The Influence Diaries: Dispatches From the DNC

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Michael Beckel/Center for Public Integrity thanks the Center for Public Integrity for allowing us to post its stories from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Editor’s note: The Center for Public Integrity’s money-in-politics reporting team is bringing you news from the Democratic National Convention — focusing on special-interest influence, big-money politicking and corporate schmoozing. Reporters Michael Beckel and Carrie Levine are on the ground in Philadelphia. Please check back regularly as this article will be updated throughout the week. Click here to read our coverage of the Republican National Convention

An inside look at influence-peddling in Philadelphia


4:24 p.m. Tuesday, July 26: Fundraisers and corporate lobbyists aren’t the only ones who take advantage of the conventions to conduct events and make sure members of Congress hear about their issues.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which advocates for reproductive freedom and against restrictions on abortion, partnered with Cosmopolitan Magazine for a lunchtime panel on “Congress, the Courts and Your Body” this afternoon at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

The panel, which included U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, both Democrats, drew a crowd that lunched on salmon and grilled vegetables. Attendees lauded the Supreme Court’s decision last month in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstadt, which overturned Texas restrictions on abortion clinics, a ruling Blumenthal described as a “landmark.”

Spotted among the crowd: actresses Constance Wu and Eva Longoria, a Democratic party fundraising stalwart who introduced U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey at the convention last night (an assistant said she wasn’t giving interviews today). Several other members of Congress, including U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, also attended.

Blumenthal, the sponsor of legislation that he said would require clear medical proof of necessity for state restrictions on abortion, and Watson Coleman encouraged supporters to reach out to members of Congress.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the Whole Woman’s Health ruling is a “new tool” that will help the center and others take on other state laws. In addition, she said that in addition to such defensive work, advocates could now “push for affirmative laws.”

For example, she said it could be time to lay groundwork to “make sure that women who can’t afford abortion care can get it in federal programs.” Her comments appear aimed at the so-called Hyde Amendment, versions of which have for decades restricted the use of federal funds for abortion.

This year, the Democrats’ platform, passed yesterday, calls specifically for repealing the Hyde Amendment, a controversial proposal.

Carrie Levine


2:06 p.m. Tuesday, July 26: Batting practice during the Democratic All Star Challenge at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, was briefly interrupted this morning for a few words from the event’s hosts and biggest sponsor.

James C. Greenwood, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who now serves as the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s chief executive officer, praised the House and Senate Energy and Commerce Committees for “working in a bipartisan fashion” to help cure diseases such as AIDS, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

“Bad policies,” Greenwood admonished, could “kill innovation.”

As the main sponsor of the charity baseball event — money donated by its corporate sponsors will go to three charities — the Biotechnology Innovation Organization had given $50,000, according to marketing materials obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

Other sponsors — including Blue Cross Blue ShieldMicrosoft and Monsanto— had donated between $5,000 and $20,000.

Part of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, the charity event was held “in honor of” the Democrats on the House and Senate energy and commerce committees. (A similar event was held in Cleveland last week during the Republican National Convention.)

Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also spoke briefly at the charity fundraiser.

Sporting khaki shorts, a black Pittsburgh Pirates t-shirt and a yellow Pirates baseball cap, Doyle called the event “a great thing” and a chance to “benefit some great charities.”

Speaking to the Center for Public Integrity after the event, Doyle dismissed the idea that he, or any of the other lawmakers, would be unduly influenced by the companies’ charitable donations to support the event.

“It’s frustrating that people think we are somehow influenced by that,” Doyle said. “It’s really easy to believe that there’s always something bad going on,” he continued, calling concerns that any lawmaker would be swayed by these types of contributions “overblown.”

“We’re public servants,” he said.

He added that the best way to assess who was influencing him was to look at his voting record in Congress.

At one point in the interview, Doyle even pulled a list of the events’ sponsors out of his pocket to stress that he wasn’t beloved by many of them.

