Firms help defray convention costs, but at what price?
By CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News
ST. PAUL, Minn. – There's no such thing as a free breakfast.
Almost a dozen corporations doing business in Texas have paid for the eggs and bacon enjoyed daily by GOP delegates and elected officials.
Other companies, from railroads to pharmaceuticals, have provided the music, venue, fajitas and margaritas to at least two Texas parties.
And it's not just Republicans who've welcomed players with deep pockets: The Democrats did much the same last week.
"These are incredibly expensive endeavors. To take a delegation this large this far across the nation costs hundreds of thousands of dollars," said state Republican Party spokesman Hans Klingler.
Corporate contributions help delegates defray their costs. Public advocacy groups question the access that companies get in return.
Democratic Party spokesman Hector Nieto said each of the delegation breakfasts was sponsored by corporations, including some also helping Republicans in Minnesota.
"It takes significant amounts of money to put these breakfasts together. We use those sponsors to help us with that and other costs to put on the convention," he said.
Big business can pick up the tabs for political delegations while hobnobbing with policymakers under state and federal laws that otherwise put tight restrictions on such donations.
"The problem with these loopholes is that it makes the limits on contributions effectively limitless," said Andrew Wheat with the Texans for Public Justice, a campaign contribution watchdog.
He said these are not just random businesses, but large corporations with dealings controlled by federal and state governments.
They're getting access, and their interests are "often not the interests of we, the people," he said.
At the GOP confab, the corporate backers were introduced and allowed to talk to the delegation.
Robert Turner of Union Pacific Railroad showed a 90-second video of a train chugging through the countryside, ending with a scene of it pulling away from a Dallas skyline.
He said the country is dealing with aging infrastructure and his company and Texas "are going to work together" to fix that.
Johnson & Johnson, which has 3,000 company employees in Texas, handed out free Motrin and Band-Aids.
Spokesman Marc Monseau the company has worked with both parties for years, designed to "encourage conversations at political gatherings."
In addition to corporate sponsorship, the Republican Party offered a $7,500 Trailblazers package that eight people bought. They received guest passes to the convention, a stay in the delegation hotel and inclusion in its events.
"What they're getting is the experience," he said. "And the access they have to the experience is pretty unique and interesting."