which this cycle include Koch Industries ($2 million); Blue Cross/Blue Shield ($1.5 million); and Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands ($1 million).
Shooting on the range
Looking to participate in a "friendly shooting competition" on Tuesday? Yes, Ohio is an open carry state, and yes, there may be some vigorous protest activity outside the Quicken Loans Arena, but that's not what we're talking about. The National Rifle Association and the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation have put together a Stars and Stripes Shoot-Out at the Hill'nDale Club 45 minutes outside Cleveland.
Three hours later, Portman will be dried off and mingling at an Ernst & Young C-Suite reception at the organization's rooftop patio overlooking the river. Employees of the firm have donated $26,750 so far to Portman's campaign.
[caption id="attachment_14947" align="alignleft" width="182"] Happy birthday, Bob Dole! Alston & Bird is throwing you a party! (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)[/caption]
So many reasons to celebrate: It's also Bob Dole's 93rd birthday! (Who is, as it happens, the only past GOP presidential nominee attending the convention this year, McClatchy reports.) Law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird is hosting a birthday lunch on Tuesday (three days before his actual birthday, for those trying to time those calls and cards) at Morton's Steakhouse. Presumably the guest list will include some of the firm's top clients; HealthSouth Corp and the Kidney Care Council are among the interests that pay Alston & Bird a combined total of more than $10 million most years to lobby the federal government on their behalf.
All hail the Newt
Newt Gingrich may not feel like celebrating after being passed over as Trump's No. 2, but he'll be prominent at a Dentons bash at the Union Club Tuesday evening. The venue boasts a "platinum experience" and suggests "smart and relaxed attire." The event is unfortunately limited to clients and "friends of the firm" according to Nikole Cohen, public policy manager at Dentons. That could include a lot of folks: Denton's typically earns more than $6 million each year lobbying for a huge client list that includes several Native American tribes, Time Warner Cable and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
Havanas and hooch
Like a good stogie now and then? How about some fine American bourbon? If so, you'll have not one, not two, but three opportunities to indulge. The "Cleveland Rocks 2016 Party Zone" -- a tented venue established downtown for the convention -- will hold a trio of cigar and bourbon tastings over the course of the week. The tastings will be hosted by the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association and the group Cleveland Rocks, which is sponsored by a collection of veterans' organizations.
[caption id="attachment_14945" align="alignleft" width="231"] Cleveland's iconic Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on the shores of Lake Erie may be the city's most popular venue for events during convention week. (Photo: Erik Drost/Flickr)[/caption]
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is booked solid for a variety of events, everything from brunches to discussions on the arts, but the ritziest will likely be Monday night's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Party. Anchored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the event is scheduled to go into the early morning hours and has a collection of big-time corporate sponsors that includes Microsoft (more than $1.2 million contributed so far this cycle, mostly to Democrats; $2 million spent on lobbying so far in 2016 and more than $8 million last year on immigration, taxes and other issues); AT&T (nearly $900,000 contributed in the current cycle with a fairly even red/blue split; has spent nearly $4.5 million on lobbying in 2016 and more than $16 million last year); and PepsiCo (nearly $700,000 contributed so far this cycle, mostly to the American Beverage Association; $1.2 million invested in lobbying so far this year, nearly $5 million last year). The guest list for the invite-only bash includes members of Congress, staffers and supporters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said event organizer Carla Eudy, a current GOP fundraiser and former senior aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz).
An industry schism in tech
A Wednesday night country music concert on the banks of the Cuyahoga is billed as a "Salute to the Tech Industry," though a number of big players in the industry have made no secret of their distaste for Trump. Most notably, Apple announced last month that it would not contribute to this year's convention -- a break from its participation in years past -- and called out Trump's comments on immigrants and Muslims as justification. HP, Inc., which spun off from Hewlett-Packard last year, made a similar announcement in late May. But not all of tech's household names are following suit -- Google (nearly $2 million contributed so far this cycle, mostly via employee giving to Democratic candidates; $3.8 million spent on lobbying in 2016 and nearly $16.7 million last year on intellectual property and other issues) is hosting a "late night party" at the Cleveland Public Auditorium on Thursday, while Facebook (nearly $500,000 contributed so far this cycle, mostly to Democrats; $2.8 million in 2016 lobbying spending, more than $9.8 million last year, with a focus on intelligence and immigration as well as computers and IT), Microsoft and some non-tech companies are co-hosting a "Big Tent Brunch" at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
Parties with the press
This is all not to mention the bunches of brunches and get-togethers hosted by media organizations. Buzzfeed is handing out passes to their "Red, White and Blacklisted" rager for media organizations denied credentials to cover the Trump campaign. CQ Roll Call and The Washington Post are renting out some of the same venues as including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Club. (The Post alone has sent 80 employees to Cleveland. Yep, 80.) They and The Atlantic, The Hill, Politico and others are putting on their own panels and policy talks off-site, featuring light conversations on topics like national security, women in politics and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
And there are so many more wonderful-sounding chances to mingle: Sunday night's Squire Patton Boggs reception honoring "Ohio's elected officials" at the firm's offices in Key Tower (we hear former Speaker John Boehner will be there), followed closely by the Fierce Government Relations reception at Crop Bistro and Bar; Mehlman Castagnetti's happy hour Monday at the Barley House...
We'll have to leave it at that. Honestly, you should attend some of the official events inside the arena, too. But if you don't manage to have a good time in Cleveland, don't blame us.