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    Con-ventional Wisdom

    By Dwight L. Morris
    December 3, 1996

    Elected to a third term on November 5, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell wasted no time in vowing to kill the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill if it is reintroduced next month. A staunch opponent of every reform bill introduced over the past decade, McConnell will undoubtedly use his tried and true filibuster threats to ax any competing reform measures that are introduced, as well.

    However, should the Senate Republican leadership be publicly shamed into pushing for campaign finance reform – something I doubt very much – they might want to start by reforming the way the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are funded every four years. The current system is a national disgrace.

    To fund their conventions in San Diego and Chicago this past summer, the Republican and Democratic parties each received $12.4 million from the federal treasury. That $24.8 million would have fed and clothed a lot of the children that President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders have decided to toss off the welfare rolls, but it didn't even begin to cover the cost of staging these two four-day non-events, where every move was choreographed for television and the biggest decisions required of the assembled delegates each day were where to eat dinner and which gala party to attend.

    Unable to scrape by on their $25 million public handout, the two parties turned to so-called "host" committees in San Diego and Chicago, which together spent another $40.9 million on the conventions. An examination of documents recently filed by these host committees with the Federal Election Commission shows that virtually all of this windfall came from corporations, which have been barred from directly contributing to federal campaigns since as far back as 1907.

    For example, the telecommunications giant, AT&T, donated $2,653,226 to the Republican convention through the San Diego Host Committee, including computer equipment valued at $800,000 and telecommunications equipment valued at $550,608. The company provided technical and management assistance worth $325,892, office space valued at $280,000 and "furnishings for press filing centers" valued at $205,000. AT&T spent $307,000 on shirts for convention volunteers, $63,500 on duffel bags for the delegates, $6,900 on a catered reception and $1,550 on souvenir calendars and pens. Cash payments totaling $112,776 rounded out this burst of political philanthropy.

    The Amway Corporation, a distributer of household products and a major Republican backer for years, donated $1,320,000 to help pay for the Republican convention. Pacific Bell made four donations to the San Diego Host Committee totaling $512,061. Constantly looking for ways to protect its tobacco business, Phillip Morris probably figured that its three donations totaling $502,500 couldn't hurt. Chevron, the California-based petroleum giant, anted up two contributions totaling $400,000. The San Diego Padres Baseball Club, United Airlines, the San Diego Unified Port District, and long-time Democratic stalwart Time Warner each donated $250,000 to make Republicans feel more at home in San Diego.

    The Ticket Splitters: A Sampling of Major
    Companies Contributing To Both Conventions

    Company
    Contribution to Republican Convention
    Contribution to Democratic Convention
    AT&T
    $2,700,000
    $560,000
    Baxter Healthcare
    $100,000
    $110,000
    United Airlines
    $250,000
    $430,000
    BankAmerica
    $150,000
    $120,000
    Lockheed-Martin
    $100,000
    $100,000
    PaineWebber
    $100,000
    $102,000
    Ernst & Young
    $190,000
    $50,000
    Phillip Morris
    $500,000
    $175,000
    All numbers are approximate. Contributions include the cash value of in-kind gifts like software.

    Struggling in an increasingly tough business environment, defense contractor General Dynamics invested $271,731 to insure that the Republican leadership knew its heart was in the right place. Science Applications International Corporation, a San Diego-based firm specializing in national security technology research, donated $204,449. Lockheed-Martin and Northrop each found $100,000 that they figured the stockholders would view as a sound business investment.

    With healthcare reform always looming on the horizon, Cigna Healthcare, Baxter Healthcare, and Abbott Ambulatory Infusion Systems each gave $100,000 to help defray the cost of the Republican gathering. AFLAC, a Georgia-based health insurance giant long associated with House Speaker Newt Gingrich's political ambitions, also found an extra $100,000 laying around the corporate coffers. In all, thirty-eight corporations gave at least $50,000 to help stage the Republican convention, and hundreds of corporations gave smaller amounts.

    Given the non-stop lobbying efforts by telecommunications interests, the computer industry and the broadcast and cable television industries over the past several years, it should come as no surprise that the Democrats had their share of high-tech supporters ready and willing to step forward to pick up much of the tab for four days of partying in Chicago. Ameritech donated $2,425,625 to the Chicago Host Committee, including $1,134,925 to establish a convention site on the World Wide Web. As part of its $1,108,830 contribution to the Democratic cause, Motorola made $988,830 worth of two-way radios available to convention organizers. Covering its bets, AT&T gave $558,741 to the Chicago Host Committee, including $150,000 to cover the cost of setting up the delegates' electronic voting system, telephone equipment valued at $159,936, and computer equipment valued at $67,453. Microsoft donated software valued at $300,000.

    AT&T was certainly not the only "double-dipper." While Democrats were hammering Republicans for taking huge sums from Phillip Morris to pay for their convention, the Chicago Host Committee quietly took $175,000 from the cigarette manufacturer. United Airlines, which is headquartered in Chicago, donated $432,917 – roughly $180,000 more than it gave to the San Diego Host Committee. Baxter Healthcare matched its donation to the Republicans and then some, donating $110,000 to the Democratic convention committee. While the BankAmerica Insurance group gave $150,000 to the San Diego Host Committee, the BankAmerica Capital Corporation donated $122,800 to the Chicago Host Committee. Lockheed-Martin matched its $100,000 donation to the San Diego soiree with a $100,000 gift to the Chicago bash. PaineWebber found $102,000 for the Democratic convention and $100,000 for the Republican convention. Ernst & Young picked up the tab for $186,471 of the Republican's expenses and $51,000 of the Democrat's outlays. While impressive, this list is hardly exhaustive.

    Although the Republicans are thought of as the party of Wall Street, Democrats proved they have friends in the financial community as well. Kemper Securities gave $339,775 to help fund the Democratic convention, including office space valued at $338,098. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Board of Trade of the City of Chicago, and the Chicago Board Options Exchange, gave $178,670, $125,000, and $100,000 to the Democratic cause, respectively. CNA Financial ponied up $123,100.

    In all, sixty-nine companies gave the Chicago Host Committee at least $100,000 and another 39 donated between $50,000 and $100,000. This is an orgy of excess that should be stopped.

    This page originally appeared on the PoliticsNow Web site.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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