WASHINGTON – From movie-themed parties to gourmet spreads and star-studded receptions, corporate America is rolling out the red carpet and more for Democrats at their national convention next week.
The largesse lavished on members of Congress, governors and other delegates at daytime outings, evening bashes and complimentary breakfasts, lunches and dinners is in addition to at least $39.5 million that companies, unions and others gave local organizers to help the party throw the convention that plans to nominate John Kerry (search) for president.
"If you don't have an event, you don't really have tickets to trade to other events," said Heather Podesta, a Washington lobbyist and Democratic fund-raiser attending the convention. "This is a whole other form of currency. Money doesn't work here. Credentials and tickets to parties are your currency."
Some companies are going all out to make sure their events make conventioneers' agendas.
Altria Group (search), parent of the Philip Morris USA tobacco company, is among roughly two-dozen companies sponsoring a party with an "Indiana Jones" feel at an Egyptian exhibit at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (search).
"Be part of the adventure," said the invitation to party for Congress' two Democratic whips, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid and Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer. The Senate and House whips are responsible for ensuring that party members hew the party line in congressional votes.
The event's sponsors represent a Who's Who of corporate America. Besides Altria, they include defense contractor DynCorp International; the Allied Domecq liquor company; BellSouth; Miller Brewing; Fannie Mae and Sallie Mae; FedEx; the Mortgage Insurance Cos. of America; Pitney Bowes; and the National Association of Home Builders.
The media conglomerate Time Warner Inc. (search) hopes the promise of "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker as the special guest draws power brokers to its Wednesday reception for New York Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chuck Schumer at an upscale Boston restaurant.
"Taste and enjoy our classy cocktails, splendid spirits, exclusive elixirs and posh potables," said the invitation to a Monday reception honoring Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., sponsored by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and others.
Altria Group, also the parent of Kraft Foods, is sponsoring a Monday reception with the National Journal magazine advertised as a one-of-a-kind luncheon event with "lively commentary and recipe descriptions throughout the meal."
Others are sponsoring golf outings, city tours, even batting practice. Fenway Park is a popular venue; among those choosing it as a backdrop is the Savings Coalition of America, which will hold a "Cover Your Financial Bases" outing there. The Red Sox are out of town.
"There will be dozens of events — from breakfasts to lunches to golf to many late-night parties," said Wright Andrews, a Washington lobbyist attending the convention.
Some companies are throwing parties and donating to help hold the convention in its own right. Altria, for example, donated at least $100,000 to the convention's host committee.
Microsoft, which during the 2000 election found itself ensnared in a federal antitrust lawsuit that is now settled, will have a prominent convention presence.
The Redmond, Wash., high-tech company is helping throw a Monday night reception for the delegation from Washington state and donated nearly $1 million in software and computer support to the Democratic convention and next month's Republican gathering in New York.
"We simply see this as a way to support our nation's democratic process," Microsoft spokeswoman Ginny Terzano said. "We obviously believe technology plays an increasingly important role in the electoral process, and contributing to the conventions allows Microsoft to ensure both parties are able to take advantage of all the benefits of technology."
Several donors gave more than $1 million to the convention's host committee to help hold the Democratic gathering. They include Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts Inc.; the Boston Foundation; Fidelity Investments; Bank of America Corp.; the Gillette Co.; John Hancock Financial Services; Liberty Mutual Group; New Balance Athletic Shoe Co.; Raytheon; and State Street Corp.
A handful of companies donated enough goods and services to get recognized as "official providers" for the convention. Among them are Allied Domecq, the official wine and spirits provider; IBM, the official hardware provider; Microsoft, software; Motorola, "mission critical" radios; and Nextel, wireless services.
Taxpayers also are chipping in. The Federal Election Commission (search) provided roughly $15 million to the Democratic National Committee (search) and its GOP counterpart to cover activities inside their convention halls.