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Crashing the Party: Suites, Corporate-Sponsored Events Gather the Money Behind the Conventions

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The Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities, like last week’s Democratic convention in Denver, is largely funded by big corporations. We try to go inside the suites at both conventions, and speak to Colorado Senator Ken Salazar and MSNBC pundit Tucker Carlson. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: The Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities, like last week’s Democratic convention in Denver, is largely funded by large corporations. So, too, are the scores of convention-related parties, receptions and concerts. The watchdog group Public Citizen estimates some 175 companies gave a total of a least $115 million to help pay for the conventions this time around.

Inside the Xcel Center here in St. Paul, celebrities, lobbyists, party bigwigs mingle in lavish suites that overlook the convention floor. Private caterers pour wine and beer as speakers take to the podium downstairs.

Well, last night, on the closing evening of the Republican convention, I made my way up to the suite level with John Hamilton of Link TV. We tried to crash the party to find out what corporations were footing the bill.

    AMY GOODMAN: What suite is this?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi. This is the RNC suite.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are they all RNC suites along here?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, just these two.


    Excuse me, which suite is this?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is the RNC suite.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, OK, alright. Thanks.


    AMY GOODMAN: Which suite is this?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I’m sorry. This is another RNC suite.


    Hi. Which suite is this?


    AMY GOODMAN: Is it — is this Dow?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, it’s not.


    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, which one is it?


    AMY GOODMAN: Oh. Are they all RNC?



    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, they’re all different?

    Which suite is this? Sorry?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It’s the chairman and CEO. It’s [inaudible] suite.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, OK. Thank you.

    Hi. Which suite is this? Is this Dow?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: [inaudible] suite.

    AMY GOODMAN: Is this the Dow suite?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I honestly don’t know, ma’am.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, OK. Could I knock then? Are you part of this suite?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, I’m not.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, OK. Thank you.

    Hi. Is this — which suite is this?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is Suite 2014.

    AMY GOODMAN: Is this the Dow suite?


    AMY GOODMAN: Hi. Which suite is this? Is this the Dow suite?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mike Duncan.

    AMY GOODMAN: Mike Duncan, OK.

    Which suite is this?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Don’t know, couldn’t tell you.

    AMY GOODMAN: Don’t know?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No. No, ma’am.

    AMY GOODMAN: Weren’t you just in there?


    AMY GOODMAN: So you don’t know which one it is?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I can’t say, ma’am.

    AMY GOODMAN: Is it Dow?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I can’t say.

    AMY GOODMAN: Why is it such a secret? Maybe he knows.

    Do you know which suite this is?


    AMY GOODMAN: But weren’t you just in there?

    Hi. Which suite is this?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Suite number 20.

    AMY GOODMAN: Is it — which suite is it, though? Whose suite is it?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No one in particular.

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It’s a private suite.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, is it the Dow suite?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No. No, no, no.

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, it’s not.

    AMY GOODMAN: Hi. Can you tell me which suite is this?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I can’t tell you. I’m not even sure.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh. You’re not part of it?


    AMY GOODMAN: Can I just knock?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t let anyone go in.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, but you are part of it.

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I’m part of it, but I don’t know who’s in there.

    AMY GOODMAN: Is this the Dow suite?



    AMY GOODMAN: Whose suite is this?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Anne Hathaway.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh. Oh, it’s — OK.

    Hi. Which suite is this?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is — hold on. Let me get somebody for you.

    AMY GOODMAN: Hi. Which suite is this? Is it — is this the Dow suite?


    AMY GOODMAN: No. Whose —

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The rest of the suites, through here, are private.

    AMY GOODMAN: Ah, I see.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, this is Democracy Now!, crashing the party at the Republican convention here in St. Paul. But I was also in Denver, where corporate logos were splashed on almost every facet of the Democratic convention, including at Invesco Field in Mile High Stadium, where Barack Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination last Thursday. As the 84,000-strong crowd cheered the opening speakers of the day, the parties were in full swing inside the corporate skyboxes. I made my way to the upper level of the stadium with Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films. We walked into the suites to try and, well, find out who was sponsoring those parties.

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you with press?


    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Have you been invited in?

    AMY GOODMAN: No. We just thought this was the big celebration —-

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, no, I’m sorry. No, this is a closed box. This is a closed -— closed box.

