Bought and Paid for

a good report in the Sunday Magazine of our newspaper.

During the day, there were caucus meetings inside the Colorado Convention Center and in hotel rooms. The important business of planning and fund-raising went on behind closed doors. One could see delegates who wore green badges that said “Finance Guest.” These were the money people. But in the afternoon, for prime time action, the spectacle would shift to the huge Pepsi Center. The candidates as well as their supporters performed for the television cameras. Mailer had foreseen all this, because the change had already begun to come in 1968. In Miami and the Siege of Chicago, he notes that politicians “rushed forward to TV men, and shouldered notepads aside.” He adds, “soon they would hold conventions in TV studios.”

Despite the awareness that they were on TV, the politicians were often dull and, one afternoon, to preserve my sanity I watched a pirated DVD of Satyajit Ray’s “Enemy of the People” on my laptop. That night, on my way back to my hotel room, I stopped to observe an open-air discussion that was being broadcast live by CNN. The TV pundits sat on the brightly-lit stage at the side of the road while just a few feet away people and cars slowed down to gape at the proceedings. All the talk on stage was about the performance of the speakers that night, Hillary Clinton chief among them. Had Hillary got past her bitterness and would she have persuaded viewers in places like Peoria?

But, surely, more difficult issues could be discussed?

A report in July from the Campaign Finance Institute had revealed that out of the 146 corporate donors to both party conventions, only 31 had disclosed information about their contributions. Could the other donors not be pressured to reveal the amount they had given, and couldn’t the commentators have found reason to scrutinise the connection between donations and political access?

Who was paying for it all?
According to the report, Qwest Communications has given six million dollars to host both conventions. Comcast has pledged five million dollars to the Democratic Convention; Xcel Energy, owner of several nuclear plants, has given more than a million dollars to both parties; the telecom giant AT&T, whose logo appeared on every bag given to delegates, has also donated a large amount to the DNC, and financial support has come from other corporations like Motorola, Coca Cola and Google. The report charged that since 2005 these companies have spent more than 1.1 billion dollars on federal lobbying to influence legislation and regulations. The combined amount of corporate donor support for this year’s two conventions comes to about 112 million dollars.

Under those bright television lights, why was no one asking a single question about who was paying for the show?