Best Conventions That Money Can Buy

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This week is not just delegates, it's also about cash, and lots of it.

Republicans and Democrats and their host cities are raising more than $100 million to pay for this summer's political bashes. The biggest share comes from corporations, eager to get their name - and their issues - front and center and to buy influence, reports CBS News Anchor Dan Rather.

"This is an opportunity for us to really showcase what AT&T is all about," said Barry Johnson of AT&T.

"We're going to entertain somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 people over the course of the next 5 or 6 days," said Gary Schuster of Union Pacific Railway.

Companies are spending millions for the privilege of lavishing delegates with gifts, providing them with free automobiles, free long-distance, cheap airfare and lavish hospitality suites.

"The conventions are like a giant circus, or I would call it a Super Bowl of schmooze, where literally there are dozens and dozens of corporate parties, receptions, demonstrations, yacht trips, golf tournaments, you name it," said Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity.

Some of the nation's biggest companies, many with major issues pending before Congress, have lined up to help foot the bill.

USAir, the official airline of the Republican National Convention, is giving $500,000 to the GOP convention. United is doling out another half million to the Democrats for their convention in Los Angeles. This at a time when both airlines are heavily lobbying Congress to get behind their pending merger.

An elite group of more than 20 corporations is donating at least $1 million each in cash, goods and services to the party of their choice.

AT&T, Microsoft and General Motors are pledging $1 million to both the Republican and Democratic conventions. Each has important business pending in Washington.

It wasn't supposed to work this way. Twenty-five years ago, in the wake of allegations of influence peddling by lobbyists at the 1972 conventions, and fund raising excesses uncovered during Watergate, Congress passed legislation to pay for future conventions with federal money. This year, each party will receive more than $13 million in taxpayer dollars, but that only covers about a quarter of the cost.

"These two conventions are the poster child for how bad the system is. If you any doubt how bad it is, go to the convention, and watch these parties. If you want to see how close the powerful interests are to our politicians, and how much the politicians are influenced by it, just stand there and watch all of the parties," said Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity.

While some companies deny they are buying access to decision-makers, others are unapologetic about their corporate kindness. Union Pacific rolled in vintage rail cars and is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to entertain delegates as part of it's massive lobbying operation.

"Sure we'e going to talk about issues, we wouldn't be at the conventions if we weren't somehow concerned about the politics of what we do," said Lewis of Union Pacific Railway.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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