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Ethics down side to big-donor convention parties?

Special interests can give unlimited sums to national party conventions through convention host committees.

By Staff writer / August 24, 2008

Ted S. Warren/AP


Denver – It's party time in Denver, where hundreds of festivities around the first Democratic National Convention here in a century are just getting under way.

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Last night it was "A Celebration with Altitude" at Elitch Gardens, a 62-acre downtown theme park that closed to the public for a private party for some 15,000 journalists, 6,000 DNC delegates, and other invited guests, who dined on cotton candy and crunchy finger foods, including Rocky Mountain oysters. (If you’re not familiar with the provenance of that last item, you should have asked. I didn't.)

Journalists covering the 2008 Democratic National Convention were also invited to an opening party at Elitch Gardens, then located at a different site in Denver. Eleven of the 31 "thrill rides" at the current park date from that era. Saturday night's event ended with a five-site fireworks display that produced erratic driving on nearby roadways not unlike the classic bumper car rides.

Here's the question: Did the sponsors of that event – The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, plus a billboard of corporations – buy themselves favorable coverage in The Christian Science Monitor? Certainly not after the "oysters."

But the confluence of private money and politics poses perennial issues (the latest wave of ethics reform on Capitol Hill notwithstanding) for journalists, as well as for the members of Congress and would-be presidents the media cover.

In 1908, Democrats meeting in Denver nominated populist William Jennings Bryan, the most powerful orator of his day. He had first electrified Democrats in 1896 at the Democratic convention in Chicago with his "Cross of Gold" speech. In Denver, he campaigned on the slogan: "Shall the People Rule."