“There are a lot of people on that list that don’t like me,” he said.

Throughout the morning, a few dozen people milled about the stadium, in the dugout and on the field near home plate as guests with VIP tickets took a few swings during batting practice. Among them? both Doyle and Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, another member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who was also present at the event.

Michael Beckel



2:00 p.m. Tuesday, July 26: Colorado’s Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooperhas played his banjo on stage with the likes of the String Cheese Incident andOld Crow Medicine Show. And today, he’ll be one of the featured panelists at an event in Philadelphia called ArtsSpeak, with the likes of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon.

Also featured at the event: entertainer Ben Vereen and musician Ben Folds, who will both perform.

ArtsSpeak will be hosted by the Arts Action Fund, in partnership with theUnited States Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Music Merchants and the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

For its part, the National Association of Music Merchants has spent $160,000lobbying Congress so far this year regarding access to music education programs in schools, according to federal records. Also among its concerns? Regulations that prohibit the sale of products containing ivory and that ban the importation of illegally harvested wood.

Not in Philadelphia? The discussion — and musical performances — will bebroadcast online live here at 4 p.m. EDT.

— Michael Beckel



12:57 p.m. Tuesday, July 26: He may not have been selected as Hillary Clinton’s vice president, but Secretary of Housing and Urban DevelopmentJulian Castro has at least received a leadership award by the Latino Leaders Network.

Castro collected the award — and give a speech to the group — at a luncheon today in Philadelphia at the lavish Crystal Tea Room, a venue complete with “carved columns and opulent crystal chandeliers.” (A wedding reception there typically runs between $20,500 and $33,550.)

According to promotional materials for the invitation-only event obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, “special guests” included Reps. Xavier Becerraof California, Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico and Linda Sanchez of California, as well as former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Sponsors of the affair, meanwhile, included the Anheuser-Busch Foundation,GEICO, ComEd, PECO and Southwest Airlines, as well as NextGenClimate, an advocacy group formed by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer.

On the Latino Leaders Network’s website, Anheuser-Busch, the world’s largest beer maker, is the sole company listed as a “premier sponsor” of the quarterly luncheon series. Tax records show the Anheuser-Busch Foundation has contributed $100,000 annually to the Latino Leaders Network in recent years.

Michael Beckel


9:45 a.m., Tuesday, July 26: Comcast’s logo is splashed across signs welcoming Democratic delegates to the Wells Fargo Center.

Tents in the “convention village” offering video games, cocktails, and buffets are sponsored by a series of firms and trade associations that want lawmakers’ attention and goodwill.

Unions have filed paperwork disclosing seven-figure contributions to the host committee of the Philadelphia convention.

The host committee itself has posted a thank-you to a list of especially generous corporate sponsors on its website.

And yet, despite all that exposure, the host committee has fought to keep its official donors list secret. State authorities have ruled the records should be public. But yesterday the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas handed convention planners a major victory, allowing the host committee to maintain donor anonymity for another two months.

The host committee is required to file reports about its finances with the city of Philadelphia because the city has extended a $15 million line of credit to the host committee as a backstop to its fundraising efforts. A state agency said the records had to be disclosed, but the host committee appealed.

The host committee’s executive director, Kevin Washo, and lawyers for the committee said the information is confidential and proprietary, and the committee is still fundraising, and releasing the information sooner could hurt their efforts. Federal election law allows the host committee to wait to disclose its donors until after the election.

Anna Adams-Sarthou, a spokeswoman for the host committee, said it has raised about $58 million in cash and pledges and $16 million in in-kind contributions so far, and is working to raise another $1 million in cash.

“We appreciate that the Court has recognized that the Host Committee is required to be among the most transparent of all organizations by federal law,” she said in a statement. “This ruling emphasizes the fact that we have been following federal guidelines for the last two years and will help us complete the work to put on a successful convention.”

