Paying To Party ... With The Parties

Back in 1972, a Republican convention corporate contributions scandal shook things up. Executives from the International Telephone and Telegraph Corp. had allegedly met secretly with Nixon administration officials – and offered to underwrite the Republican convention. In return, the Justice Department was allegedly urged to "go easy" on ITT in a pending anti-trust lawsuit. ITT ended up with what was widely regarded as a favorable out-of-court settlement.

To eliminate the appearance of tainted funding, election law was changed. The idea was to provide public funds for the conventions and limit corporate contributions. But things haven't really worked out that way. Here's why.

Corporations are still allowed to donate money through convention "host committees" (committees that presumably help promote the locality that's holding the convention). But the "host committee" exemption has become a giant loophole exploited by corporations seeking influence – and politicians eager to provide it. Corporate contributions have soared from just $1 million in 1980 to an estimated $112 million for 2008.

Tonight on the CBS Evening News our Follow the Money story will talk about what some corporate donors "get" in exchange for their generous contributions.

"Host committees" do not have to report their donations until two months AFTER the conventions. But according to publicly available information gathered by the Campaign Finance Institute and other sources:

Top host committee donors have:

  • given $55 million+ so far for Democratic convention in Denver
  • given $57 million+ so far for Republican convention in Minneapolis
  • given $100 million to federal candidates and parties since 2005 via their PAC's, executives and employees
  • spent $700 million since 2005 lobbying Congress and White House

    Here are some of the biggest known pledges/contributions:

  • Qwest: $6 million to each party convention
  • Comcast: $5 million to Democrats
  • Xcel Energy: $1 million each to Democrats and Republicans
  • United Health: $1.5 million to Republicans
  • Union Pacific: $1 million to Democrats

    Source: The Campaign Finance Institute

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      Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.