Political Conventions And Corporate America

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It’s an uneasy pairing, these two, made all the more so by the strident calls for reform in corporate funding of political candidates. Money should not mean access, but we all know it does. Reform has been accomplished and we’re all supposed to feel better… though nothing really changes. Big companies (and some well known trade unions) continue to have deep pockets and the resources to get themselves and their brands before an audience of politicians, officials and assorted hangers-on who want to belive.
Or at least look like they do.
A recent online New York Times piece by Leslie Wayne pointed out the marketing opportunities open to corporate America during the political conventions in Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul. While the new ethics rules passed by Congress in 2007 prevent big business from making direct political contributions — an attempt to try and limit the access corporate donations bought — nothing says they can’t “sponsor” political gatherings like the conventions.
The lineup of sponsors, more than 170 major corporations in all, includes some of our most upstanding corporate citizens…

  • General Motors provided hybrid and flex fuel cars to shuttle people around
  • Qwest provided $6 million in telecommunications services
  • AT&T gave everyone a chance to see, hold and touch its new iPhone
  • Xcel Energy displayed solar panels, a full size wind turbine blade and a solar home
  • There were samples of Coca-Cola products, and the company was the “official” recycling provider of both gatherings

These guys know how things are done in Washington, and they aren’t adverse to spending big on political campaigns. A report from the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonprofit, non-partisan group that studies money and politics found that since 2005 the donors to both conventions have given $180 million to federal candidates, and spent $1.3 billion to lobby officials.
Another reason why corporate America is so happy to pay to be part of these conventions? An executive from Qwest, one of the most visible corporate presences at both conventions, put it into context quite well.  “At the Super Bowl, $6 million will get you two 30-second spots,” said Steven Davis, Qwest’s vice president for public policy. “These are week long events, with tens of thousands of people and millions of television viewers.”
Now that’s effective advertising.
This year, a total of $112 million (yes, million) came from private money that was raised by host committees selling sponsorships at both conventions. These donations are, of course, tax deductible. Add to that our federal government makes $16 million available to each city to cover costs — along with another $50 million set aside for security only — and you can see how political gatherings become bonanzas for everyone.
Except of course, for the tax paying, law abiding, hardworking Americans who keep those companies in business.

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