LOS ANGELES -- Oil, gas and mining interests are throwing a blues bash
for Rep. John Dingell. Heavy-hitters Texaco and Bristol-Myers Squibb are
among 24 companies picking up the tab for an extravagant Mardi Gras-like
celebration for Louisiana Sen. John Breaux. Insurance giant Transamerica is
opening its corporate suite for Rep. Charles Rangel.
While Democrats will be partying all across Tinseltown this week, these
events go far beyond typical convention-week soirees. Each is aimed at the
Democrat who would take over a key committee if the party managed to regain
control of Congress in the November elections.
Each is underwritten by special interests whose business is affected by
''I am certain that was a factor,'' said Daphne Magnuson, a spokeswoman for
the American Gas Association, which is co-sponsoring the reception for
Dingell, the senior Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, whose
oversight includes the energy, health and telecommunications industries.
Joining the gas group in sponsoring the event at the House of Blues is the
Edison Electric Institute, National Mining Association and Nuclear Energy
In the game of goodwill sowing, the Democratic convention provides
corporate America an unparalleled chance to hedge its bets -- just in case
Democrats gain six seats in the House or five seats in the Senate and take
over Capitol Hill again.
''If the Democrats retake control of Congress, then everyone will be their
friend,'' said Larry Makinson, executive director of the Center for
Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign finance.
''But being their friend before they take control probably wins you a
special place in their heart.''
A leading Senate advocate of changing campaign finance laws, Democrat
Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, criticized the special-interest bashes.
''The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of Jefferson, the party
of Jackson, not the party of the big monied interests,'' Feingold told
hundreds of activists gathered just a few blocks away from the Democratic
convention site for the alternative Shadow Convention. ''The real story at
the Democratic convention is legalized bribery and influence peddling.''
Nevertheless, many of Feingold's Democratic colleagues are basking in the
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the Senate Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is to be feted Wednesday at a
breakfast co-sponsored by the 2.5 million-member National Education
Association, the nation's largest teachers' union.
''He has been a longtime supporter of public education,'' NEA spokeswoman
Becky Fleischauer said of Kennedy, winner of the union's Friend of
Education award this year.
Likewise, Enron, an energy and communications company, has taken over a
room in a Santa Monica hotel Tuesday to honor Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New
Mexico, top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Bingaman would ascend to the chairmanship if his party recaptures the
majority. He backs Enron's efforts to deregulate the electric industry.
''We want to make sure Mr. Bingaman knows what our position is, and I think
he supports that position too,'' Enron spokesman Mark Palmer said. ''We
want people to know what we stand for.''
Two-dozen corporations have signed on to co-sponsor a salute to Breaux, in
line to chair a subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee, which has
jurisdiction over health, trade and taxes.
Helping to sponsor ''Mardi Gras Goes Hollywood,'' scheduled for Tuesday
night on the same Paramount Studios lot where the TV series ''NYPD Blue''
and ''Ally McBeal'' are filmed, are the tobacco company Brown & Williamson,
drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb and oil company Texaco.
Jambalaya and gumbo will be on the menu, a procession of Mardi Gras floats
will parade through the streets, and a zydeco band will supply the musical
One of the more active lawmakers will be Rangel, D-N.Y., who would take
control of the House Ways and Means Committee if Democrats recapture the
Transamerica is the sole sponsor of a Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee celebration in Rangel's honor. The insurance company will host
the late-afternoon gathering Wednesday at its Los Angeles offices. Rangel
also was feted at a separate reception Sunday.
In addition, former U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor plans to host a
fund-raiser for Rangel this week. Kantor now works for the lawyer-lobbying
firm of Mayer, Brown & Platt, whose clients include Aetna, America Online
and General Electric.
Rangel's chief of staff, Jim Capel, said the lawmaker is being honored
''because of his effectiveness as a legislator and the leadership he
provides in the Congress,'' not because he is in line to take over a top
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