1. Florida Politics

Party crashers target fundraisers

Published Aug. 30, 2012

TAMPA — Narc. Snitch. Whistle-blower. Tattletale.

None of these monikers bothers the Sunlight Foundation's Keenan Steiner and Liz Bartolomeo.

The pair are self-described "party crashers" for this year's Republican and Democratic conventions. Their mission — locate, obtain access to and ferret out where influence is hiding.

But their plan could be that of any Washington insider looking to fill up their day with events.

On Wednesday, the duo's itinerary included hitting up the YG Network policy talk with Miriam Adelson, followed by an event billed as a "Salute to Pro-Israel Leaders." They also eyed a meet-and-greet put on by conservative grass roots group Freedomworks, a Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, event at Jackson's Bistro and an evening party hosted by the Young Republicans' Maverick PAC.

The only catch — they aren't invited to any of the events.

While the rest of the world's eyes are trained on the convention floor, Sunlight is homing in on private meetings organized for big donors and exclusive events funded by lobbyists, corporations and fundraisers that aren't open to the public.

"We want the public to see that they don't have equal access that the lobbying groups have that are just paying $10,000, and they certainly don't have equal access to Condoleezza Rice like Paul Singer does," Steiner said, referring to the Republican billionaire hedge fund super PAC donor.

Steiner and Bartolomeo have staked out the hotel bar at the Hyatt Regency, just blocks from the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The scene that unfolds is part movie, part reality as Bartolomeo tells it — basically, a large group of men sitting at a table with "stacks, upon stacks" of credentials, sorting through which "A-List" events they'll attend.

For Steiner, his "golden nugget" is Jackson's Bistro, a high-end restaurant with waterside views. But Steiner isn't interested in the restaurant's cuisine. For him it is all about its proximity to the Westin Hotel, the property of choice for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his mega donors.

Getting information on what exactly is happening at Jackson's can be difficult. After trying to take a photo of an "AT&T Welcomes the Illinois Delegation" sign at the restaurant's entrance, Steiner was quickly told there would be no photos.

He is no longer welcome at the Westin either. After seeing mega donor swag for Romney's top tier fundraisers, including silk scarves and a clock engraved with their fundraising level designation, Steiner was abruptly told to leave.

Public Citizen has 50 people on the ground in Tampa looking to suss out corporate influence, including the potentially corrupting role of corporate money in helping finance conventions through the host committee and other events and groups not following the spirit of congressional ethics rules.

Yet groups like America's Energy — a compilation of the Edison Electric Institute, the American Gas Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute — say they are playing by the rules.

The group is hosting events at both the Republican and Democratic conventions.