Samuel Lowenberg - Independent Journalist biography articles articles

Power parties. Put on your dancing shoes-it's time to buy some votes!

Playboy  May 2004


Four years ago I was in Los Angeles covering the Democratic convention when a woman wearing pearls and a power suit jabbed a finger into my chest and asked, "Have you ever sucked a cock?"

At the time, I was working through my fourth postmortem martini at a swanky hotel bar and had indiscreetly told the woman-a stranger-how all the corporate cash at both conventions made me wonder if there was any difference between the two parties. The woman, a campaign manager from Washington, was not pleased with that observation. "Have you ever sucked a cock?" she asked again, poking with each word. I said no, I hadn't.

"Well, I have," she said, "and let me tell you a secret. Women don't like it. But we do it. Why? Because we want that Mercedes. And that's why I suck corporate cock: to get money to keep my boss in Congress. You get it?" For the past 18 months legions of corporate fellators have descended on Boston and New York to book the hottest venues, bands and restaurants. The conventions themselves are such predictable leap-year spectacles that even the networks hate to cover them. But off camera, at exclusive parties, corporations spend millions feting lawmakers, particularly those in leadership positions and on appropriations and tax-writing committees.

Since these parties are not direct contributions, nearly all the money spent on them is hidden from public view. Democratic planners long ago reserved hot Boston venues such as the New England Aquarium, the JFK Library and the Museum of Fine Arts. For the August GOP shindig in New York, think soirees at the Rainbow Room (rented for $75,000 a pop), sock hops, country music by the likes Faith Hill and Toby Keith and appearances by celebrities such as Tom Selleck and Bruce Willis. Plans are under way for corporate-sponsored yacht trips and chartered buses to Atlantic City (a big hit at the 2000 Philadelphia convention). The wet dream of every GOP party planner is an appearance by Governor Schwarzenegger. He's important not only for cachet but because he can direct funds to the Republican Governors Association, which, like its Democratic counterpart, is a state organization not subject to soft-money limits established by the McCain-Feingold Reform Act.

Another loophole is the use of charities to funnel campaign funds. That alone has transformed this year's party scene. It's why House majority leader Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) had planned to host a week's worth of events in New York to raise money for Celebrations for Children, his charity for disadvantaged kids. By filtering the money through a charity, DeLay would have been able to have an even bigger event than he did in 2000 in Philadelphia, when he and more than a dozen corporate sponsors co-hosted a Blues Traveler concert. Because much of the partying is ostensibly for charity, most of what corporations shell out is tax deductible. Says one veteran lobbyist, "That's the real scandal."

In 2000, $25,000 made you a bigwig. This year DeLay was asking companies for as much as $500,000 each. Before the New York events were scuttled because of pressure from watchdog groups, contributors were being offered dinners with DeLay, invites to his golf tournament at Bethpage Black, tickets to Broadway shows and access to a luxury suite the night President Bush gives his acceptance speech. The kids would presumably have gotten what was left after the corporate cash bucket paid for expenses.

Other anticipated shindigs: Representative John Boehner of Ohio will use the Republican convention for a four-day party at the cavernous Tunnel club. (Technically, because of the new ethics rules, lobbyists will throw it on Boehner's behalf.) The party is being sponsored by various corporations giving $30,000 each.

Friends of Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.) are planning a Boston tea party, with the Boston Pops playing a piece by Star Wars maestro John Williams. The cost? Insiders say $800,000.

John Breaux (D.-La.)-who once said that while his vote couldn't be bought, it could be rented-is the king of convention-party hosts. In Los Angeles in 2000, Breaux turned a Paramount back lot into a full-scale Mardi Gras, complete with imported bands and floats. The $500,000 event had so many corporate sponsors, he said, that any one of them couldn't possibly have influenced him. This year the Potomac Group, headed by Breaux's former chief of staff, is hosting a Caribbean Beach Bash at the New England Aquarium to honor Breaux. Ziggy Marley will perform from a harbor barge.

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