BOSTON – Maryland-affiliated corporations are among hundreds of companies contributing to hospitality – from lavish receptions to goodie bags – for Maryland delegates at the Democratic National Convention – not that there’s anything wrong with that, party officials say.
Dominion energy company, for example, stepped in when Maryland delegates decided to skip Boston’s welcome reception for Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia out of concern they might cross police picket lines.
The Richmond, Va., energy company, with $10.2 billion in revenue, hosted an alternative party just for Maryland delegates at the World Trade Center here. Dominion operates the country’s largest liquefied gas import facility near Baltimore.
A Dominion spokesman was unable to comment on the estimated cost of the reception.
Although Boston resolved the union dispute the morning both receptions were to take place, Marylanders stuck to their plan and attended the Dominion-sponsored event, leaving caterers for the city event in the lurch.
Logos for Constellation Energy Group, based in Baltimore, join those of energy company Mirant Corp., cable giant Comcast Corp. and pharmaceutical maker Pfizer, on the front of the convention newsletter put out by the Maryland Democrats each morning.
Comcast has contributed to this year’s Democratic and Republican conventions “probably in the few hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I can’t get more specific,” Tim Fitzpatrick, a Comcast spokesman, said.
Delegates sitting down to a hot breakfast of eggs, home fries and bacon listened each morning to addresses by party leaders and the occasional corporate representative, like Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications chief executive Judith McHale, who spoke to the Maryland delegation Thursday at a $10,000 Discovery-sponsored breakfast.
Corporate sponsors contributed 61 percent of the funds used for the Democratic and Republican conventions this year, according to the Campaign Finance Institute. The exact nature and amount of the contributions won’t be known until both parties file disclosure forms with the Federal Elections Commission 60 days after the last day of their respective conventions.
Such corporate donations often draw criticism from campaign finance watchdog groups and others worried about the influence of sponsors on lawmakers and legislation. But some say they don’t know what all the fuss is about.
Maryland Democratic Communications Director Ryan O’Doherty called questions about corporate sponsorship “silly.”
“I don’t see what the news value of this is,” O’Doherty said, adding that corporate sponsorship of political conventions was nothing new.
James Gimpel, professor of government at the University of Maryland, agreed.
“The money’s got to come from somewhere,” Gimpel said. “I don’t think it’s linked to promises on policy. I can’t imagine that these corporations actually expect these politicians to line up their decisions (to corporate concerns) simply because they paid for a party in a hotel room. That would be selling yourself pretty cheap, I think.”
Others see a darker side to the corporate money-making party events.
“On the down side, obviously, there’s a lot of connections and commitments that are made because of such corporate sponsorship,” said Shawn Parry-Giles, professor of political communication at the University of Maryland, adding that these “behind the scenes” connections impact policy.
Some delegates expressed mixed feelings about the hospitality of corporations. “This makes me feel like a Republican,” said Alexander Boulton, a delegate from Baltimore. “Things are so fancy.”
Ruth Zlotowitz of Ellicott City, an alternate delegate, said it was important for companies to be good community citizens and act out of “altruistic motives,” not “self-serving” ones.
Sponsorship would not influence policy-making decisions by officials, Zlotowitz said. “We appreciate their contribution but it doesn’t affect my attitude toward them,” she said.
But Parry-Giles said such corporate largesse is not aimed at ordinary delegates, but at the “super delegates,” elected party officials with the power to affect legislation.
Still, delegates like Zlotowitz enjoy the benefits, and she said she is surprised at her own positive response.
“I have always been concerned about campaign finance reform, but here when I’m part of it, it’s just part of the background. It’s like the wallpaper,” she said. “It makes things nicer.”