CHARLOTTE, N.C. Delegates already tired of the convention floor on Tuesday can take a boat excursion on Lake Norman, courtesy of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
They might already have their swimsuits ready from the Heineken-sponsored “beach bash” at the Great Wolf Lodge water park the night before.
All around the Democratic National Convention, lawmakers and delegates will be wooed this week by all manner of corporations, industry groups and lobbyists during a week of virtually around-the-clock parties and meetings meant to leave an impression they will take back to Washington.
The North Carolina delegation alone will munch on croissants each morning provided by companies like Fidelity Investment and State Farm, and finish with parties hosted by the McGuireWoods Consulting lobbying firm and AT&T.
A property casualty insurance group rented out a Trade Street bar to kick off the circuit Sunday night for a party in honor of Democratic governors and Congress members.
The liquor lobby will host a bash at the N.C. Music Factory on Monday night. The Distilled Spirits Council’s sister event in Tampa during the Republican convention featured live “mermaids” floating in floor-to-ceiling tanks and, of course, plenty of booze.
And the parties will continue through Thursday evening after President Obama accepts the nomination, when three Democratic super PACs will host “Super-O-Rama” at the N.C. Music Factory. Sponsorships start at $25,000 and go up to $100,000, POLITICO reported.
Many of these lobbying groups and companies are already big Washington players, significant campaign contributors and lobbying spenders. Nearly all have pending business before the federal government, and hope to snag one-on-one time with the powerful while they’re concentrated in Charlotte.
Companies and industry groups say they see political conventions as a chance to get their message across to thousands of people who have tremendous influence on how their industry is regulated.
“Not often do you have this group of policy-makers, federal, state and local all in one place,” said William Minor, a partner at DLA Piper, a Washington law firm advising companies and groups on DNC plans. “For people active in government affairs at any level, it’s a place you want to be, and be active.”
But consumer advocates worry that the free flow of food and drink create a web of influence that’s nearly impossible to unwind once the party heads back to Washington to take up the public’s business.
“We have no accounting as to how much is being spent or even who is spending the money. None of that will be disclosed, ever,” said Craig Holman of watchdog group Public Citizen. “It just provides that sort of wining and dining atmosphere to try to peddle those wares. That’s the purpose of those parties.”
Already, a number of big-name companies have gotten their logo in front of the political figures still gathering in the city.
Bank of America, Time Warner Cable, AT&T and Duke Energy headlined the Charlotte in 2012 host committee’s corporate sponsorship roster displayed at the media welcome event Saturday evening.
Combined, those four companies spent $19.3 million lobbying the federal government in the first half of the year.
Banks are dealing with the ongoing implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and trying to help shape the evolving role of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Telecommunications companies are dealing with “Internet freedom” issues, among numerous other topics. And Duke Energy, now the nation’s largest electric utility, operates in one of the most heavily regulated industries in America.
More large corporations are on their way. Business Forward, a trade group representing companies like McDonald’s, Walmart and Ford, is putting on closed-to-the-public coffee meetings each morning to discuss its daily message.
The Charlotte Chamber, for its part, is using the opportunity to promote the city. The chamber plans to have local CEOs on standby to talk to out-of-town executives while they’re here.
Lobbying firms will also be visible at these events, despite reports that they might take a pass on the convention after the Democratic Party banned contributions to its fundraising efforts.
A firm called 3 Click Solutions was scheduled to start off with a tongue-in-cheek “You Can’t Get Into This Party Party” at the Capital Grille on Tryon Street for campaign staffers and perhaps a few members of Congress. The firm’s clients this year include the National Border Patrol Council and solar energy company SunPower, according to U.S. Senate lobbying disclosure records.
McGuire Woods Consulting, both a host committee sponsor and the host of the N.C. delegation after-hours parties, has represented such clients as Verizon Wireless, Duke Energy, Smithfield Foods and the NBA.
“Wherever you’ve got politicians and corporations, you’re going to find political consultants and lobbyists,” said Mark Leggett, a freelance political lobbyist from Charlotte. “They just go hand in glove.”