It takes millions of dollars to put on a convention. While taxpayers foot some of the bill, corporations and high rollers contribute tens of millions of dollars, and those who give a lot usually expect something in return.
Critics of our election laws say that's a big problem and would like to see more transparency when it comes to political donations.
"We have two new huge players on the scene, corporations and unions. And the disclosure rules are still in tatters," says Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, an assistant professor at Stetson University College of Law. She's an expert in election law and believes the Federal Election Commission is not doing enough to prevent private donors from heavily influencing political parties and candidates.
"Part of the post-Watergate reform was this attempt to get money and especially corporate money out of politics," but it hasn't worked, says Torres-Spelliscy. "Almost as soon as the post-Watergate reforms were put in place, they were immediately challenged in court and those court challenges have continued to this day."
Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Joe Chillura spent more than two decades in politics and has seen the problem up close.
"It's very easy to figure out. You have $50,000 donors sitting at a table for the presidential candidates. If I send in $50 dollars $100 or even $500, it's a pittance compared to what the large corporations are paying into the system," Chillura said
Congress recently passed new ethics rules that were supposed to help cut down on influence peddling at political parties, but there are plenty of loopholes. So corporations, unions and wealthy individuals can still make unlimited donations for certain purposes to host committees which are supposed to be non-profit and non-partisan.
"If you want to have a big footprint on a political convention, there are many ways to give large checks to the host convention," says Torres-Spelliscy.
Under FEC laws, we only know who gave what and how it was spent after the fact. Spending for the RNC host committee topped $50 million in 2008 from private donations, and 2012 here in Tampa is expected to be in the same neighborhood. As a result, Chillura believes, "When all is said and done, big business, you know, calls the shots."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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