The Center for Public Integrity obtained the bank records from a lawsuit filed in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in Ohio. To confirm the payments shown in the bank records and to determine the purpose of them, the Center for Public Integrity attempted to reach representatives of the 20 corporations and trade associations named in the records. Of the 20 companies, 15 either declined to comment or did not respond to questions.
Except for Health Care Service Corp., the companies that responded did not offer specific responses about the purpose of the payments to Friends of the House 2016 LLC or detail what they expected to receive in exchange for the payment.
The Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, which oversaw logistics for the Republican National Convention, received $923,100 from the Friends of the House 2016 LLC. The host committee facilitated construction of the “cloakroom” space, said Emily Lauer, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee.
“This type of secure space for dignitaries has been provided at most recent conventions but is not under the control of the Host Committee,” Lauer said in an email. She directed questions about the use of the space, and who had access to it, to Friends of the House 2016 LLC.
But Jeffrey Livingston of Friends of the House 2016 LLC didn’t respond to multiple inquiries from the Center for Public Integrity.
Livingston, a political fundraising consultant whose clients include Ryan, was Friends of the House 2016 LLC’s registered agent, according to Virginia corporate records. A court filing by Livingston’s lawyer said that Friends of the House 2016 LLC was “established to manage and raise funds for hospitality activities and events during the 2016 Republican National Convention.”
A marketing booklet featuring photographs of the “cloakroom” space, credited to contractors Master Plan Design and Joe Mineo Creative, said Ryan’s representatives helped design the space and supervise construction.
Kevin Seifert, a spokesman for Ryan’s congressional campaign committee, said Master Plan Design’s description wasn’t accurate and that Ryan’s office “was not involved in supervising construction or consulted about the design of the cloakroom.”
Friends of the House 2016 LLC wasn’t created on Ryan’s behalf, and Ryan did not raise money for it, Seifert said.
Seifert did not respond to a request to confirm Ryan had access to and used the “cloakroom” space.
Seifert did say the only relationship between Friends of the House 2016 LLC and Ryan for Congress was a single $100 payment to purchase “a decorative item … after the convention had concluded.” He did not respond to a question about what the “decorative item” was.
’One big loophole’
Corporate donors last year faced pressure from activists to scale back their giving to the political conventions, especially the Republican convention. A prime example: Color of Change, an online group that describes itself as a “racial justice organization,” said giving to the convention was tantamount to endorsing Trump.
But national political conventions are legendary opportunities for access to lawmakers, despite ethics reforms Congress passed in the wake of influence peddling scandals. Complex rules govern even the details of events, such as food menus, but often turn on technical points, forcing lawyers to double-check legal advice every four years.
For example, although individual congressional members can’t be honored by special interests, certain delegations of lawmakers can be — and frequently are. The rules for U.S. House members and U.S. senators aren’t identical. And companies have many routes to court those in power, like sponsoring delegations or events that raise money for charity.
“The convention is one big loophole to the limits of corrupting money on politics,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for limits on money in politics. He is not related to House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Friends of the House 2016 LLC appears to have provided companies an especially discreet opportunity to support the GOP convention.
For several of the companies that didn’t otherwise donate cash directly to the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee — a list that includes 12 of the entities listed in the bank records — there was little or no public evidence of their use of corporate dollars to support of the 2016 Republican convention.
For example, Comcast Corp., which wrote a $200,000 check to Friends of the House 2016 LLC, isn’t listed as a donor by the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee.
Neither is Koch Companies Public Sector, which wrote a $100,000 check to Friends of the House 2016 LLC. In fact, a Koch Industries spokesman in June said the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, well-known Republican megadonors, weren’t planning to contribute to the convention at all.
Neither firm responded to a request for comment about the payments to Friends of the House 2016 LLC.
Microsoft gave a $1.8 million in-kind contribution of software to the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, records show, but no cash.
Microsoft explained its decision in an April 2016 blog post by Fred Humphries, corporate vice president of U.S. government affairs for Microsoft. Humphries wrote: “We decided last fall to provide a variety of Microsoft technology products and services instead of making a cash donation” to the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee. Microsoft did contribute cash to the Democratic convention host committee.