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Voters First Party:
Activist Toolkit
Voters First Conventions

Introduction

Every four years, corporations and other major donors give millions to sponsor the national party conventions, and in return they gain privileged access to our elected officials. During the conventions, corporations and lobbyists throw lavish parties for our elected officials, making sure that big money’s interests are heard loud and clear.

Let’s face it. Elected officials are supposed to represent us. We should be the ones interacting with our representatives in Denver and the Twin Cities, our voices are the ones they should hear loud and clear.

Don’t let big money shut you out. Throw a Voters First Party to let Congress know that voters should come before big money!

We hope that this toolkit will make it easy for you to plan and host a really fun, successful party. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email us at action@citizen.org. Thanks for taking the time to join the Voters First effort!

Step 1: Get Informed

Use this guide to educate yourself, your group, and people in your personal network about the role of big money at the conventions, so that when people ask, you’ll be able to articulate your position in a compelling way. It’s also a good idea to educate your community at large, so that your neighbors understand the issue and (hopefully) become interested in attending your party.

Historical Perspective
Restrictions on party convention fundraising and spending were first established in 1971 when, following a series of corruption scandals (including the ITT scandal and Watergate), Congress passed the Fair Elections Campaign Act (FECA).  Among other campaign finance reforms, FECA introduced public funding and spending limits for the party conventions. These reforms were intended to eliminate the corrupt influence of private interests (such as corporations or wealthy individuals) from party politics. Reserving public funds to finance the conventions should keep wealthy donors from using their hefty contributions to exert undo influence over the national parties.

In 2002, Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) in 2002, which restricted national party convention committees from receiving soft-money contributions. BCRA also instructed the FEC to close the loophole that allowed soft-money contribution to “unaffiliated” committees such as the host committees.

Unfortunately the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has since issued a number of advisory statements weakening the FECA regulations. The most problematic of these statements allowed unlimited contributions to convention “host committees.” The FEC maintained that these host committees could not be affiliated with the national party convention committee, but time has shown that host committees have very strong ties to the convention national party.

2008 Conventions
In 2008, the loophole has still not been closed and soft-money contributions to the host committees continue to pour in. Host committees are made up almost entirely of party affiliates – Democrats are fundraising for the Denver host committee, Republicans for the Twin Cities host committee.  In fact, the more money a corporation donates to the host committee, the more access they win to convention attendees, including top party officials.

On the next page is a fact sheet that will help you understand how corporations and other major donors win access to elected officials at the conventions. You can also use the fact sheet as a flier to hand out at events in your community or to students on your campus.

Helpful Resources http://www.cfinst.org/books_reports/conventions/2008Conventions_Rpt1.pdf
http://action.citizen.org/t/5489/content.jsp?content_KEY=4361
http://action.citizen.org/t/5489/content.jsp?content_KEY=4366

Corruption at the Conventions: The Facts

"I look forward to the day, by 2008, when Americans can turn on their TVs and watch the Nokia Democratic Convention, or the AT&T Republican National Convention."
- Bradley Smith, former Republican member of the FEC

Our campaign finance laws and the presidential public financing system were created to end the undue influence of corporate donors and special interests in our elections. Contradicting the spirit of these laws, political parties continue to funnel millions of dollars in corporate contributions through so-called nonpartisan host committees for their national party conventions. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has approved this maneuver, allowing wealthy corporate executives privileged access to elected officials at the conventions.

• Approximately 80% of the estimated $112 million needed to hold the conventions will come from private donors, primarily large corporations.

• Since 2005, corporate donors to the 2008 conventions have spent an average of $7 million each lobbying Congress and the Bush administration.  They have also contributed millions to federal candidates, another way that big donors buy influence.

• For the political parties, the conventions are the perfect opportunity to circumvent existing restrictions on soft-money donations, because donors can make lavish contributions to the conventions’ host committees.

• Fundraising for the so-called non-partisan host committees is almost always carried out by elected officials and their associates from the convention party – Democrats in Denver, Republicans in the Twin Cities.

• In return for sizeable donations, host committees offer corporate executives exclusive access to elected officials at the conventions – the greater the donation, the greater the access to advertising opportunities and influential convention attendees.

• Corporate donations to the host committee are tax deductible, meaning that, ultimately, it is taxpayers who subsidize corporate privilege at the conventions.

• “Presidential” donors who give $1 million to the Democratic Convention receive VIP access to the Pepsi Center convention hall and all host committee-sponsored events, numerous advertising opportunities, and the opportunity to attend private events with Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, U.S. Senator Ken Salazar, and other party officials. For $5 million donations to the GOP Convention, corporate donors receive similar perks.

• Both parties advertise the convention as a unique opportunity for corporate donors to connect with top elected officials. In his talking points for meeting with potential corporate donors, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty from Minnesota offered corporations the chance to “connect with influential government officials (Cabinet, President, next President).”

For more information or to take action on this issue, visit our website at SayNoToLobbyists.org

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