The influence diaries: Dispatches from the Republican National Convention

GOP convention

Michael Beckel / The Center for Public Integrity

The Center for Public Integrity’s money-in-politics reporting team is bringing you news from the Republican National Convention — focusing on special-interest influence, big-money politicking and corporate schmoozing.

Editor’s note: The Center for Public Integrity’s money-in-politics reporting team is bringing you news from the Republican National Convention — focusing on special-interest influence, big-money politicking and corporate schmoozing. Senior political reporter Dave Levinthal is on the ground in Cleveland.


6:24 p.m. Saturday, July 16: On Wednesday evening, AT&T, agriculture titan Cargill and liquor giant Diageo are among the sponsors of “A Celebration of Diversity” — a festive gathering at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium that will fete several minority- or women-focused government relations/lobbying organizations: Washington Government Relations Group, Hispanic Lobbyists Association), H Street, Q Street, Women in Government Relations and Professional Women in Advocacy.

Lobbyists aren’t normally a shy bunch. But they’re apparently not in the mood for celebrating diversity with people who might … report on their celebrating. “I am sorry but the sponsors of the event do not wish to invite press to attend,” event associate LeeAnn Petersen told the Center for Public Integrity.

Here’s what we do know, according to an invitation: a top-shelf “platinum” event sponsorship scores you “premier visibility on all marketing materials associated with the event including invitations, flyer and signage at the event,” as well as a “speaking role” and 25 event tickets.

In addition to celebrating diversity in general, the event is designed to “recognize elected leaders who come from or support diverse backgrounds and constituencies.” Organizers are certain to point out that the event is “planned to comply with all laws and Congressional Ethics Rules.” The same groups are also gathering during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Asked about Cargill’s event sponsorship, spokesman Pete Stoddart told the Center for Public Integrity: “We are sponsoring this event at both the Republican and Democratic conventions to advance and promote inclusion and diversity in the workplace.” He declined to say whether Cargill requested the event be closed to the press. Representatives for AT&T and Diageo did not return requests for comment.

— Dave Levinthal


2:47 p.m., Saturday, July 16: Fly into Cleveland Hopkins International Airport on a Saturday morning flight from Washington, D.C., the weekend before the Republican National Convention, and you’ll see plenty of familiar faces.

Over there is CNN’s Jake Tapper graciously taking selfies with a young fan as he waits at the United Airlines baggage claim.


And here’s PBS News Hour’s Judy Woodruff, stretching her legs with a small entourage after enduring a ride in the decidedly claustrophobic coach section.

One thing you won’t find? Almost anything to do with Donald Trump, who’s set to formally accept the Republican presidential nomination later this week at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.

In this Trump-free zone, there are no massive banners. No gaudy imagery. Even toothy Trump t-shirts or Donald-themed swag are nowhere to be found.

Based on initial airport impressions alone, it’d seem equally plausible that some politico other than Trump — Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, Wendell Willkie — is headlining the upcoming Republican National Convention.

Or maybe basketball royalty LeBron James, whose face is everywhere. Or the cape-clad Man of Steel, who lords over an exhibition that declares, “Did you know Superman was created in Cleveland?”

The Cleveland 2016 Host Committee — a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization designed to raise money (latest: it’s begging GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson for cash) and manage Republican National Convention affairs — itself has rolled out a decidedly minimalistic red carpet.

Arriving convention delegates, journalists, political operatives and assorted lobbyists and will see some maroon-and-blue “We the people welcome you to Cleveland” signs and perhaps be greeted with a free bottle of water from a friendly volunteer in a white host committee polo shirt featuring the logo of AT&T — one of the major companies lending its brand and services to the Republican National Convention.

Many other major corporations, though, have kept a lower profile here at the airport, which fits a pattern for many special interests: don’t be too obvious when supporting the Republican National Convention and a shoot-from-the-mouth candidate in Trump who has taken more than a couple of controversial policy stances.

That doesn’t so much apply to local companies. Several arriving conventioneers, for example, seemed genuinely impressed by a billboard sponsored by Ohio-based Duck Tape brand duct tape.

—   Dave Levinthal


1:40 p.m., Saturday, July 16: The Republican convention committee may be scrambling to raise a final few million dollars for the show, but corporations, unions and special interests have already given tens of millions of dollars toward businessman Donald Trump’s official anointing as the Republican presidential nominee.

The Cleveland host committee — a nonprofit organization that exists to fund and operate the Republican convention — doesn’t have to reveal its donors until 60 days after the convention. But the Center for Public Integrity has already unearthed some major backers, including KeyCorp, which is based in Cleveland.

Some companies have pulled back, nervous about the controversial nominee. Others are finding quieter ways to give — such as sponsoring private parties that don’t have to be disclosed, but allow them to rub elbows with lawmakers. Want to hear Rascal Flatts or Kip Moore? Sorry — invitation only.

For more, check out our story here — and remember, we’ll be on the lookout for special interest influence throughout the convention.

— Carrie Levine

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