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Firms Woo Republicans with Meals, Entertainment at Philadelphia Convention

BY Beth Silver
by Beth Silver on 8/3/00.

PHILADELPHIA--It's a bit like leading a double life for Washington's delegates at the Republican National Convention this week.

There's the official banner-waving, hat-wearing, song-shouting convention that we can all see on TV every night.

Then there's the corporate-sponsored food-and-booze fest that takes place off-camera for nearly every breakfast, lunch and dinner the delegates can attend.

This year's festivities are brought to you by Qwest Communications International, Microsoft, Boeing, Intel, Moneytree, Bank of America and Washington Citizens for a Sound Economy.

And that's just the sponsors for Washington's events. Delegates with enough convention cache to score invitations to the real corporate largess can experience any one of nearly 500 separate parties, some costing upward of $ 400,000 and offering entertainment such as The Temptations and Blues Traveler.

In some cases, the parties are aimed at members of Congress attending the convention.

Qwest is putting on a breakfast honoring Sen. Slade Gorton this morning at the delegates' hotel. It's one of 11 events the long-distance carrier, which recently acquired US West, is putting on this week for members from Midwestern and Western states where US West was located.

The company will do the same at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles later this month.

"We're trying to introduce Qwest to these members, to let them know that Qwest is a new type of company," said Qwest spokesman Bill Myers. "We're working on the state level, local level, federal level, you name it."

He declined to say how much the company spent on the convention.

Gorton's chief of staff, Tony Williams, said they gladly accepted Qwest's offer to pay for breakfast and listen to the company's pitch.

"I think it's just nice that they wanted to host a breakfast and allow our delegates to have something to eat and drink before they start a long day. I hardly think that's going to impact things," Williams said.

Other events were aimed at the delegates, including an all-day shopping excursion Wednesday to the King of Prussia Mall across the street from the Washington delegates' hotel. The Pennsylvania Republican Women's Association treated delegates to breakfast at Bloomingdale's, a makeover at Macy's, a cooking class at Williams-Sonoma and discounts throughout the mall.

Another delegate-centered event, a cocktail party at the College of Physicians, a medical humanities society in downtown Philadelphia, took place Tuesday night.

Moneytree, a check cashing and payday loans business with 500 employees in Washington, sponsored the event. The menu included toast points and stuffed Belgian endive. Just beyond the food, delegates could peruse ancient medical devices, glass-encased skulls and an exhibit titled "Emerging Infectious
Diseases: Ancient Scourge and Modern Menace."

There wasn't much talk of Moneytree that night. Representatives from the company couldn't make the party. So Don Benton, chairman of the state Republican Party, asked delegates to write the company thanking them for what he said was probably a $ 5,000 to $ 10,000 party.

"It would be very nice when you get home if you could drop them a little note. It will help our future relationship with them to recognize them for this evening," he said.

One delegate joked back, "In our letter, do you want us to say we felt snubbed that they didn't show up?"

Benton said no.

Benton, a state senator from Vancouver, said Moneytree has been a supporter of his Senate campaigns in the past. Before the national convention, he called the company to ask if it would support a delegate function as well. It obliged in part, he said, because company officials believe in the Republican principle of less government regulation on small businesses.

"They're here to help our delegates for the personal sacrifices they made to come to the convention," Benton said, adding that each delegate spent at least $ 2,500 to make the trip to Philadelphia.

Moneytree officials did not return calls Wednesday.

Benson Porter, a lobbyist for Washington Mutual, was doing some of the schmoozing for his company directly on the convention floor Wednesday night. He compared the corporate presence at the convention to the Super Bowl, where companies use the massive gathering to play host to clients, make contacts and entertain.

Matt Philichi, a delegate from Tacoma, said he was grateful so many companies ponied up for the convention.

"It means I don't have to pay for my own lunch," he said. But "I don't think they're buying any influence."

Chuck Sauvage, executive director of Common Cause in Washington, a campaign finance watchdog group, disagreed. He said the fact the delegates are obviously politically involved means they have more influence than the average citizen.

"These people have connections with the politicians, and those connections are good to help the special interests when they want help. It's pathetic. It's a sad spectacle," he said.

But Vincent Lombardi III, a lawyer and delegate from Issaquah, said he's also attended several parties during the four-day convention and has had no idea which companies sponsored which events.

"If they're trying to influence me, they're wasting their money," he said. "I 'm not in a position to help them."