Party Time

At this year's Democratic national convention in Boston, special interests are planning and paying for a reported 200 private parties and receptions for lawmakers and party officials. Corporations, unions, lobbying firms and interest groups will host the Democratic elite at nightclubs, fine dining establishments, museums – even Fenway Park.

Though party officials will not comment on or release a list of the parties, the Center for Public Integrity has identified 70 events, 33 of which are hosted by Boston 2004, the private host committee designated to raise funds and organize welcoming events for the convention. The remaining parties have as sponsors the likes of insurance giant American International Group, biotech firm Genzyme, telecommunications firms Time Warner and Comcast, lobbying firms Patton Boggs LLP and Foley Hoag LLP, unions including the AFL-CIO and the International Brotherhood of Carpenters, and trade groups like the American Gas Association and the National Association of Broadcasters.

Corporations and unions used to be able to curry favor with lawmakers by pouring unlimited amounts of cash into the soft money coffers of one or both major political parties. Organizations and issue oriented groups used to show their affection and keen interest in parties' actions the same way, making sure that their money kept them in the game.

But now that once healthy spigot of unlimited campaign cash has been shut off by campaign finance laws prohibiting soft money donations, companies and interest groups have sought out other ways to show the political parties that they're players too, and to make sure that the next time a bill or policy they're interested in crops up, that they are consulted.

One solution: Lavish parties at the presidential nominating conventions.

In the words of one campaign finance expert, they are raising party planning "to an art form." While exclusive parties are not new to the convention scene, watchdog groups say this year's receptions will be more extravagant to make up for the absence of soft money donations. "This year, the number of private affairs is expected to far exceed previous conventions," wrote Bill McConnell in the trade publication, Broadcasting and Cable. "Independent party planners will throw nearly 50 blowouts costing $100,000 or more each, according to estimates."

However, the precise number of parties and where they're being held is a quasi-secret, reserved for only those in the know. When asked by the Center for Public Integrity for a list of private parties and receptions to be held in Boston during the late-July convention, the spokeswoman of the city's host committee, Boston 2004, played it close to the vest. "We have nothing to do with that," said Spokeswoman Karen Grant. "There's nothing coordinated." But the Boston Globe reported in June 2004 that it had obtained a "confidential calendar of private events, produced by the Boston 2004 convention host committee . . . [showing] nearly 200 receptions, luncheons and after-hours parties."

The official parties

There are official parties of course, hosted by Boston 2004, some 33 of them – at a total $1.8 million price-tag – at locations around the Hub, from museums, historic sites and parks, to a brewery, a cookie factory and university campuses. The biggest one is the reception for 15,000 members of the media at the just-opened Boston Convention and Exhibition Center facing Boston Harbor. The Boston Globe is one of the sponsors for the $800,000 shindig, geared toward putting the best face on the city for the media who will project its image to the world for a week. The paper is contributing $500,000.

The other official gatherings are welcoming parties for the 56 state and territorial delegations attending the convention. Some delegates will be feted in historic style – the Pennsylvania delegation in the gold-domed State House on Beacon Hill and the hometown favorites, the Massachusetts delegation, in the grand Boston Public Library.

Others will be treated to unique receptions. Ohio delegates, for example, will be meeting at the Samuel Adams Brewery. Minnesota and North Dakota delegates will be welcomed at the Dancing Deer Baking Company, home to the "Break the Curse" molasses clove cookie, in honor of the Boston Red Sox's long World Series championship drought which coincided with the team trading Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.

On a less culinary note, the New Jersey delegates will gather in the Charlestown Navy Yard at the U.S.S. Constitution Museum, home of the over 200-year-old ship, while the California delegates will be consorting with wild life at the Franklin Park Zoo.

The unofficial parties

While the official parties are sure to be interesting, look for the real political action elsewhere, like at the Bay Tower Room with panoramic views of the city, or at Felt, the uber hip nightclub, or even at Locke-Ober, the high-end French restaurant favored by Boston's political establishment.

These are among the sites of some of the private gatherings slated for select Democrats during convention week. Companies ranging from telecommunications giants to insurance, fuel, bio-tech and financial institutions are ponying up hundreds of thousands of dollars to honor and fete those with power.

