CPI’s Inside Look at Influence-Peddling in Cleveland

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8:54 p.m. Wednesday, July 20: It was a curious scene Tuesday in Cleveland: There was Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, at a private event hosted by black Republicans from Florida, mingling with a crowd that included the likes of former Republican presidential candidates Ben Carson and Herman Cain and Donald Trump adviser Omarosa Manigault.

Bowser, of course, is a Democrat — and a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton. She was personally endorsed during her most recent mayoral campaign by President Barack Obama.

So why was she at the C’est La Vie Lounge in Cleveland, at a party co-sponsored by liquor company Cruzan Rum, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and private prison operator GEO Group?

As part of an effort to lobby anyone and everyone she can to support D.C. statehood.

“As she did throughout her day in Cleveland, Mayor Bowser took the opportunity to promote the District’s efforts for statehood,” Rob Hawkins, Bowser’s deputy chief of staff, told the Center for Public Integrity.

Hawkins added that Bowser attended the event at the invitation of Maryland State Senator Catherine Pugh, the Democratic nominee for mayor of Baltimore.

Bowser’s pitch to Republicans may be a tough sell.

The Republican Party platform officially calls for the District of Columbia to be maintained as is — and explicitly rejects statehood.

“Statehood for the District can be advanced only by a constitutional amendment,” the GOP platform states. “A statehood amendment was soundly rejected by the states when last proposed in 1976 and should not be revived.”

D.C.’s residents are overwhelmingly Democrats. And an early draft of the Democratic Party platform supports, D.C. statehood.

Bowser argues that D.C. could achieve statehood via Congress and without a constitutional amendment — something that requires a two-thirds vote of Congress, plus the approval of three-fourths of state legislatures for ratification.

— Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel


7:32 p.m. Wednesday, July 20: The American West wants you to enjoy its hospitality — make Wyoming your home away from home! — and experience its natural wonders.

But the Western Caucus Foundation — a little-known nonprofit group whose honorary chairs are Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo. — had no interest in welcoming a reporter interested in experiencing how its members interact with wealthy special interests.

Here’s what happened:

The Western Caucus Foundation was today conducting a “Red, White and Western Whiskey & BBQ Reception” at Mabel’s BBQ in downtown Cleveland, just outside the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena.

A flier obtained by the Center for Public Integrity advertised the event as an opportunity for “invited guests” to meet with members of Congress.

This reporter walked up, presented the invitation on his iPhone to a security guard, announced himself by name and organization and proceeded inside without issue.

A handful of people milled about, chatting and ordering drinks. The doors to the 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. event had just opened, and no formal program had yet begun.

About a minute later, another security guard, earpiece in ear, approached.

“You’re not on the list, and you must leave,” he said.

“What list?”

“The list you’re not on.”

“OK. Could I speak to an event organizer?”

“You can speak to him,” the security guard said, pointing to, and motioning over, a police officer.

“Thank you. Leave now,” the security guard said and opened the restaurant’s door.

The reporter left.

It’s unclear who sponsored and funded today’s event. There were no banners or placards visible in the restaurant’s foyer that listed its financial backers.

The event flier encouraged potential financial backers to contact two event officials listed regarding “support opportunities.”

Formed in 2013 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit “cultural exchange organization,” theWestern Caucus Foundation counts Republicans lawmakers of the Senate Western Caucus and House Western Caucus among its members. Individuals, corporations and other nonprofits may donate to the group and receive a tax credit for doing so.

The Western Caucus Foundation describes itself as the “voice of the West” and its mission as “informing and educating policy makers and the public on federal policy issues distinctive to western and rural communities.” It says it is “committed to advancing the following key principles: protecting private property, strengthening local control, promoting economic growth and increasing energy independence.”

Here in Cleveland, dozens of different organizations led by politicians or political operatives are conducting events for special interests with a financial or ideological interest in gaining access to lawmakers and political power brokers. And the special interests are all too willing to pay good money for the privilege.

No cash? No access.

Next week in Philadelphia, when Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate, much of the same is slated to occur.

— Dave Levinthal

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