That's Entertainment -- or Is It?

Hip-hop giant Kanye West will perform for Democrats in Denver -- in an educational capacity, of course.
Hip-hop giant Kanye West will perform for Democrats in Denver -- in an educational capacity, of course. (By Matt Sayles -- Associated Press)
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By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Whatever you do, do not call the events at the upcoming presidential conventions that feature Kanye West and the band Daughtry "concerts."

They are not, according to their sponsor, the Recording Industry Association of America. They are multi-hour educational exhibitions at which the artists, well, sing, but only for a short while. They are actually large receptions filled with edifying messages from Bono's One Campaign, which fights global poverty -- a major policy initiative.

Also, please note that all this focus on policy has nothing whatsoever to do with new ethics rules that make it hard for lobbying groups such as the RIAA to entertain lawmakers and their staffs unless the get-togethers are work-related and "widely attended."

"We look forward to co-hosting with our partners at the One Campaign two of the most informative and exciting events at the conventions," said Jonathan Lamy, a senior vice president of the recording association.

He added, surely as an afterthought: "As with any event we are involved in, we make sure to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that it complies with all relevant ethics rules."

Lamy needn't have worried. In recent weeks the congressional ethics committees have issued interpretations of the rules that take most lobbying groups off the hook when it comes to limits on what they can sponsor at the conventions.

The House committee has said lawmakers can go to the good parties as long as they attend as part of a convention delegation, not as a member of Congress. Exactly how that transformation magically occurs is not spelled out.

The Senate committee has said that any event at which 25 or more other people show up is also just fine. Then again, who's counting?

As a result, it appears that almost anything goes despite the efforts last year to rein in lobbyist parties.

"Navigating these waters is like shooting the rapids, but there is a way to do it," said Kenneth A. Gross of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

"People used to think it was carnival time at the conventions," said Robert L. Walker, an ethics expert at Wiley Rein. "Now, it's arguably modified carnival time."

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