"It's not an opportunity that we want to let slide by," Daphne Magnuson, spokeswoman for the American Gas Association (AGA) told the Boston Globe, adding that the group has budgeted $700,000 to stage parties at the Boston and New York national conventions this summer.

The AGA has at least four events slated for the convention week, according to press reports. The trade group will host a dinner honoring Sen. Max Baucus, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, a late-night reception for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at a hopping nightclub, luncheons in the honor of Sen. Byron Dorgan and Sen. Jeff Bingaman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a reception for governors, according to the Boston Globe.

Two events are rivaling one another for the honor of being the hottest event in town: The Creative Coalition's benefit gala at Louis Boston, home of the Asian/French fusion Restaurant L in the city's high-end shopping area (Newbury Street), and the gala for Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy at Boston Symphony Hall.

The Creative Coalition – a group composed of members of the arts and entertainment community – has the upper hand when it comes to Hollywood wattage. It has lined up celebrities like Boston's home boy Ben Affleck, Oscar winner Chris Cooper, actor William Baldwin and actress/Air America talk show host Janeane Garofalo to attend a fundraiser for the non-profit group, hosted with the Recording Industry Association of America, Esquire, Allied Domecq and Volkswagen. Alternative rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers are scheduled to perform at the fundraiser. Tickets to the event range from a low of $1,000 for one ticket, to $50,000, which would buy you 40 tickets, gift bags, 20 VIP tickets and Green Room Access, according to the Creative Coalition's site, which lists issues such as arts and music education, First Amendment rights, gun control and campaign finance reform as topics of importance to the group.

But when it comes to old fashioned political clout, the party for Kennedy, featuring Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Pops, with conductor John Williams, is a strong competitor. The event, which is estimated to cost $400,000-$600,000, is being sponsored by a handful of corporations and unions, including, Raytheon, Bristol-Myers Squibb, the AFL-CIO and the International Brotherhood of Carpenters, which all gave $100,000 each, according to the Boston Globe.

Kennedy will receive more accolades at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel when the Irish American Democrats and the Italian American Democratic Leadership Council team up for a reception. U2 lead singer Bono and Stephen Stills are among the celebrity guests. Kennedy, along with Rep. Mike Capuano, also of Massachusetts, is scheduled to make an appearance at the Biotechnology Industry Organization's reception at the Museum of Science that week.

For Democratic governors making the sojourn to Boston, many groups await them. The AGA is planning a reception for them at Ned Devine's Irish Pub in Faneuil Hall. There's going to be a Boston Harbor waterfront "All-Star Salute to Democratic Governors" on Rowe's Wharf, according to the Democratic Governors' Association's web site. And, in honor of those All-Stars, the governors will head to Fenway Park for what's being billed as "an afternoon at one of America's most storied ballparks," brought to them by UBS Financial Services.

Meanwhile members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will be honored by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute with a reception at the swank nightspot, Felt, sponsored by the AGA. Listening to the tunes of Los Lobos, members of the caucus may be able to mingle with special invited guests New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sponsorship ranges from $25,000 to $50,000, according to the group's web site.

Clinton will be featured at a number of events during the convention, including a lunch at Locke-Ober, a restaurant famed for its JFK room and JFK lobster stew, sponsored by American International Group, reports the Boston Globe. The senator and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, will be honored at the State Room restaurant with views of the city; the 500-person event is being held by Democratic fundraiser and contributor Elaine Schuster and other donors, according to press reports. Another Boston night club, Avalon, will be the site of a gathering for New York lawmakers, including Clinton, that's expected to attract 2,000 people.

Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt, looking to capitalize on the party going, is hosting a campaign fundraiser at a championship golf club, Granite Links in nearby Quincy. For $2,000 per ticket, one can participate in the golf tournament and enjoy the clambake afterwards, according to the Hill. For non-golfers, they can chip in $1,000 and just go for the food.

One of the most talked about parties is Louisiana Sen. John Breaux's Caribbean bash, sponsored by more than a dozen media lobbyists, according to Broadcasting & Cable. Featuring jerk chicken, Red Stripe beer and the tunes of Ziggy Marley and Buckwheat Zydeco, the $300,000 party for more than 1,000 will be held at the New England Aquarium.

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, tax-exempt organization that conducts investigative research and reporting on public policy issues in the United States and around the world.

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