RNC revelers turn parties into charities

People attending the "Political Chicks a Go-Go" party that turned into the "RightNOW!, Lifetime Networks and Rock the Vote RELIEF FOR THE GULF COAST" pose for pictures outside Bar Fly in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

A rather large bevy of political chicks had pocket digital cameras at the ready as country music star John Rich interpreted the Man in Black for the well-dressed crowd.

The party took place at Bar Fly, a swanky downtown Minneapolis club. The event was originally called 'Political Chicks a Go-Go.' Yesterday it became "Relief For the Gulf Coast" when John McCain and the Republican National Committee offered the Red Cross an opportunity to accept donations at RNC functions.

Several organizations sponsored the party, including RightNOW, a group formed in 2000 for moderate to conservative women who had become alienated from the more liberal National Organization for Women.

Walker Rutherfurd
Walker Rutherfurd had a clear conscience about staying and rocking to Sammy Hagar.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

RightNOW! founder Marlene Colucci was happy the event became more than just a good time for Republican conventioneers.

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"Turning this into a fundraiser for the American Red Cross was the right thing to do," she said. "In fact if anything, I think it was more exciting for us to move our energies into something that was more philanthropic, which is RightNOW!'s philosophy," Colucci said.

Some have questioned why Republicans began raising money for hurricane victims in the gulf before there were any victims, or before the damage has been fully assessed.

Colucci said the money will go to a good cause whether it's used for this hurricane or some other disaster.

Red Cross National spokesperson Amanda Mark said more people were evacuated in advance of Gustav than Katrina, and she is sure residents of the gulf coast will be in need.

"Just getting volunteers and supplies in place cost about 12-million dollars, and that was before the hurricane even hit," Mark said.

Many venues across the Twin Cities were busy until the extended 4 a.m. bar closing for the Republican National Convention. Hurricane Gustav may have damped the festivities inside the convention hall, but it didn't stop Jenny and Sarah from partying Sunday night.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

"We're looking at 45,000 people that were in the shelters last night, and there will be more needs going forward as people go back to their homes and figure out the next steps."

Any suggestion that turning RNC parties into fundraisers is merely a public relations strategy rankled Republicans such as Frank Luna, political director for OCGOP, a group from Orange County, New Jersey.

Luna said only cynics would view John McCain as capable of something like that.

"He has taken what happened in the gulf coast, turned it into a situation where every person who's here, I'm from New Jersey personally, every single person that's in Minnesota, Minneapolis -- which by the way folks are very polite and nice to everybody -- and he has turned it into a situation where we can help people who need help," he said.

"So if you want to call it political that's fine, but you look at John McCain's record and he has not ever done anything for a political reason."

Cindy McCain and Laura Bush
Cindy McCain, left, wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and first lady Laura Bush stand on stage during day one of the Republican National Convention at the Energy Center September 1, 2008 in St. Paul, Minn. The GOP will nominate U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as the Republican choice for U.S. President on the last day of the convention.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

A few blocks away, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States entertained members of the media at the posh restaurant Solera.

Vice President for Public Affairs Frank Coleman said the group decided late last week to make the event a benefit for Gustav victims as the hurricane began to bear down on Louisiana.

"You know, some people said "Are you still going to have your event?'" he said. "And we had already executed, we had paid the money, the caterers had been paid, the venue had been rented, all of these things were already in place so it just made more sense to turn it to the good."

Coleman said the official tally has not been tabulated, but he estimates the event raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Red Cross.