RNC Attendees Party Behind Closed Doors At Your Expense
Written by Jack Mumby
Political conventions used to serve an important role, they were once the only opportunity for a party to come together and reach a consensus on its nominee. Everybody remembers the suspense of the 1976 Republican National Convention, where attendees arrived without knowing whether Ford or Reagan would be on top of the ticket. That’s not the case anymore- the Republican primary was already in full swing this time a year ago, and Romney’s had the nomination locked up since April.
A long primary process, backroom deals, and social media have provided alternative ways for a party to deliberate and reach consensus, supplanting the convention’s original purpose. In contrast to the convention system’s populist roots, this year’s party platform was finalized behind closed doors, and angry Ron Paul supporters staged a walkout, convinced that the GOP leadership was intentionally silencing them.
Much to organizers’ dismay, it turns out that once you gather 50,000 people in one place for a 3-day-long coronation, there really just isn’t that much for them to do but talk- and there’s nothing new to say. This week, we learned how Obama is Karl Marx mixed with Osama Bin Laden, next week, we find out that he’s actually Mother Theresa and FDR’s love child, but if you’re looking for substantive policy discussions, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
So, even though the average American has little reason to tune into either party’s weeklong informercial, politicos are shocked that nobody’s been watching coverage of the Republican National Convention.
Maybe the problem is that none of the parts worth seeing are on TV- the Sunlight Foundation has been keeping track of all the lavish parties private corporations and their lobbyists are throwing in Tampa this week, over 100 just one day.
Sunlight has also set Keenan Steiner to investigate the RNC party scene and report on his misadventures, and he’s chronicling them on his website, PoliticalPartyTime- Steiner posted the above picture of Marco Rubio to his Twitter account on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday, Steiner told Democracy Now! “It’s a sort of starting process to become dependent on these corporations… They want to stay in office, and you better be friends with the Chamber of Commerce, with the NRA, with the big nonprofit groups, the shadowy nonprofit groups, that you really better be friends with them, because, if not, they could drop a lot of money in your district, and they could make you lose an election.”
We’ve already covered how harmful letting our lawmakers wine and dine with K Street can be to our democracy, and the ethics loopholes convention organizers are exploiting to keep the party going. Even though business-funded galas have been a fixture at political conventions since the 80s, this year is the most extravagant yet. An anonymous lobbyist rented out a popular Tampa eatery for a whole week so AT&T could use it to influence lawmakers, and the list of the RNC’s corporate sponsors is a mile long.
As if our “leaders” fattening themselves at a privately-funded trough wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that we the taxpayers are footing some of the bill too. There’s been a lot said about the $50 million in federal funding going to security for each convention and the use of public venues for both events- certainly ironic given the RNC’s “We Built This” theme. On top of that, we’re paying for Federal Election Commission “observers” to go to both conventions, but given their track record, don’t expect any hard-hitting investigations.
However, readers of this blog are actually more likely than the average American to have chipped in.The federal Presidential Election Campaign fund is giving $18 million to each party’s convention- you might recognize that from the “Do you want $3 of your federal tax to go to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund?” on your tax form each year. That’s right, when you checked that box to help get money-for-influence trades out of politics, you were actually subsidizing them.
Naturally, Democrats have already tried to make political hay out of the RNC’s follies, but they’ve run into some transparency troubles of their own, not to mention the criticism they received from their own base over AT&T’s effective sponsorship of the 2008 DNC, and their return on that investment in the form of telecom immunity.
For what it’s worth, the Democrats have promised that the 2012 DNC will be the most transparent convention ever, but we’ll be holding their feet to the fire to make sure it’s not a repeat of “the most transparent administration ever.”
Political conventions used to be the crown jewel of our democratic tradition, but now they’re a gathering place for people looking to subvert it. All that’s left is a weeklong party at your expense- not only are you paying for it, but your lawmakers are being encouraged to put big business’ needs ahead of yours. This isn’t right- we can only hope that the Democrats put their money where their mouths are next week. If they don’t, you’ll be sure to hear about it.
Jack Mumby is a 2012 graduate of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where he campaigned for wage justice and other progressive causes and earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Policy. He is currently working as an intern with Common Cause’s national office.