The AT&T Convention in Denver

Published on
by
Salon.com

The AT&T Convention in Denver

by
Glenn Greenwald

This blogger has obtained an image of the very handsome welcome bag that every delegate and member of the media will receive upon arrival at the Democratic National Convention next month in Denver. Here is one side (in my view, the prettier side) of the bag:

convention.jpg

He has the other side here, and notes that there's "no word on what will be in the bags yet." If AT&T's parents taught it any manners at all, that bag will runneth over with all sorts of fine items, as AT&T has much to be grateful for, both to the Party whose convention it is generously sponsoring and to the media stars who will be attending. How far are we away from both parties selling naming rights to the companies on whose behalf they so assiduously labor?

What's most striking about the Convention bag -- aside, of course, from its stunning design -- is how the parties no longer bother even trying to hide who it is who funds and sponsors them. But -- an earnest citizen might object -- just because AT&T is helping to pay for the Democrats' convention and having its logo plastered all over it the way a ranch owner brands his cattle doesn't mean that they will receive any special consideration when it comes time for Congress to debate and pass our nation's laws.

With regard to the important question, let's hear from financier and lobbyist Steve Farber, the Chief Fundraiser for the Democratic National Convention:

Mr. Farber's vast contact list could prove crucial in raising the millions of dollars needed by the Denver host committee to showcase Senator Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in August in Denver. But Mr. Farber's activities are a public display of how corporate connections fuel politics -- exactly the type of special influence that Mr. Obama had pledged to expunge from politics when he said he would not accept donations from lobbyists. . . .

Yet, as Mr. Farber hops on planes, hosts breakfasts and pulls out the stops, he at least can draw on the resources of his law firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, one of the fastest-growing lobbying shops in Washington and one of the most powerful firms in the West, thanks to some recent strategic mergers that have only fattened his roster of blue-chip corporate clients.

"Steve Farber is involved with a lot of high-level candidates and ones who have won," said Floyd Ciruli, head of Ciruli Associates, a Denver political consulting firm. "He's famous for hiring ex-politicians, their children and ex-judges. He's very good at making connections with people who have access to politicians" . . . . As a result of Mr. Farber's efforts, dozens of organizations have signed up as corporate sponsors of the Denver convention, including six that are lobbying clients of his firm: UnitedHealth Group, AT&T, Comcast, the National Association of Home Builders, Western Union and Google. In return for these donations, which can go up to $1 million or more, sponsors are promised prominent display space for corporate marketing and access to elected officials and Democratic leaders at a large number of parties and receptions.

Mr. Farber is now going through his client list -- and also approaching nonclients -- in his search for cash. Conventions are one of the last remaining ways for corporations to put big money into politics, since they are banned from giving directly to candidates and parties.

Even more, corporations can give unlimited amounts of money to host committees, in contrast to individuals who are restricted in the size of their political donations. Corporations can also take a tax deduction on their donations to the host committee, but individuals are barred from deducting political contributions.

"Farber has a dual role," said Steve Weissman, a policy analyst at the Campaign Finance Institute who has studied convention finances. "He is a businessman and a community activist, and yet he is connected to a law firm that is one of the biggest in Washington. When any of Steve Farber's clients have a problem, federal elected officials will feel obligated to listen to him if he approaches them later on federal policy interests."

Although he is a Democrat, Mr. Farber's firm draws political talent from both sides of the aisle. Its lobbyists include Jim Nicholson, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee; former Senator Hank Brown, Republican of Colorado; and Judy Black, wife of Charlie Black, Senator John McCain's chief adviser, and a major bundler of donations for Mr. McCain.

But then there's this: "In raising money for the convention, Mr. Farber said he was not selling access to the many politicians attending the event, but promoting regional pride and the chance to participate in a historical event." Everyone can decide for themselves which scenario they find more plausible.

None of this is new, of course. And it should be emphasized that the McCain campaign is shamelessly drowning in lobbyist influence, while the Obama campaign -- to its credit -- has been applying its ban on associating with lobbyists so meticulously that it actually disinvited Obama loyalist Max Cleland from an Obama fundraising event last week merely because Cleland is a registered lobbyist for a company that designs products for soldiers recovering from war injuries. As symbolic and hedged as it might be, Obama's policy -- along with Obama's pledge to ban any lobbyists from working in the Obama White House -- is at least a very mild step towards acknowledging how tawdry all of this is.

* * * * *

In fairness, it's important to note that some telecoms are more modest than AT&T and aren't always eager to have their logo plastered all over the place. For instance, Comcast -- another client of Farber's lobbying firm that is a DNC sponsor -- refused last month to accept the television ads which the Blue America PAC submitted to run on Comcast stations in Rep. Chris Carney's Pennsylvania district criticizing Carney's support for telecom amnesty. When rejecting it, Comcast demanded that a whole slew of changes be made to the ad.

Once all those changes were made and the ad was re-submitted, Comcast again rejected the ad, but indicated that they would accept the ad on the condition that one last change was made: namely, they demanded that the Comcast logo be removed from the screen shot in the ad which showed the logos of the telecoms which (a) contributed to Carney's campaign and (b) benefited from the amnesty Carney then supported as a result of having the telecom lawsuits against them dismissed. Thus, the ad originally contained the following screen shot accompanying this narrated line: "[Carney] even wants to give amnesty to phone companies accused of breaking the law -- and which gave thousands to his campaign":

comcast.jpg Comcast had, indeed, given close to $20,000 to Carney and had been a defendant in some of the lawsuits to be dismissed under the telecom amnesty which Carney vocally supported. Nonetheless, once the Comcast logo was removed from that shot, Comcast accepted the ad and has been running it on its cable stations ever since. So it's important to acknowledge that not every mammoth corporation is as eager as AT&T is to splash its logo all over our political debates. Some, like Comcast, are much more humble.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.

© Salon.com

Share This Article

More in: