Dozens of exclusive events played out in high-end venues all over the city: a tea at the Ritz-Carlton, featuring Broadway’s Idina Menzel and Cyndi Lauper. A cocktail party at the Barnes Foundation.
Super PACs and outside political groups also made Philadelphia their playground.
For example, a constellation of groups tied to Clinton ally David Brock hosted a party near the convention arena featuring superstar DJ and producer Diplo.
Corporate sponsors also courted convention delegates at every turn — although not always with the luxurious touches afforded to lawmakers or prominent influence peddlers.
“Yesterday, I ate a lunch at a Pennsylvania delegation lunch that was sponsored by Chevron,” said Daniel Doubet, a Pennsylvania delegate from Erie.
Doubet, who is an organizer for Keystone Progress, an organization that campaigns for progressive policies in Pennsylvania, said he would like to see a system of public financing for campaigns and conventions.
But on Tuesday, he ate the cheese steaks and pasta, because “I’ll do what I have to do to survive” and attending the convention is expensive.
The 'unilateral disarmament' argument
Campaign finance reform advocates, political donors and current and former members of Congress acknowledge the tension between the money-in-politics policies Democrats advocate for and how they conduct themselves at events like the Democratic National Convention.
But most chalk it up to political necessity. Several of them parroted liberals’ favorite campaign finance trope — Democrats can’t be expected to unilaterally disarm in a world of super PACs and secret money — and insisted Democrats must play by existing rules until those rules change.
“As it is now, you operate by one set of rules that incentivizes behavior that involves getting large gifts from donors,” said Nick Nyhart, the president and CEO of Every Voice, a group that advocates for campaign finance reform.
The answer, he said, is to make sure candidates publicly commit to changing it.
Sandy Newman, head of Voices for Progress, another group that advocates for money in politics reform, said, “No one should expect Democrats supporting reform to fight with one hand tied behind their backs by restricting their own fundraising while the other side is fighting a no-holds barred attack with big guns.”
Democrats “will continue to fight for campaign reform and citizen-funded elections while Republicans will work to further erode our campaign finance laws,” said millionaire investor Sean Eldridge, who himself ran for Congress in New York in 2014.
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said it was important to elect Clinton because, as president, she could nominate a Supreme Court justice who would “overturn Citizens United and all the other bad decisions that freed up money from any restriction.”