This year's Republican National Convention promises to be unlike any in recent memory. It will have a "showbiz" feel, according to the party's presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
What it won't have, for the first time in more than two decades, is a journalist from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the campaign finance watchdog better known as OpenSecrets. The group's request for credentials was denied by convention organizers — not by a congressional press gallery, as Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer suggested — then denied again on appeal. OpenSecrets asked for two passes but didn't receive even one.
We've been denied press creds. by RNC, though we've had them every convention back to '96. Any other nonprofit news orgs in the same boat?
— OpenSecrets.org (@OpenSecretsDC) July 1, 2016
The reason? Not enough space at 20,000-seat Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
"Given that there have been so many reports about people not attending the convention in Cleveland, and given our history of going, it's a little hard to believe there is such limited space that we can't have one credential," said OpenSecrets Executive Director Sheila Krumholz.
OpenSecrets is credentialed for the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, however, which is slightly awkward. Krumholz worries about appearances and her group's ability to provide balanced coverage from a position of unbalanced access. She spoke with The Fix about her concerns and the value of being on the ground. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
THE FIX: When a lot of folks, including myself, think about OpenSecrets, we principally think about numbers — the data-driven work of tracking money in politics. But you're saying there's real value to being there.
KRUMHOLZ: I think so. All reporters are trying to describe what the conventions are like. It's a window into the political process that most Americans don't experience, at least not firsthand.... This [event] isn't just to rally the base; this is also an occasion to see the VIPs and donors, and to give people a sense of the role of money and the high-rollers at conventions.
THE FIX: We've seen a pattern in this election of news outlets — The Washington Post included — having credentials for events yanked by the Trump campaign as revenge for negative coverage. I imagine that has to enter your head. Is that possibly a factor here?
KRUMHOLZ: I guess it's a possible factor, but I find it hard to believe that a little group like ours has risen to the level of notoriety to be singled out. I don't think we represent much of a threat. I would be surprised if anyone from the Trump campaign has taken note of OpenSecrets enough to weigh in on our credentials. But it's a black box to me. I don't know how they make these decisions. There is a possibility of some revenge motivation — I just don't know what we would have done to merit that kind of attention.
THE FIX: What about the effect on your ability to maintain the public image of neutrality that's central to the integrity of your work? The risk could be that observers who don't know the backstory will say, "Look, they're just going to the Democratic convention and giving them more attention. That proves a liberal bias."
KRUMHOLZ: I do worry about that. But one factor that makes me less anxious is that if we are at the Democratic convention, I doubt very much we'll be accused of liberal bias because, of course, what we'll be talking about is the awkward juxtaposition of these special events for VIPs and the purpose of these conventions. So I don't think our being there is going to be seen necessarily as a happy thing for the Democratic Party.
THE FIX: Is your rejection a done deal at this point or are you still fighting?
KRUMHOLZ: You know, I think because we asked publicly whether anyone else was turned down, I doubt very much the RNC is going to walk it back. I'm not expecting a call.
THE FIX: Did you propose sending a young, very small intern who wouldn't take up much space?
KRUMHOLZ: Perhaps we should have thought more creatively. We have excellent reporting interns who definitely would take up less space. Maybe that was our fault for not thinking creatively.