Corporate presence at political conventions

New ethics rules barring lavish parties for individual members of Congress at the national political conventions won't stop AT&T Inc. and other influence-seekers from throwing big bashes so they can rub shoulders with lawmakers at this year's gatherings.

AT&T is sponsoring receptions at the Democratic convention in Denver, which begins today, and the following week when Republicans meet in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Among the invitees are convention delegations from Maryland, home of House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Texas, home of Representative Joe Barton, ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp., Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co., and Charlotte- based Duke Energy Corp. also are sponsoring receptions.

The quadrennial political conventions will be the first since Congress enacted last year's law to restrain lobbying. After enactment, the Senate and House ethics committees adopted guidelines that let many of the receptions proceed.

The legislation pushed by the Democratic majorities in Congress last year bans gifts from lobbyists and prohibits convention parties to honor individual lawmakers. For example, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States can't replicate the tributes it sponsored in 2004 for former Senate Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist and Sen. Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader at the time.

“These are not ethics-free zones anymore, but there is enough latitude to still have very nice or lovely receptions,” said Kenneth Gross, a former Federal Election Commission lawyer now at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Washington-based Discus, the trade group for liquor companies such as Bacardi Corp. and London-based Diageo PLC, is again holding convention events, without honoring any individuals.

San Antonio, Texas-based AT&T ranks among the most frequent sponsors, paying for at least 10 events, according to a list published by the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based watchdog group.