    AMY GOODMAN: But who is the sponsoring party?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It’s a closed box.

    AMY GOODMAN: So this is the DNC side.

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No. I work with the DNC.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh. So who are they?
    If you have any questions, you can direct those to the press office.

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is a private suite.



    AMY GOODMAN: Who’s the party thrower?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is the Viacom suite, just for our executives that are in town.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, OK. Could we hang out with them?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Unfortunately, no. We have our guest list for tonight and are just allowing them and their personal guests.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, OK. Are there delegates or anything here or [inaudible] just the Viacom execs?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No. Those that are in town, mm-hmm.

    AMY GOODMAN: And let me ask something, just for how it works.

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Did you just walk in?

    AMY GOODMAN: Yeah. We were just wondering —-

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh. Are you allowed to do that?

    AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, yeah. We’re fine.


    AMY GOODMAN: I was just wondering, do they [inaudible] the Democratic Party for the suite? Everyone rents the suite?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I’m sorry, I’m just going to have to ask you to leave. Is that OK? But no, that’s not how it works.

    AMY GOODMAN: How does it work?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I’m sorry. We’re not going to answer.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh. Well, why not? Isn’t this like a big celebration of democracy?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It’s a private suite. Do I have to ask to have them ask you to leave?

    AMY GOODMAN: Sure, you can ask them. I just want to -— because I just want to get an answer.

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No. I meant — no.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re press.

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I’m going to ask you to leave.

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I think it’s a private club.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, and who is it for? Can we get some kind of tickets to come in?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We’re not — we’re not handing them out, so I’m not sure.

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: They’re a private party.

    AMY GOODMAN: Ah, and who sponsors this party?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Qwest has this one.

    AMY GOODMAN: Which one? Qwest?


    AMY GOODMAN: And are there like delegates in there?

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Not that I know of. I’m no — I really don’t know.

    AMY GOODMAN: Could we go in and talk to some people?


    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I can ask somebody.

    AMY GOODMAN: OK, great, great.

    We were just wondering if we could interview people inside.

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This actually is a private suite. And so, unfortunately, we can’t have anyone else enter.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh. And so, Qwest is having a party for…

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: They’re just people who have organized these suites.

    AMY GOODMAN: So do you have to — if you wanted to get tickets at the Budweiser Champions Club, did you have to pay special?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: There are different — different reasons why different people have tickets into the suites.

    AMY GOODMAN: Because I’m wearing one of these. They say Qwest. Will that get me in?

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, it is a ticketed event.

    AMY GOODMAN: Could we buy the tickets somewhere?


    AMY GOODMAN: No, oh.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now!, crashing the party in Denver at the Democratic National Convention.

A couple of days earlier in Denver, I caught up with the Democratic Colorado Senator Ken Salazar after a breakfast event near the Pepsi Center, where the Democratic convention had taken place. I asked him what he thought of all the corporate funding of the convention in his home state.

    AMY GOODMAN: A quick question in this convention that is costing so much money, and that is the issue of people feeling that the corporations have sort of stolen both parties. Last night, we went over to the AT&T party, no press allowed in. It was there for the lobbyists and the delegates. What are your thoughts on that?

    SEN. KEN SALAZAR: I think that for the future, we need to take a look at the conventions and how they’re funded and how we make sure that some of the huge costs related to the conventions can be avoided. Today, we are celebrating a great convention that has been put together here in Colorado. We haven’t done it for a hundred years. We couldn’t have done it without the support of the corporate community.

    But I do think that as Barack Obama becomes president, one of the things that we will do is to try to take a look at how conventions are funded. We’re spending a lot of money on security — I mean, some $50 million here in Denver, some $50 million in Minneapolis-St Paul. And so, all of the things associated with conventions, I think, are something that need to — we need to have a fresh look at.

    Having said that, we are celebrating a great moment of democracy here in the United States of America. We’re doing it here in the Mile High City. And we’re very proud to be hosting this convention.

    AMY GOODMAN: The AT&T party, in particular, right after the Democrats gave retroactive immunity and then the AT&T logo on the Democratic National Convention bag, people wonder if this isn’t a quid pro quo: we give you immunity, you give a lot of money to the Democratic Party.

