Analysis of two conventions: disconnect between platform and conduct

By Sunlight Foundation…
For the past two weeks, the Sunlight Foundation, non-profit that profits on transparency in government and is funded by Ford Foundation, Poytner Institute and others, was on the ground covering the money and influence at play during the Republican and Democratic national conventions. As expected, there were similarities between to the two political parties ‘parties.’ Lobbyists shaking hands, officials making speeches and closed doors. Charming donors, enthusiastic delegates and events open to press.

One difference, however, was the recognition of transparency and campaign finance disclosure on the party platforms and in speeches. Sunlight’s Lisa Rosenberg breaks down what each party said:

Republicans — A Move from Light to Dark
The GOP platform adopted [on August 28] left no question that the party fully embraces unlimited, unregulated, undisclosed money in our elections. “We support repeal of the remaining sections of McCain-Feingold, support either raising or repealing contribution limits, and oppose passage of the DISCLOSE Act or any similar legislation designed to vitiate the Supreme Court’s recent decisions protecting political speech in Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.”

How quickly things change. Four years ago, the namesake of the sweeping campaign finance reform measure the party now wants to trash was at the top of the GOP ticket. Now, the party platform stands for dismantling what’s left of that law and returning to the days when unlimited amounts of soft money filled party coffers.

Republicans have also made a rapid-fire shift from supporting to opposing disclosure of money in politics. As we have reported before, many Members of Congress who now oppose the DISCLOSE Act—which would make public the donors behind the unlimited dark money paying for our elections—had in the past voiced strong support for immediate disclosure of campaign contributions. In 1996, 2000 and 2004, the GOP platform unequivocally supported disclosure.

Democrats — Admitting There is a Problem
In its platform, released [on September 4], the Democratic Party decrees that, “We are committed to the most open, efficient, and accountable government in history, and we believe that government is more accountable when it is transparent.” Us too.

There is tension, however, between the aspirations of the party platform and reality. For while the platform accurately notes that neither the president nor the national Democratic Party accept contributions from lobbyists, both accept and contributions from other influence peddlers, including big bundlers who don’t happen to fall under the Lobbying Disclosure Act regime.

Despite the gap between practice and platform, the party’s strong support for transparency is important, especially in light of the Republican platform, which seemed to go out of its way to reject sunlight. It demonstrates an understanding of the problem of dark money and elections that are paid for by the highest (secret) bidder. And admitting there is a problem is always the first step towards fixing it.

While President Obama referenced the proliferation of money in politics in his speech last night, it may be too little too late. As the influence of special interests money grows and grows this election, we are dismayed he did not use the power of his bully pulpit earlier such as when Congress was voting on the DISCLOSE Act, legislation that would bring accountability to the millions of dollars being spent by and donated to super PACs and other outside groups.

There is still a disconnect between the party’s platform and their conduct overall; convention dichotomy was just a microcosm of it.

At the GOP convention, Sunlight’s reporting dubbed it a ‘pyramid convention’ in terms of access — mega donors at the top, lobbyists and special interests in the middle tier and delegates at the base. Among the events reported by Keenan Steiner of the Sunlight Reporting Group and our Party Time site, the trend continued in Charlotte for the Democratic convention but to a lesser degree.