As the second day of the Democratic National Convention gets underway in Charlotte, N.C., there's a lot of anticipation for tonight's main event: former President Bill Clinton's speech to the convention crowd.
But before Clinton reaches the podium this evening, he will have, undoubtedly, been mingling with wealthy donors and generous givers to the Democratic Party. Even though Democrats didn't permit lobbyists and companies from giving directly to the convention host committee, there is plenty of money-driven wining and dining going on.
Most of it is done behind the scenes and away from the cameras. At the Republican Party Convention last week in Tampa, parties were hosted at the beach and aboard yachts. In Charlotte, some of the best restaurants are reserved for lobbyist entertaining. The money that keeps the champagne and canapes coming is considered well spent.
These gatherings and parties are a chance for lobbyists and politicians to be seen, mingle, and meet one another in a more relaxed and friendly setting, said Chris Frates, lobbying correspondent at the National Journal, on The Daily Circuit Wednesday. These events give lobbyists more access to lawmakers than a normal voter could get.
David, a caller from Minnetonka, said there's no doubt these big-money events influence politicians.
"When you talk about the amount of money that is pouring into the campaigns this year, there's no question," he said. "It defies common sense, the suggestion that it would not be corrupting. It would seem the only way we will really have a responsive government is to find a way -- in light of free speech, in light of Citizens United -- ... we have to get the money out of politics."
Citizens United was a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled the First Amendment prohibited government restrictions on political spending by corporations and unions.
Current campaign finance rules don't stop lobbyists from getting large amounts of money to lawmakers, Frates said.
"When you make a law to try and tighten up that influence, it's like squeezing the balloon," he said. "It just goes to another part of the balloon."
Lobbyists are banned from taking lawmakers out to dinner, paying for their travel or giving gifts.
"The unintended consequence of that is that a lot of these lobbyists only see lawmakers when they're doing fundraisers for them," Frates said. "So I can't take you to dinner, but I can hold a fundraiser and raise $50,000 for you ... and that's the only time I can sit down and talk with you."
But not all lobbying is bad, said caller Denise Roy, a faculty member at William Mitchell College of Law and a former staffer in the Senate Finance Committee under Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. Lobbyists provide information to lawmakers, conduct studies and offer connections to major employers in their districts.
"My observation is that lobbying is an absolutely essential part of the democratic process," she said. "The question really is who gets to lobby and who doesn't get to lobby, and how is lobbying done?"
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, also joined the conversation. She said campaign fundraising through people known as "bundlers" is an important part of the discussion when it comes to campaign fundraising.
"They are so much more valuable than just a donor," she said. "These are the people who open up their contacts lists ... to be able to deliver far in excess what they themselves could give to the presidential campaigns."
These people aren't usually lobbyists, Frates said. They're more likely to be rich people who have a lot of contacts and want to play in the political system. And their efforts can bring in significant cash for a campaign.
"If I'm a lobbyist, I can only give $5,000 to a candidate," he said. "But if I can hold a fundraiser for that candidate and the candidate knows I've organized it, I've brought in 20 or 30 or 40 of my closest friends who also all then max out, then I've raised $200,000 for the candidate."
Krumholz said it's important for voters who are concerned about money in politics to get involved.
"This is our system; it's always been privately funded," she said. "The money has spun out of control and so what are we going to do about it? We do have recourse. At the end of the day, they don't need the money so much as they need the votes. If they don't get the votes, the money wasn't worth anything."
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MPR's Kerri Miller contributed to this report.