Carrie Levine


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8:07 a.m. Tuesday, July 26: The Biotechnology Innovation Organization,Microsoft, AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Consumer Technology Association and Monsanto are among the special-interest groups paying for the privilege of taking batting practice and socializing with lawmakers today at Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, according to materials obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

The “Democratic All Star Challenge” charity batting practice event honors the Democratic members of the House and Senate’s Energy and Commerce committees, while raising money for the D.C.-based Washington Literacy Center, the Pittsburgh-based Center of Life and Phillies Charities, the charitable arm of the baseball team.

According to marketing materials obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, sponsorships range from $5,000 for the “sports fan package” to $50,000 for the “grand slam package,” which the Biotechnology Innovation Organization appears to have purchased.

Each tier includes a number of perks such as general admission tickets to the event, as well as tickets for either regular batting practice and VIP batting practice with former Phillies outfielder Milt Thompson. (Former Phillies pitcher Dickie Noles will also lead a pitching clinic during the event.)

Another apparent perk of being the top sponsor? Giving a speech to attendees.

James C. Greenwood, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who now serves as the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s chief executive officer, is scheduled to deliver remarks during the event. So is Rep.Mike Doyle, D-Pa., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who sits on its Communications and Technology subcommittee as well as its Energy and Power subcommittee.

Doyle is also the longtime coach of the Democrats’ congressional baseball team, which plays against a Republican team once a year each summer in Washington, D.C., for charity.

— Michael Beckel


11:57 p.m. Monday, July 25: How do the Democratic National Convention and Republican National Convention contrast?

And what about the money behind them both?

Center for Public Integrity senior political reporter Dave Levinthal today spoke with KALW-FM 91.7’s “Your Call” in San Francisco and TRT World’s “The Newsmakers” program about these and other convention-related issues.

Listen and watch.

— The Center for Public Integrity


9:47 p.m. Monday, July 25: A political action committee focused on supporting candidates of Asian and Pacific Islander descent is hosting a reception tonight on the rooftop of the Phoenix, a luxury apartment building in Philadelphia.

The event is sponsored by the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Leadership PAC, whose current chairwoman is Rep. Grace Meng, D-Calif.

According to information on the organization’s website, several corporate PACs, labor unions and special interest groups are helping put on the event.

Among them? The American Federation of TeachersAT&TCardinal HealthIntel, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, theInternational Association of Fire Fighters, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the National Education AssociationPlanned Parenthood, the Service Employees International Unionand the Sheet Metal Workers International Union.

Lobbyist Ari Mittleman of Keystone Strategic Advisers, a former adviser to Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is also listed as part of the reception’s “honorary host committee.”

— Michael Beckel


8:24 p.m. Monday, July 25: Tonight, Fratelli’s Italian Bistro in Philadelphia will host “Festa Italiana,” which honors Italian American delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

The event’s host? The Italian American Democratic Leadership Council, whose board of directors include super lobbyist Tony Podesta and Ohio state Sen. Capri Cafaro.

Underwriters of the Philadelphia event include corporate and union interests, such as Quicken Loans, the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers and Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, according to the Italian American Democratic Leadership Council’s website.

Among the notable people on the event’s host committee? Joseph Paolino Jr., a former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, who also served as the ambassador to the European island nation of Malta under President Bill Clinton and has raised more than $100,000 for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

— Michael Beckel


6:49 p.m. Monday, July 25: Raising money for a political party can be challenging. The one item that attracts the big money, however, is access to big names. And peppered throughout the new WikiLeaks dump of hacked Democratic National Committee emails are a number of examples of exactly how much that sort of access will cost you.

