It’s Business as Usual at the Democratic National Convention

The last four days of the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia have left us tongue-tied—the ease and apparent conviction with which Hillary adopted almost intact Bernie Sander’s progressivist platform. We fully intend to report on this as it is most important as we proceed in the year ahead.

But, meanwhile, money once again rears its pretty head and we must gently wave a flag of warning. Please read this article that appeared this morning on the front page of the New York Times. No wonder Bernie seemed so disconsolate as he sat among his fellow conventioneers.


By Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chuzik for the New York Times

PHILADELPHIA — In a luxury suite high above the convention floor, some of the Democratic Party’s most generous patrons sipped cocktails and caught up with old friends, tuning out Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Monday as he bashed Wall Street in an arena named after one of the country’s largest banks.

On Tuesday, when Hillary Clinton became the first female nominee of a major party, a handful of drug companies and health insurers made sure to echo the theme, paying to sponsor an “Inspiring Women” panel featuring Democratic congresswomen.

And in the vaulted marble bar of the Ritz-Carlton downtown, wealthy givers congregated in force for cocktails and glad-handing as protesters thronged just outside to voice their unhappiness with Wall Street, big money in politics and Mrs. Clinton herself.


“This is a good place to be — for a lot of reasons,” said former Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, a Democrat now running for Congress, as he glided through the room on Tuesday. “We must have set up five fund-raisers today. This is the bank.”

After a wrenching yearlong nominating battle with searing debates over the influence of Wall Street and the ability of ordinary citizens to be heard over the din of dollars changing hands, the party’s moneyed elite returned to the fore this week, undeterred and mostly unabashed.

While protesters marched in the streets and blocked traffic, Democratic donors congregated in a few reserved hotels and shuttled between private receptions with A-list elected officials. If the talk onstage at the Wells Fargo Center was about reducing inequality and breaking down barriers, Center City Philadelphia evoked the world as it still often is: a stratified society with privilege and access determined by wealth.

“The Clinton people would always argue, ‘Well, there’s no connection between the money and the actions that we take,’ ” said Jonathan Tasini, a liberal organizer and Sanders delegate from New York. “That’s what these cocktail parties and receptions are all about. It’s about access and whose phone calls get answered.”

For many Clinton donors, particularly those from the financial sector, the convention is a time to shed what one called the “hypersensitivity” that had previously surrounded their appearance at Mrs. Clinton’s fund-raisers or at her political events, during a period when Mr. Sanders repeatedly attacked Mrs. Clinton’s connections to Wall Street and her six-figure speaking fees from financial institutions.

“I think we’re past that,” said Alan Patricof, a longtime donor to Mrs. Clinton, when asked about the need to lie low during the primaries.

ritz-carlton_exterior_1-900VPThe Ritz Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia sits between The old Girard Corn Exchange and City Hall

In Philadelphia, donors were handed preferred suites at the Ritz-Carlton and “Friends and Family” packages created for longtime Clinton hands — some of them also longtime benefactors. Some were granted time backstage or in the Clinton family box with former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton. Blackstone, the private equity giant, scheduled a reception at the Barnes Foundation on Thursday with its president, Hamilton E. James, one of the leading Wall Street contenders for an economic policy post in a future Clinton administration.

The Philadelphia convention offered other symbolic contrasts to the party’s last two gatherings, when President Obama sought, with mixed success, to restrict his party from raising money to pay for the conventions from lobbyists or political action funds. Those shackles were thrown off this year, waving a green flag to Washington’s influence industry. Lobbyists and corporate representatives flooded the city, where much of the Democratic Party’s elite — and potential senior members of a future presidential administration — had gathered.

The railway giant CSX brought in old railroad cars for a reception led by Rodney E. Slater, the former United States transportation secretary turned lobbyist, who also headlined a panel on transportation policy in a future Clinton administration. At the Loews Hotel bar on Tuesday night, old Clinton hands, some now working as lobbyists, caught up with Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, a longtime family friend and one of the party’s most prolific fund-raisers.

At a private luncheon on Wednesday at El Vez, a Mexican restaurant, over a dozen Democratic governors mingled with representatives from a host of labor unions and companies, among them the Apollo Education Group, an operator of for-profit colleges that has faced a series of state and federal investigations into allegations of shady recruiting, deceptive advertising and questionable financial aid practices.

“It’s business as usual,” said Libby Watson, who monitored lobbying events in Philadelphia on behalf of the Sunlight Foundation, a group devoted to government transparency.

The biggest players gathered at the Ritz-Carlton, where a line of sport utility vehicles and limousines deposited waves of men in suits but no ties and elegantly dressed women bearing expensive handbags.

At first-come-first-served seats near the bar, assistants huddled around lengthy spreadsheets, figuring out which donors were entitled to which passes to which events. Outside, a protester walked with a sign denouncing big money. Inside, two stocky men could be heard debating the merits of the different ambassadorships they hoped to earn under Mrs. Clinton. Even a low-ranking posting meant having “ambassador” on a child’s wedding invitation, the two agreed, and would be helpful in wrangling invitations to sit on corporate boards.

A few feet away, Mary Pat Bonner, a gatekeeper to many prominent liberal donors, chatted with her most important client, David Brock, the founder of a cluster of outside groups that has raised millions of dollars to help elect Mrs. Clinton.

The longtime Clinton friend and fund-raiser Maureen White strode through the lobby, just missing Rajiv K. Fernando, the Chicago securities trader and Clinton donor, who resigned his appointment to a sensitive intelligence advisory board after questions were raised about his qualifications. Nearby were Heather Podesta, the Democratic lobbyist and Clinton fund-raiser, and Philip D. Murphy, the former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany, now running for governor of New Jersey.

Occasionally, as bellhops leapt to open the lobby doors for another guest, the chants of protesters outside could be dimly heard.

John Graham, a New Jersey insurance executive and Clinton backer, said that after seeing the demonstrators outside the hotel, he had taken his daughter for a walk to meet some of them.

“It’s a little awkward, because guys like me are in here,” Mr. Graham said. “And we need to do something for the young people who are out there.”




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