Business & Lobbying

DNC courts lobbyist cash with promise of VIP access at convention

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Leaders from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) huddled this week with dozens of lobbyists to unveil plans for next year’s nominating convention in Philadelphia and kick off an intense bout of fundraising for the elaborate event.

The Wednesday night meeting at held at Capitol Counsel, a lobbying firm a few blocks from the White House, follows the DNC’s decision earlier this year to reverse its policy lobbyists or political action committees.

{mosads}More than 50 people — including the DNC’s chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla) and several high-profile lobbyists — were on hand, according to one source in the room.

The national convention, still eight months away, will be an expensive party to throw, with early estimates putting the price tag at $85 million.

“There was no big ask,” one attendee said. “’We’re back, we’re here, we want your help.’ That was the message.”

While the informational briefing did not directly contain a fundraising plea, documents obtained by The Hill from the show that the DNC handed out a menu of reward offerings to in exchange for their donations and bundled cash.

Individuals are able to give a maximum of $100,200 to the DNC’s convention fund per year, but are encouraged to bundle together many times that figure.

Those who donate $200,400 or bundle a minimum of $750,000 — the top tier in the available options — will get VIP treatment that includes a photo-op at the official convention podium, access to a “premiere hotel” room in the same block as the National Finance Committee and access to celebrations “featuring celebrities and other luminaries, live music and Philadelphia’s most recognized chefs” every night of the weeklong convention.

Less generous packages are available for those who both give and bundle smaller amounts.

Multi-candidate PACs, which include corporate political action committees, are able to give $45,000 per year to the convention fund, and also have comparable prizes for giving anywhere from $30,000 to $90,000.

Donors will also be able to participate in “businesses roundtables and industry panels” happening during the convention.

Spotted at the event on Wednesday were Capitol Counsel’s Shannon Finley, John Raffaelli and David Jones; Vince Frillici from public affairs firm Mercury; Dan O’Brien, the director of political affairs at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions; Dan Turrentine, an in-house lobbyist at H&R Block; Patrice Willoughby of Heather Podesta + Partners; Dan Turton, the vice president of federal and administration affairs at General Motors; and, Ankit Desai the chief lobbyist at Cheniere Energy, according to a source in the room.

The DNC also brought its A-game to the meeting: In addition to Wasserman Schultz, it sent Leah Daughtry, the chief executive officer of the Democratic National Convention Committee, her chief of staff, Matt Butler, and Jason O’Malley, who’s helping to plan the convention.

Then-candidate Barack Obama was behind the strategy of not taking cash from lobbyists or PACs for the elaborate conventions. The prohibition, which included fundraising vehicles run by elected officials, was in place for the 2008 and 2012 conventions.

Although those policies were somewhat loosened during the 2012 elections due to a lackluster efforts to fill convention coffers, this is the first time that K Street donors will be fully allowed to participate.

The boost will be especially crucial in the 2016 nominating party, since Congress eliminated public financing for the national conventions – doing away with about $18 million in taxpayer funds for each party.

“This time around, it’s going to be a blast, because now we don’t even have the pretense of public financing behind the conventions,” Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, told The Hill earlier this year.

“Every convention, the extent of the schmoozing is breathtaking,” he said. “Once they give this kind of money, they’re paying for face-time. That’s what they get: they get dinner, they get receptions with the candidate.”

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