Curbing Convention Soft Money

Flowing through a wide soft-money loophole, vast sums of unlimited donations are swamping this summer's Democratic and Republican conventions. Thanks to loose Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules that violate the spirit of the McCain/Feingold campaign-finance reform law, record amounts of such unregulated money are pouring into the conventions' "host" committee coffers.

Originally, host committees were set up to promote local businesses and foster civic pride in cities that secured themselves as convention sites. In fact, the FEC had set strict rules governing the amount and type of money that could go to such committees. For one, it had to be local money.

But the FEC rules were relaxed, including dropping the "local" stipulation. And here's the shocker: The host committees will have raised a whopping $108.5 million this time around. That's 12 times the amount contributed in 1992.

The breakdown for this year's convention fundraising tsunami is as follows: Some $44.5 million of the cost for the Democratic convention in Boston will be paid for by private donations. New York's GOP host committee is expected to raise $64 million from more than 100 private sources. So far, 21 corporations have contributed to the Republican and Democratic host committees.

Ostensibly, all this private money is to pay for the increasing costs of putting on these spectacular, four-day made-for-television productions. But don't think for a minute that more than a few of these individuals and companies aren't buying access to politicians and party figures.

In a new report, the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute found a range of companies funding the Democratic convention that have business pending before Congress. And Don Fowler, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, remarked last week at a conference announcing the CFI's report that "some of the best lobbying in the world is done at these conventions."

Indeed, the political ties of these host-committee donors are strong: 26 of the 71 biggest contributors to the Democratic convention in Boston gave at least $20,000 to political action committees in the 2000 election.

With their platforms set and the candidates all but officially chosen well beforehand, there's also plenty of time at conventions for governors, members of Congress and key staffers to schmooze and be schmoozed at an abundance of elaborate private functions that are part and parcel of conventions today.

These unlimited, soft donations to host committees clearly violate FEC rules that the monetary gifts be "motivated by a desire to promote the convention city and not by political considerations."

Surely, there's now plenty of evidence for the FEC to step up and enforce its own guidelines, rethink its rules governing conventions, and do its level best to stem this rising tide.

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