A Guide to Buying Access at the Democratic National Convention

Hacked documents reveal perks of big-money DNC donations

DNC 2016
Protesters yell as DNC Chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz arrives for a Florida delegation breakfast / AP
July 25, 2016

Corporations, labor unions, and wealthy individuals can buy access to top Democratic policymakers at the party’s convention in Philadelphia this week, according to internal documents detailing the perks that the party is offering to its wealthiest donors.

Political action committees that gave $90,000 to the Democratic National Committee between January 2015 and June 2016 will get two tickets to an "exclusive roundtable and campaign briefing with high-level Democratic officials," the documents reveal.

Political groups that donated at least $150,000 will get four tickets instead of two. Native American tribes can get five tickets, but they must have donated at least $200,000.

PACs that gave at least $30,000 will also get access to "business roundtables and industry panels throughout the Convention."

While corporate support for party conventions is commonplace, the documents reveal the specific benefits being offered to the Democratic Party’s wealthiest supporters as they gather to officially nominate Hillary Clinton for president.

Those benefits will include opportunities to advance donors’ interests in closed-door meetings with top policymakers, even as Clinton decries the influence of money in the American political process.

Documents detailing the various convention donor packages were attached to some of the 20,000 emails obtained in a hack of the Democratic National Committee released last week by the group Wikileaks. The release has plunged the party into turmoil, and precipitated the resignation of its chairwoman over revelations that party staffers worked to help Clinton defeat primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.).

Additionally, emails revealed some of the corporate PACs that Democrats had approached about purchasing their convention packages. They included major banks, defense contractors, insurers, and fossil fuel companies.

Among the corporations listed were Cisco, FedEx, Honeywell, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, UBS, New York Life, Raytheon, Southern Company, Quicken Loans, Suntrust, Capital One, Metlife, State Farm, and 21st Century Fox.

It was not clear from the hacked emails whether any of those companies had purchased convention packages through their PACs.

High-dollar individual donors receive many of the same benefits as political action committees, but their contribution thresholds are even higher. Those who raise $1.25 million for the DNC, or donate $467,600 themselves, qualify for the top individual convention package, which includes six tickets to the meetings with Democratic policymakers.

The Rittenhouse Package, as the top individual donor level is known, requires contributors to have given the maximum allowable amounts to three separate accounts in each of the last two years: $100,200 to the DNC’s convention account, $100,200 to its "headquarters fund," and $33,400 to the party’s general account.

A week before the June 1 deadline for convention donors, emails indicate, the DNC had sold just one Rittenhouse package. Fourteen donors bought its second tier package, called Society Hill. Forty-six bought the third-tier Fairmount package, and 108 opted for the minimal Main Line package.

After a top DNC fundraiser complained that there were minimal convention perks for donors who maxed out to the party just once, they also decided to introduce a new and less-publicized package in order to bring in large checks last-minute. Known as the Chestnut Hill package, it required a $33,400 contribution to the DNC’s general fund.

"The purpose of this package is to bring in new max out checks that we would not otherwise get," a top DNC fundraising official wrote. "Please do not go back to folks who maxed out in previous years and offer to them."

The Chestnut Hill package offers fewer perks—contributors do not get the same access to Democratic policymakers or industry events—but DNC fundraisers stressed in emails to individual donors that convention contributions themselves would get them in the good graces of the party’s top officials.

"It has been my experience that the DNC can do more for donors than the [Clinton] campaign can—at this point in the cycle for a first term presidential candidate," wrote Naomi Eberly, a wealthy Texan appointed as a top DNC fundraiser last year by chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Eberly was trying to convince wealthy financial manager Bob Glovsky to give directly to the DNC instead of the Hillary Victory Fund, a Clinton fundraising account that supports the campaign and federal and state arms of the Democratic Party.

"If the campaign will give you more credit for giving through the victory fund and more access because you can attend a smaller event post convention with that max out check - then, you should wait - but going to convention is also part of ‘being there’ and ‘getting credit,’" Eberly wrote.

DNC national finance director Jordan Kaplan agreed. "The [Clinton] campaign is not counting any credit right now (weird) but you are correct. He would have more juice at the DNC than with HVF," he told Eberly.

Glovsky ended up foregoing the convention package, opting instead to donate to and raise money for the Hillary Victory Fund at a June 1 event in Boston that charged $50,000 per attendee—a sum that Eberly privately called "ridiculous."

Other arms of the party are offering their own convention packages to their top donors. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee by April had sold them to 32 corporate PACs and trade groups, eight labor unions, 13 Indian tribes, and 44 individual donors, according to internal records released by the hacker also presumed to be behind the DNC leak.

It was not clear from those records what the DCCC was offering with each of their convention tiers, named Constitution, Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, 1776, and—for many corporate donors—Business Council.

Published under: 2016 Election