Political Parties Get Tricky

This year, things will be a bit different at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions as corporations and convention party planners try to arrange soirees while toeing the line with new ethics rules.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 prohibits lobbyists from paying for gifts, including meals and music, for members of Congress and their staffs, according to the New York Times. This means that instead of lavish receptions and elegant dinners, Congress members can snack on finger foods and can still enjoy brand-name musical entertainment – but this year will pay for it.

Based on information collected by lobbying firm Quinn Gillespie and Associates, the two conventions are collectively holding 370 parties, many sponsored by trade associations, lobbying firms and major corporations like Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Bank of America, Citigroup and Eli Lilly.

Planning all of these parties hasn’t come easy as the new law isn’t exactly straightforward and contains numerous loopholes.

Under some circumstances, breakfasts are limited to bagels, rolls and croissants, with proteins like eggs off limits.

Lobbyists can not pay for meals, tickets to events and entertainment but these gifts can be accepted if provided by the Cities of St. Paul or Denver or if part of a fund-raising event is sponsored by the parties themselves, according to the New York Times.

There are different rules for events deemed to be “widely attended” – something that has more than 25 diverse attendees but is not a ballgame or concert.

“People are trying to organize parties around conflicting and inscrutable rules,” said Jan Baran, a campaign finance expert at Wiley Rain, a Washington law firm, according to the paper. “It drives the lawyers crazy to give advice. We are having to decide if a group is a cover band, a string quartet or a name band.”

To comply with the act, attendees wanting to catch a Beach Boys show at a corporate event at the RNC will have to fork over $25. Money is also being collected for a party featuring K.C. & The Sunshine Band.

At a party put on by Medtronic, a medical technology company in Minneapolis, guests can stand and mingle rather than sit and dine on “small-plate finger food.” There’s also entertainment – Hot on Broadway, a touring company of “Jersey Boys,” the Tony Award-winning musical – that members of Congress can enjoy for $35.

Other acts being featured at the RNC September 1-4 are Styx, Sammy Hagar, Gretchen Wilson, Cowboy Troy and John Rich of Big & Rich.

Democrats in Denver August 25-28 were expected to be treated to Rage Against the Machine, Willie Nelson, Melissa Etheridge, Cyndi Lauper and Rufus Wainwright.

The nonpartisan group Rock the Vote was expected to hold a kickoff event in Denver for both conventions with a concert by Fall Out Boy, Jakob Dylan and others.

Meanwhile, although Toby Keith hasn’t signed up to perform at the DNC, the country singer famous for his Ameri-gasmic, post-9/11 song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” has always stressed he is a conservative Democrat. To that effect, he’s jumped on the sea of change, recently saying Sen. Barack Obama is “the best Democratic candidate we’ve had since Bill Clinton.”