After a historical and exhilarating primary season, with unprecedented voter turnout and grassroots activism, some great venues at the Democratic Convention in Denver next week will offer the kinds of ideas for change that people want to believe in.

The Nation will be there, moderating daily forums on issues like Iraq, healthcare, economic justice, and immigration reform with progressive leaders such as Representatives John Conyers, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, Keith Ellison, Robert Wexler, Hilda Solis, Jim McGovern, and others.

Campaign for America’s Future will rally to “Take Back America” with the likes of Senator Sherrod Brown, Representatives Jan Schakowksy, Barbara Lee, and Donna Edwards.

Bloggers and progressive activists will make their presence known, and continue to lay the groundwork for an inside-outside strategy should Senator Barack Obama win in November.

And, of course, when he accepts the party’s presidential nomination before 75,000 people at Invesco Field at Mile High, Senator Obama will be taking an important step toward making this a People’s Convention.

But it’s only a step.

In the stadium crowd, for example, will be Rochester billionaire and registered Republican Tom Golisano who was given a skybox and 50 tickets for his $1 million donation to the Democratic National Convention host committee.

In fact, as the New York Times wrote in an editorial on Wednesday, the Republican and Democratic conventions “will be largely paid for by private, unlimited donations from corporations, deep-pocketed donors and (a few) unions that shop 24/7 for privileged government access…. More than $112 million is expected from private donors–by far the lion’s share of the cost of the two conventions.”

A loophole in campaign finance laws allows for unlimited soft money contributions to the convention host committees. A study by the Campaign Finance Institute and the Center for Responsive Politics reveals at least 173 organizational donors to the conventions–“overwhelmingly corporations”–who have spent over $1.3 billion to lobby the federal government since 2005. The number of donors and the amount of money they have given is probably underestimated because disclosure isn’t required until sixty days after the conventions, fundraising is ongoing, and the Republicans have been slow to report their convention backers.

The list of convention underwriters includes corporations in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, insurance, oil and gas, finance, and defense industries… you name it, they are pouring in the cash. Democratic convention funders–many of whom give to the GOP convention as well–include Boeing, Citibank, United Health Group, ConocoPhillips, UBS, Eli Lilly, Lockheed Martin, Wells Fargo, Merck, Verizon, just to name a few. These very same donors will in all likelihood attempt to stand in the way of the kinds of changes we need and that people are voting for.

As Senator Obama might say, we can do better.

Democrats should make sure the next confab isn’t semi-mortgaged to corporations and big money donors. No more skyboxes, no more special tickets for the well-connected. Perhaps a publicly financed system where small donations receive a multiple match might be the reform that is needed.

There’s no hope the GOP will support these good reforms. But come 2012, the Democrats should make sure theirs is truly a People’s Convention.

For more on lobbyists at the DNC, watch Ari Berman’s take below:


Ethan Berkowitz Talks About His Candidacy

My profile piece on Diane Benson continues to attract attention. I was pleased to learn that it had been picked up by the Alaska Daily News, running on page A2.

Hours after my article was posted on, David Shurtleff, the press secretary for Ethan Berkowitz–a former Democratic leader in the Alaska State Legislature and Benson’s opponent in the primary for the state’s single Congressional seat–called and took issue with my characterization that Benson “was the only candidate to immediately release a tough statement criticizing [the FISA bill’s] approval.” They have a point there. Berkowitz released a statement on July 9 that was published in the Alaska Report.

I had based my description on the interview with Ms. Benson and reports (such as this that Berkowitz’s statement had been difficult to locate on his website at the time of the vote. Mr. Berkowitz himself then phoned to set the record straight: “I’ve opposed FISA for a long time, and have said so even prior to written statements. I’ve done it in speaking engagements, I’ve done it repeatedly. Retroactive immunity is absolutely unacceptable…. I’m sorry if people have a hard time navigating my website but it was press released and that’s just the way it goes.”

Shurtleff also took issue with my description of the race as “too close to call” based partly on a Congressional Quarterly article that indicated no favorite. Shurtleff said that the polls showed Berkowitz leading Benson from 10 to 27 points. However, at the time of publication on August 4 these polls were not available either through a Google News search or Berkowitz’s own website. On August 1, the Swing State Project wrote that Benson is “very much in the race.” However, a poll released on August 11 does show Berkowitz with a 29-point lead over Benson (and a 34-point lead on August 14).

Since we were on the phone, I asked Berkowitz to talk a bit about what progressive voters needed to know about him. He said, “I’ve got the support of the Humans Right Campaign, I’ve got the support of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. I have ten years in the state legislature in Alaska, eight as a Democratic leader, and every single social issue that came up I fought hard for and fought on the right side of. And so I’ve got a track record that has been battle tested and proven. And any insinuation to the contrary is just–it’s just campaign tactics and it’s just inaccurate…. The one other thing that I think is important to note is I’ve been right out front talking about the need to develop renewable energy and address climate change. I did it when I was in the State Legislature and I did it in the private sector. I set up my own renewable energy company. So, this is something that I know a lot about, I’m passionate about, and it’s been a centerpiece of the campaign.”

As to criticisms levied at his campaign for taking lobbyist money, Berkowitz said, “I’d say go look at my FCC reports. If I have any lobbyists’ money it’s from Alaskan lobbyists and that’s it. And what they’re trying to do is draw linkage to the fact that I’ve had support from Members of Congress, and from their leadership PACs–and those leadership PACS, I don’t go solicit funds from them. But, to me when you have members of Congress support you it’s an indication that they think you’re gonna be an effective voice in Congress. So, I think they’re making a whole lot of something out of nothing and it’s more in the line of sour grapes than anything else.”

Finally, Berkowitz wanted The Nation to know a bit about his own life story. “I’ve spent three seasons in the Antarctic. And that was a pretty important thing as far as giving me personally something to talk about. I’ve commercial fished. And I’ve lived a good Alaska life. And, so, I appreciate that Diane Benson has an interesting life story. There’s a lot of Americans who do–she’s not the only one.”

Berkowitz closed by saying, “I’m looking forward to a long and fruitful discussion with you over many, many years.”