Corporate America Finances Conventions

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CBS News Investigative Producer Laura Strickler wrote this story for

Political conventions brought to you by corporate America.

Both presidential candidates tout their work to curb the influence of corporate America's lobbyists.

But when the two Senators make their way to the podium to accept their party's nominations, much of what viewers see at home will be financed by millions in corporate cash.

In exchange, donors are treated with VIP perks such as skyboxes, special access to decision makers, and "corporate hospitality". And if the candidates forget who the corporate supporters are, they need not look beyond corporate logos on everything from water bottles, volunteer uniforms and city wide banners.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) does not put any limits on donations to the convention host committees. "They are not really contributions under the law," says Bob Biersack, spokesperson for the FEC who says the agency has decided the donations are "to promote the cities not to influence the elections."

"What the donations clearly do buy is access to lawmakers and opportunities to influence them," says David Arkush of Public Citizen. Sponsors can also mingle with key members of a potential administration. Arkush says, "The people who give these donations get their phone calls returned and have an easier time having their voices heard and that must have an influence on policy at the end of the day."

The Democratic Host Committee Web site boasts 176 corporate and individual sponsors and spokesperson Chris Lopez says he expects the list to ultimately top 300. Lopez says some companies are not listed because they do not want their donations to be known, "They have their own specific reasons," he told CBS News.

Host committees for both conventions say they will not reveal the exact amounts or levels of donations until they have to, which is when they file with the FEC on October 15, 2008. Lopez says for the Democrats, it's because the fundraising is ongoing, "We run through all the rules and regulations that govern non-profit, non-partisan host committees" he said.

"It is transparent, it comes out eventually," says Theresa McFarland, spokesperson for the Minneapolis St. Paul Host Committee for the GOP. She says the Committee abides by all regulations and says, "Our policy all along has been not to release specifics about fundraising overall."

The public list of GOP sponsors includes 87 corporations. At the top level are companies that pay $5 million or more to be "Finance Co-Chairs". This guarantees luxury seats for convention activities, participation on host committee leadership conference calls and "special invitations and access to all [convention] Host Committee Leadership events."

The Denver Host Committee for the Democrats did not make their sponsorship packet available.

Corporate sponsor participation may go beyond financial contributions.

(Union of Concerned Scientists)

Northwest Airlines who is a sponsor of the GOP convention asked that an "anti-McCain" advertisement in the Minneapolis airport concourse be removed after some complaints. The ad, paid for by the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists states, "Senator McCain: It's time to get serious about reducing the nuclear threat" and has a target placed on a picture of Minneapolis. The group says the same advertisement is running in Denver and is addressed to Senator Obama.

By Laura Stricker