This week in Charlotte, NC, not only will you have the “right to work,” you’ll also have the “right to party,” to borrow a portion of the namesake of the timeless classic by the Beastie Boys.
On September 3, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) will begin in Charlotte, NC. North Carolina is a “right to work” state, home of the corporate headquarters of Duke Energy, a coal industry giant and key patron of the DNC. Duke’s CEO Jim Rogers is the Co-Chair of the DNC Host Committee, which created a non-profit called the New American City Fund to facilitate fundraising from corporate donors for the Convention, with a goal of raising over $36 million.
Interesting details in of themselves, this is but the tip of the iceberg. Like its RNC counterpart, the DNC will be what The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald recently described the election year as being on the whole: an “uber-contrived reality show that has less to do with political reality than the average rant one hears at any randomly chosen corner bar or family dinner.”
The real story of this year’s DNC, in actuality, is the lobbyists and political operatives throwing the parties at corner bars and hosting extravagant dinners everywhere you look, to paraphrase Greenwald. The hosts and organizers of the parties at the DNC are the real wielders of power in today’s modern Democratic Party.
And the “uber-contrived reality show”? That’ll be occurring on the DNC floor.
“An Influence Peddling Free-for-All”
In the run up to the 2008 RNC and DNC, Public Citizen published a scathing report that called the Conventions of the two mainstream U.S. political parties influence peddling free-for-alls.
“The Democratic and Republican national conventions are supposed to be publicly financed electoral events with reasonable ethics restrictions on influence-peddling by lobbyists,” Public Citizen stated. “However, the conventions have become mostly privately financed soirees funded by corporations and lobbying firms that seek favors from the federal government.”
Mostly privately financed soirees, true, but as Ralph Nader explained in a recent open letter, much of the funding for the parties occurs on the taxpayer dime.
“This year they have…taken $18.2 million in taxpayer money,” he wrote. “Taxpayers who opt for this partial public funding of elections may not like funding political extravaganzas for the two parties, festooned by banners, musical entertainment, food, drink and other amenities.”
The People Behind the Parties…and the Democratic Party
Everywhere you look, there’ll be a breakfast, lunch, dinner, or party where corporate lobbyists will be co-mingling with Democratic Party politicians, strategists, consultants, and operatives – a giant “schmoozapalooza,” if you will.
All good parties have savvy hosts, or “people behind the parties” and the DNC is no different.
Skillfully skirting lobbying ethics laws, many of these party hosts created LLCs (limited liability corporations) for “schmoozapalooza” organizing. LLC is generally a distinction for small business owners, though it’s often abused by multinational corporations in creating tax havens. In other words, like magic, many transformed themselves overnight from registered lobbyists to small business entrepreneurs.
As one lobbyist told Wonkette about plans for the DNC, “[I]f there’s a way that our executives or Washington folks can get access to credentials through whatever means, well, we’ll just leave them to figure out what those channels might be.”
DNC Convention Strategies
“We help our clients get the most bang for their convention buck,” DNC Convention Strategies explains on its website. “Whether your goal is to connect with important decision makers, get the voters and the media to focus on your agenda, or simply to host a great event, we’ll help you maximize the impact of your investment.”
This isn’t their first time around the block, either.
“In 2008, we worked with dozens of Fortune 50 companies, national trade associations, non-profit groups, top political officials, and state delegations,” the website goes on to proclaim. “We managed events ranging from 30 person, high end dinners to 1,000+ person extravaganzas. Our team members have produced some of the most memorable convention events going back to as early as 1984.”
DNC Convention Strategies is the child of Conventions 2012, LLC, which was registered in Florida in July 2011, according to the Florida Department of State’s Division of Corporations. Its brother, born to the same mother, is GOP Convention Strategies. One of the Managers of this new-fangled LLC is ROQ Strategies, LLC, according to the incorporation form.
ROQ and DNC Convention Strategies share the same address: 400 North Capitol St., Ste. 382B in Washington, DC. The glue that binds them together is veteran lobbyist Darrell Henry, who’s both the Founder and Principal of ROQ and one of eight team members of DNC Convention Strategies. Among other things, Henry served as a lobbyist for the American Gas Association from 2000-2005.
“While it violates the rules for a corporation to host a party honoring a member of Congress, lobbyists have evaded this rule by setting up front groups, like GOP Convention Strategies and DNC Convention Strategies to do their bidding,” Craig Holman of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch told TruthOut.