Here are some examples the Center for Public Integrity identified within the 20,000-or-so leaked documents that provide a look at how the influence game is played:

  • A $467,000 contribution to the Democratic National Committee will get you a boatload of Democratic National Convention goodies — VIP lounge access, premier hotel bookings, event tickets galore and an “exclusive roundtable and campaign briefing with high-level Democratic officials.”
  • Clayton Cox is a DNC regional finance director. Cox had asked one of Fred Eychaner’s associates if the wealthy media entrepreneur would consider coughing up some more cash for the cause. Cox offered to have David Simas, a top adviser to President Barack Obama, meet with Eychaner. Cox writes: “I know the DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz would be happy to update [Eychaner] on the DNC’s preparation to defeat Donald Trump in the general election.”
  • Democratic National Committee National Finance Director Jordan Kaplanrefers to the committee’s Democratic National Convention fundraising account as a “mini super pac” — a curiosity, given that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wants to overturnCitizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 Supreme Court case that in part led to the creation of super PACs.
  • Democratic campaign money bundler Shefali Razdan Duggal says she’sattempting to secure the top-tier “Rittenhouse” convention package by raising money from other Democratic donors — at $679,650 raised, she’s short about $650,000. Duggal also wants to know whether she’ll be invited to exclusive events with politicians, including those at the White House. “AGAIN, not to be a lurker or presumptuous, although do you potentially have thoughts/dates for the December WH larger party(ies)? I was just trying to look at scheduling,” she writes. In the end, a Democratic Party staffer assures her that she will be invited.
  • A Clinton staffer was in the midst of bundling checks from four Indian tribes for the Democratic National Committee’s Democratic National Convention fund.
  • A spreadsheet providing a running total of Democratic National Convention and other funds.

The leak led to Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation Sunday. A Democratic National Committee spokesman did not immediately return requests for comment.

Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook has accused “Russian state actors” of breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s email servers and stealing information. WikiLeaks has not said how it came to possess the emails.

Dave Levinthal and Chris Zubak-Skees



4:03 p.m. Monday, July 25: Two things we probably won’t know about U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders when he speaks tonight at the Democratic National Convention: How much he’s worth, and how he invests his money.

Sanders has twice requested (and received) extensions for filing a mandatory personal financial disclosure form with the Federal Election Commission.

Sanders’ campaign lawyer Brad Deutsch first requested a 45-day extension in late April, when he and Clinton were still battling each other in the Democratic presidential primary. Then, on June 30, Sanders’ lawyer requested another 45-day extension.

The FEC almost never denies such extensions. In Sanders’ case, it approved them both.

In requesting a second extension June 30, Deutsch wrote that there is “good cause for this extension due to Senator Sanders’ current campaign schedule and officeholder duties.”

In contrast, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton filed their personal financial disclosures in mid-May. Both candidates submitted their documents on time, without extensions.

Curiously, Sanders on June 6 did have time to file a separate U.S. Senate personal financial disclosure, as all elected members of Congress must do.

This report covers calendar year 2015, and indicates Sanders and his wife largely invested in mutual funds. Sanders also received a pension from the City of Burlington, Vermont, and accepted modest compensation for a few speeches and appearances — money that he donated to charity.

Sanders’ presidential disclosures would go farther, covering his financial activity well into 2016, when Sanders found himself in the teeth of his presidential campaign.

A Sanders spokesman did not immediately return requests for comment on whether Sanders will submit his disclosure documents prior to his speech tonight, or, at any point during the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia.

— Dave Levinthal


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3:19 p.m. Monday, July 25: Presidential also-ran Bernie Sanders is scheduled to speak tonight at the Democratic National Convention.

But in an email this afternoon reminding supporters of his speech, Sanders asks his backers to make a financial contribution — not to the campaign of presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, who he  endorsed earlier this month, but to another organization altogether.

“The next step for Bernie’s movement is a new organization called Our Revolution, which will fight to transform America and advance the progressive agenda that we believe in. Make a contribution to Our Revolution today,” reads a donation page, which pops up on email recipients’ screens after they fill out a form pledging to listen to Sanders’ speech tonight.

Sanders is organizing “Our Revolution” as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that Sanders earlier this month told USA Today would help “recruit, train and fund progressive candidates’ campaigns.”

