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Raytheon, Citibank, Chase Manhattan and Fleet Boston Help Finance the Most Expensive Convention in History

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Sakura Saunders and Pratap Chatterjee of Corpwatch examine the role of corporate money during the Democratic National Convention. [includes rush transcript]

The Democratic convention in Boston this week has cost 95 million dollars to produce, making it the most expensive political party convention in history.

On top of that, Senator John Kerry has spent hundreds of millions on television advertising for his presidential bid. Most of this money has come from multinational corporations and deep-pocketed Democrats–564 of whom each have collected at least $50,000 for Kerry”s campaign.

Sakura Saunders and Pratap Chatterjee of Corpwatch bring us this report from some of the men and women who helped raise the money.

Some of the companies that have provided major funding for the convention include Time Warner, arms manufacturer Raytheon, Citibank, Chase Manhattan and Fleet Boston, now part of Bank of America.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

SAKURA SAUNDERS: Joining the delegates and members of congress at the bars, restaurants and expensive hotels here in Boston are hundreds of wealthy and well-connected American whose have been specially invited to the democratic convention. Many of those at the Westin Hotel have helped the party take advantage of loopholes to bypass the $2,000 a year cap on individual contributions to federal political candidates raising hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for party’s staffing costs and television advertisement.

HELEN RISOR: I am Helen Risor from San Francisco. I raised a certain amount of money for John Kerry’s campaign and I have a very good friend who was able to help me come to this great week and have I the honored-guest credentials which opens up a lot of wonderful events.

SAKURA SAUNDERS: The price tag to become an honored guest is not cheap.

HELEN RISOR: It’s certainly $25,000 and up. I would say that’s probably the basic amount.

CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER: Well, about thee years ago, I met John Kerry and a number of us in Louisiana, Calvin Fayard and I, started organizing the Kerry for President Campaign in Louisiana and in the south. And he and I, in Louisiana, for example, headed up a team of people that have raised in excess of a million and a half dollars there, which is unprecedented and unheard of in Louisiana. Nobody had ever raised that much money ever.

SAKURA SAUNDERS: The most successful of these fundraisers gets special titles such as co-chair in return for raising at least $50,000 and vice chair for raising $100,000. Through this process which is known as bundling, these individuals are reward for the total money that they helped raise. Over 35% of Kerry’s top funders are heads of industry while 7.5 of them are lobbyists.

JEFF FRIEDMAN: My name is Jeff Friedman, a delegate from the 48th district in California, Orange County. I think next to the religious fanatics that have this administration, corporate America is the worst element that we have to deal with in this country right now.

SAKURA SAUNDERS: One of the reasons for the new practice of bundling is because two years ago, senators McCain and Feingold gold drafted a law that banned companies from giving money directly to the parties: a practice also known as soft money. Parties immediately looked for alternatives such as a new group of tax-deductible funds called 527’s to help pay for television advertising. Ron Lester is a polling adviser to the Democratic Party.

RON LESTER: Well I think everything has been changed by McCain-Feingold. A lot of the money now has shifted to 527’s. The parties don’t have the money that they used to. They won’t the spending money like they have in the past in the field and on getting out the vote. So it will be interesting to see. But I think all and all, McCain and Feingold is a good thing. I think it’s leveled the playing field. I think there are a lot of people who aren’t registered, who don’t note issues, and it’s important to go out and have educators who inform them. I think 527’s are serving a very useful purpose and i think that they are going to play a very positive role in the election.

SAKURA SAUNDERS: Some still believe that without strict restrictions on campaign financing, corporations will always have an undue advantage. Again, Jeff Freidman.

JEFF FRIEDMAN: I think it’s terribly unfortunate, but I’m not sure what to do about it. Obviously, McCain Feingold did not cure the problem. I actually wish they would have a system where each side was given x amount of money, period, by the government to campaign and couldn’t get any more from anybody. But i don’t think the taxpayers would be real thrilled with that. But as long as you have, I mean, in these days, with 24/7 cable news, and with the electoral college, meaning that, you know, candidates have to campaign in all these swing states, there’s so much money needed to have a chance to prevail in a campaign that if the other sides take — accepting corporate contributions, have you no choice. You got to do it or else the other side will just bludgeon you with all the paid advertising that you wouldn’t be able to afford.

SAKURA SAUNDERS: For Democracy Now!, I’m Sakura Saunders and Pratap Chatterjee in Boston.

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