Other important, well-connected DNC Convention Strategies lobbyist luminaries include Mark Lindsay, Anne Fabry, Michael Lewan and LeeAnn Petersen.
Lindsay is an important Beltway power broker, having served on the Obama Transition Team, turning that position into a full-time job as a corporate lobbyist, primarily for the pharmaceutical industry for a lobbying firm of his creation, White House Consulting, Inc.
He was also the center of a scandal surrounding time he spent lobbying for a $1.4 billion contract awarded to supply jet fuel to the Manas Airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The company he was lobbying for, Mina Corp/Red Star, was under Congressional investigation for having sent “payments to the family of a corrupt former Kyrgyz president,” according to a story by investigative reporter Seth Hettena.
Fabry is a long-time corporate lobbyist and Democratic Party insider, having served in the Finance Division of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns. She also is the former President of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), the think-tank wing of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Ralph Nader has described the DLC as a “soulless” entity, due to its support of the agenda of Big Business.
“A member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Business Council, she continues her long relationship with the moderate pro-business democratic community as an active member of the New Democrat Coalition’s Keystone Group and The Blue Dogs in the House, as well as the Third Way and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee,” explains her biographical sketch on the Convention Strategies website. Both the PPI and Third Way are heavily funded by the right-wing, heavily corporate-subsidized Bradley Foundation.
Fabry’s career has marched in lockstep with that of Lewan.
“He created and led the Democratic Leadership Council’s Washington Steering Committee which resulted in DLC Convention activities in 1996, 2000, and 2004 and initiated a Member dinner series and senior staff lunch program,” explains the Convention Strategies website. “He was also a founder of the New Democratic Coalition, the Senate Mod Squad and the Third Way.”
Lewan “is considered one of the architects of the moderate, business-oriented wing of the Democratic Party,” according to his biography on the Brown Rudnick website, where he currently works as a lobbyist with Fabry. Lewan serves as a Principal of Government Law & Strategies there, while Fabry works as Director of Government Law & Strategies.
Prior to this, the two of them worked together at Michael Lewan Company from 2000-2004, “which specialized in developing and executing public policy strategies for corporate, trade associations and not for profit clients.” Fabry served as Lewan’s assistant when Lewan was Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I-CT) Chief-of-Staff from 1989-1993.
Importantly, but easy to overlook, Fabry is also “on the management team organizing the popular Convention Baseball events at both the Democratic and Republican Conventions.” Convention Baseball events are a can of worms of their own worth exploring.
LeeAnn Petersen: Convention Baseball LLC/Convention Sports and Entertainment Group LLC
LeeAnn Petersen‘s claim to fame is baseball.
Not a baseball player herself, she is a key organizer of baseball outings at DNCs past and present, having organized an outing in 2008 in Denver when President Barack Obama stepped up to accept his nomination for the first time and now in 2012 in Charlotte.
She sometimes goes by the name LeeAnn Strother, as is evident by her LinkedIn profile. Petersen’s husband is Dane Strother, who works as the head of the lobbying firm Strother Stategies. Strother worked on behalf of Wall Street-friendly U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) to ensure that her more progressive opponent, Bill Halter, lost a primary in 2010.
For the Conventions, Petersen has slyly circumvented the lobbying ethics laws by creating an LLC called Convention Baseball LLC, now known more broadly as Convention Sports and Entertainment Group LLC. Incorporated in Delaware, corporate contributions to this LLC cost from $2,500-$50,000 for the upcoming baseball outing and earn lobbyists inside access with politicians. The more you pay, the more lobbyists you’re allowed to bring with for the fun.
The baseball junket will be held “in honor of the Illinois delegation” to the DNC, and features a Host Committee of Petersen, Liz Sears Smith, Daniella Landau and Patricia Daley on the lobbyist side of the coin, as well as Illinois politicians U.S. Rep. Louis Guitierez and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson on the politician side of the coin.
The Illinois connection is no accident: it’s the headquarters of the Obama for America presidential campaign for 2012. It’s also the place where his former Chief-of-Staff now serves as Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and where three of the four lobbyists on the Host Committee hail from.
This Host Committee roster says much about the Democratic Party’s agenda both past and present.
Landau is a long-time high-level Democratic Party consultant and public relations operative. Formerly an employee of Wexler & Walker, in May she started her own lobbying firm, Hannegan Landau Advocacy, alongside veteran lobbyist, Tim Hannegan. Tim is the grandson of former DNC chairman Robert E. Hannegan.