    SEN. KEN SALAZAR: No, not at all. I mean, we were not involved in those requests to AT&T, but I know that in the votes that were cast, including my own vote in the US Senate, had nothing to do with that. For me, it was a substantive issue relative to fairness and justice and making sure that we were punishing those, especially those in the Bush administration, who might have violated the law. And not granting them immunity, that was a big fight with the White House. And so I do not think that had anything at all to do —

    AMY GOODMAN: Did you vote against giving them retroactive immunity?

    SEN. KEN SALAZAR: I staked out my position a long time ago, and that is that I felt that on the immunity issue, that it was important that, going forward, there not be any immunity. I also staked out my position that I didn’t think anybody of the Bush administration who had been involved should be given immunity. But I also said long ago that if you are innocent, if you are a company out there that has been directed to do something by the government, it makes no sense from a moral point of view to really come back and then behead them through liability. You know, that’s been my position throughout this…

AMY GOODMAN: Colorado’s Democratic Senator Ken Salazar, speaking in Denver last week during the Democratic convention.

Well, here in St. Paul, the corporate money is pouring in for the Republicans just as readily. And among the thousands of delegates that celebrated at the lavish evening parties were members of the corporate media. On Monday, former Democracy Now! producer John Hamilton, now with our friends at Link TV, was outside the Spirits of Minneapolis party that was sponsored in part by the military contractor Lockheed Martin. John bumped into MSNBC senior campaign correspondent Tucker Carlson.

    JOHN HAMILTON: I’m standing outside the Solera Bar in downtown Minneapolis. This is a party sponsored by Lockheed Martin. Why is Lockheed Martin sponsoring a Republican party tonight?

    TUCKER CARLSON: I haven’t the faintest idea. I thought this was sponsored by the Distilled Spirits Council. Truly, the liquor lobby. That’s why I came. I don’t even drink, but I support alcohol.

    JOHN HAMILTON: So, Lockheed Martin, you know, a major defense contractor — of course, Dwight D. Eisenhower, when he gave his farewell address in 1961, warned about something he called a military-industrial complex. Do you think we’re seeing that here on display tonight in Minneapolis?

    TUCKER CARLSON: I think we’re seeing a lot of middle-aged drunk people, actually. I’m not sure that that qualifies as the military-industrial complex. But yeah, I mean, if this is what the military-industrial complex looks like, I support it.

    JOHN HAMILTON: Alright. And, of course, Lockheed Martin also produces ballistic missiles for some of the 6,000 nuclear warheads around the United States. So they’re buying the drinks tonight?

    TUCKER CARLSON: Let me put it this way. As you sleep — and I assume that you, as an American, sleep soundly — these are the people making certain you and your children are not murdered. That would be another way of describing what they do.

    JOHN HAMILTON: Alright, so you’re all — so you’re very much in favor of this party tonight?

    TUCKER CARLSON: I had no idea Lockheed Martin had anything to do with it. I’m sort of dim on what Lockheed Martin does. But I’m not reflexively against Lockheed Martin. I mean, it seems — I mean, I’m always sort — I mean, you know, I’m not taking Lockheed Martin’s side in any debate over its practices, but I always have wondered what people who reflexively dismiss defense contractors imagine we would do without them. Like how —- do you not need to defend the country? And if not, what do you imagine would happen if we didn’t defend the country? I mean, someone needs to, and someone needs to build the tools to do that. And -—

    JOHN HAMILTON: Well, like me, I mean, you work in the media. Something I’ve always wondered about, I see an awful lot of Lockheed Martin commercials when I go to, say, the or I turn on, you know, NBC television, or whatnot. But they don’t sell anything to the American people, so why are they spending all these millions of dollars in advertising?

    TUCKER CARLSON: I don’t strictly know. And again, I literally had no idea Lockheed Martin had anything to do with the free Pellegrino I just imbibed. But, you know, a lot of companies do ads, image ads — Archer Daniels Midland, I mean, you’re not going to buy soybeans in bulk, are you? You’re not going to buy a tanker full of soybeans, presumably, but you’re likely to see a lot of ADM ads, because they raise the profile of the company in a way that the company thinks is going to be useful to it in the long run, I mean, to sort of create the feeling that this company is doing a good thing — whether it actually is or not, I haven’t the faintest idea.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Tucker Carlson being interviewed by John Hamilton, now with Link TV, formerly with us at Democracy Now!

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