Grand Old Par-tays

Blues Traveler, Jon Secada and a faux Mardi Gras entertain the pasty GOP crowds, paid for by the biggest corporate interests in America.

By Jake Tapper
Published August 2, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"This next song's going out to Newt Gingrich," bellowed Blues Traveler's John Popper.

"The devil went down to Georgia, he was lookin' for a soul to steal," sang Popper, channeling the Charlie Daniels Band's 1979 hit. "He was in a bind 'cause he was way behind, and he was willing to make a deal."

Popper stood center stage at the Electric Factory, where another infamous dealmaker, House Majority Whip Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, held his political action committee ARMPAC's convention fete. The place was packed with cheese steaks and hoagies, bottle after bottle of Jack Daniel's, and sweaty, more than occasionally girthy, young lily-white Republicans.

Free of the constraints of those annoying campaign finance laws, special interest after special interest has ponied up bucks, booze and grub to curry favor with Republican leaders. And, of course, to have a grand old time.

"Schmooze or Lose," the goody-goodies at Common Cause are calling it, and with good reason. Though the House and Senate passed a ban on gifts exceeding $50, conventions and their surrounding fun-times are exempted.

"The only real action and the only real decisions being made here are occurring in the private receptions held for major leaders of the party and paid for by corporate America," said Common Cause president Scott Harshbarger. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, DeLay's party was underwritten by Coca-Cola, Continental Airlines, Union Pacific and the American Trucking Association.

"The major parties are being held for the major contributors, in parties we don't even read about," Harshbarger said. "Then there's the next group of parties -- about which there is no shame or outrage at all -- where public officials identify completely with corporate sponsors. ... Four years ago we thought there were fundraising scandals on the Dole and Clinton campaigns, and they were treated as scandals. But today, there's no sense of that, there's the sense that this is amusing. There isn't even any pretense about it."

Attendees could pony up $25,000 if they wanted to meet Popper -- tremendously disturbing news to my oldest friend Dan, a Philly-boy, Democrat and Blues Traveler fan from way back.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given DeLay's prickly demeanor and mutually hostile relationship with the media, few of the 2,000 or so at the Electric Factory were reporters. Sure, there were a few National Reviewers hither and yon, and a Wall Street Journalist or two, but generally the rage was for the party faithful.

And as if on cue, when Popper began singing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre strode in from stage left.

I approached him a few minutes later to ask the obvious: "You packing heat?"

LaPierre laughed. He also didn't answer.

Across the city at the Spectrum -- the former home of the Flyers and 76ers, back when they actually won championships -- Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin held his Mardi Gras 2000 party.

Underattended, according to Salon's designated party correspondent/Weekly Standard writer Matthew Labash, the Mardi Gras featured some of the Neville Brothers. Notably, instead of the traditional Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler quid-pro-quo of beads for a flash of boob, Tauzin -- currently embroiled in a tight race for House Commerce Committee chairman -- had his party paid for by many of the same interests whose interests regularly come before the Commerce Committee: Bell South, America Online, Viacom, News Corp. and Philip Morris.

Wednesday night -- while the World Wrestling Federation's "The Rock" is opening the convention session alongside House Speaker Dennis Hastert -- even more high-priced balls, bashes, blowouts and boogaloos will go down. Nuclear, gas and mining interests will throw a barbecue for Texas Rep. Joe Barton, whose staffers are occasionally and randomly drug-tested.

One of the most in-demand tickets is the one being held for Florida Rep. Mark Foley, chair of the House Entertainment Industry Task Force at the Shampoo nightclub featuring Jon Secada and paid for by the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America and Walt Disney Co., among others.

"It's hard to believe that this sponsorship is occurring because they personally know, support and like Representative Foley as a person," Harshbarger said. "He is the chairman of a major committee; before him they have to do business. ... This is going to be repeated in Los Angeles with some different players, but -- it's interesting -- you'll find many of the same corporations giving to both parties. What we're seeing here is a microcosm of what politics has become."

And just as I cover American politics for you wherever it may occur, faithful and gentle reader, so too will I continue to cover these microcosms. Cheers!

Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

MORE FROM Jake Tapper

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Newt Gingrich Tom Delay