She’s also a former employee of DC public relations behemoth, Burson-Marsteller, where, while there, “she helped coordinate message and communications strategies designed to promote successful passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA],” one of the hallmark policies of the presidency of Bill Clinton. In a May 2011 report, the Economic Policy Institute reported that NAFTA has been responsible for the loss of over 750,000 jobs in the U.S.
Digging deeper, one can also see that she’s the ex-wife of the aforementioned Dane Strother, the same Dane Strother who’s now married to LeeAnn Petersen of Convention Baseball fame. At one point in her life she was known as Daniella Landau Strother, according to the Congressional Lobbying Database.
Patricia Daley, sometimes referred to as “Patty” is part of the “Daley Machine,” a second of cousin of former Obama Administration Chief-of-Staff William Daley. William Daley is the brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, whose mayoral stint was mired in corruption. Richard M. Daley was replaced by current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011. William Daley, who at the end of 2011 had a net worth of $28.7 million, formerly served on the Midwest Chairman for JPMorgan Chase and was on the Board of Directors of Abbott and Boeing.
Sears Smith, like Daley, is a key cog in the Chicago political machine. She’s a long-time sidekick of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, having served as his Chief-of-Staff during his time as both a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as his time as Obama’s Chief-of-Staff in the White House. Emanuel is pejoratively referred to by many as “Mayor 1%,” a fitting title given his personal net worth of $11.4 million at the end of 2010 and the policies he’s pushed during his time as Mayor thus far.
Before this, “Smith served in the Clinton Administration as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the International Trade Administration at the Department of Commerce, where she managed 450 staff around the country and a budget of $35 million,” explained the Chicago Tribune. “She was the Finance Director for Chicago ’96, the host committee for the 1996 Democratic National Convention and prior to that ran [The Strategy Group].”
Sears Smith co-founded The Strategy Group with Mike Lux, who is one of the founders of MoveOn.org and now works as a Democratic Party operative for the consulting firm he runs, Progressive Strategies. Lux explained in a blog post that the Strategy Group was “one of the closest inner circle firms in the Obama Presidential campaign” of 2008.
For the 2012 DNC, Sears Smith formed MLH Strategies, “a strategic consulting firm advising corporate clients and individuals on developing and executing strategies [at the DNC]” with her long-time Democratic Party colleagues, Melissa Moss and Holly Page. A dive into the personnel behind this entrepreneurial venture is also insightful in lifting the curtain of the people behind the parties – and the Democratic Party – at the DNC.
Sears Smith’s partners in her new joint venture are Melissa Moss and Holly Page, both long time influence peddlers and Democratic Party fundraisers.
Moss is the former National Finance Director of the DNC, performing this job at the same time Rahm Emanuel was then candidate Bill Clinton’s national finance director in his run for President in 1992. She also formerly served as Field Director of the DLC, as well as Director of the Office of Competitiveness and Private Sector outreach at the Commerce Department.
Her stint at Commerce was mired in deep-seated corruption, as one of the central players involved in what has colloquially been referred to as “Commercegate.” Long story short, the case revolved around sales of seats on Department of Commerce planes for international trade missions. The goal: raise campaign contributions to the tune of $50,000/seat for the DNC, an act amounting to illegal political bribery.
This scandal resulted in a major lawsuit and legal investigation lead by Judicial Watch. Out of the investigation came a legal document on the “trips-for-donations scheme,” a testimony that said Moss was one of the ringleaders of it all. She has given $12,500 to the Obama campaign for the upcoming election, according to Open Secrets.
Page, like most others mentioned in this story, is a long-time DLC and DNC hand, serving as a fundraiser for Bill Clinton for President in 1992, Director of the National Finance Council of the DNC from 1992-1994, and working for the DLC from 1994-2008, the last five years of which she served as Executive Vice President.
The “Invisible Government”
What does this all mean?
There’s the pomp-and-circumstance of the DNC, which will take place in the Charlotte Convention Center and will be televised and radio-casted around the country and the world. And then there’s what Edward Bernays, the father or modern propaganda, once called the “invisible government,” which will be operating behind the scenes at the DNC.
“Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country,” wrote Bernays. “We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
When push comes to shove, it’s the people behind the parties at the DNC for 2012 that are the true source of power, the heart and soul of the contemporary Democratic Party.