Money: The <i>Real</i> Convention Star

We talked a lot last week about how the party conventions are no longer the place the candidates are chosen, but where they are showcased.

What we didn't talk enough about is what else they've become: a central gathering point for corporate and special interests to buy access and lavish money on the elected officials who make the laws that govern our lives.

It has reached such obscene levels that even some of the politicians are offended.

As Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel surveyed the 900-plus fund-raising parties during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, some of which cost 400,000 dollars, he said, "We are showcasing the things that are driving people away from politics."

It would be hard to argue otherwise. Scores of corporations claiming to be interested only in good government have given more than a million dollars each to both conventions.

At one Philadelphia lunch, Republicans collected more than 10 million dollars.

Individuals who gave the party a quarter of a million dollars - yes, I said a quarter of a million dollars - joined corporate guests in private skyboxes.

Officials were a little defensive when asked about it. The Washington Post's Mike Allen was turned away from one party by an official who explained guests might have people "on their arms" who weren't spouses.

Don't believe I would have said that.

But camera crews who promised to be quiet were allowed to watch those who paid five thousand dollars to fish with House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Why would anyone want to pay to fish with a politician? Whether you're the airline industry, the insurance industry, or whatever industry, it seems to be the way to get things done.

As absurd as it's become, we shouldn't be surprised. Conventions reflect the reality of modern politics: it's mostly about money - and little else.

To make sure he gets every dollar that's left, Democrat Al Gore took no chances. When it came to picking someone to run his convention next week in Los Angeles he didn't turn to a politician, he picked Bill Clinton's top fund-raiser.