As a “social welfare” nonprofit organization, Our Revolution may raise unlimited amounts of money from donors and engage is some politicking — it just can’t, by law, make politics its primary purpose.

Such politically active 501(c)(4) groups are prime vehicles for “dark money” — cash that comes from secret sources that recipient groups aren’t required to make public.

Messages to the Sanders’ campaign were not immediately returned; it’s unclear whether Our Revolution will voluntarily reveal information about its donors, and if so, to what degree.

There is precedent for political 501(c)(4) groups volunteering data about their donors. Most notable is Organizing for America, an issue advocacy nonprofit that sprung forth from President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

But Organizing for Action didn’t release as much information about its donors as, say, a super PAC would be obligated by federal law to do.

Sanders told USA Today that he also plans on creating two more organizations, including the “Sanders Institute” and a yet-to-be-formed political organization.

— Dave Levinthal

— Carrie Levine


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7:00 a.m. Monday, July 25: The Texas Justice and Education Fund is hosting its “Texadelphia Celebration” today, which will honor Democratic Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Gene Green, both of Texas, for “continuing the great legacy of President [Lyndon] Johnson” in the area of civil rights and voting rights.

Donations to the Texas Justice and Education Fund, a charity organized under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, are tax-deductible for individuals, corporations and labor unions. The group isn’t legally required to disclose its funders, but on its website, it lists several prominent people, labor unions and blue-chip companies as its “sponsors” and “hosts” of the Texadelphia event, which will be held at The Olde Bar in Philadelphia.

Among the corporate bankrollers? Altria, AT&T, Comcast, Microsoft andSouthwest Airlines.

Among the unions backing the group? The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers and theTransport Workers Union.

And among the high-profile individual “sponsors” and “hosts”? Texas lawyer and Hillary Clinton campaign fundraiser Lisa Blue, AT&T lobbyist Lyndon Boozer and Martin Frost, a former Texas congressman who is now a lobbyist at Polsinelli PC.

Jack Martin, the CEO and global chairman of public relations companyHill+Knowlton Strategies, and his wife Patsy Woods Martin — the executive director of Annie’s List, a group that recruits, trains, supports and works to elect progressive women in Texas that support abortion rights — are also listed as “hosts” of the Texadelphia event.

— Michael Beckel


7:41 p.m. Sunday, July 24: Southern Company, Altria, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Abbott Laboratories, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and T-Mobile are some of the corporate interests sponsoring the third annual No Greater Sacrifice Congressional Shoot-Out tomorrow as part of the Democratic National Convention.

Sponsorship packages for the golf tournament, which raises money for charity, range from as little as $15,000 to as much as $100,000, according topromotional materials obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

Give at least $25,000 and your players will be paired with VIP golfers, like celebrities, wounded service members or members of Congress. Other expected attendees include governors, mayors and lobbyists.

Nine members of Congress are listed as part of the event’s “honorary host committee.” They are Reps. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa.; James Clyburn, D-S.C.;Mike Doyle, D-Pa.; Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo.; Scott Peters, D-Calif.; and John Yarmuth, D-Ky.; and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; andTom Udall, D-N.M.

Last year, the top golfer at the event was Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who recently concluded a congressional investigation into the circumstances around the September 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that left U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

— Michael Beckel


3:20 p.m. Sunday, July 24: The convention committee doesn’t have to reveal its donors until 60 days after the Democratic National Convention, but theCenter for Public Integrity has already unearthed some major backers, including a seven-figure contribution from the bricklayers’ union.

Of course, companies are also finding quiet ways to give — such as sponsoring private parties that don’t have to be disclosed, but allow them to rub elbows with lawmakers. Want to see Snoop Dogg? Sorry — invitation only.

For more, check out our story here — and remember, we’ll be on the lookout for special interest influence throughout the convention.

— Carrie Levine


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