Signs of Shame?

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Once bitten twice shy? Or actually, bitten quite a few times and now at least marginally chastised: it appears that years of scandal have taken their toll on the party schedule surrounding the Republican National Convention in St. Paul this week. There are still parties-a-plenty put on by lobbying powerhouses and corporations alike but the glitz is a bit more muted this time out.

Conventions present corporations and the lobbyists who work for them with a captive audience of politicos in the mood to schmooze and set adrift in a strange city. Surrounded by flag-printed everything, amped on party rhetoric, and completely divorced from anything like a regular sleep schedule convention attendees are wooed from party to party and at every fete professional persuaders seek out a few private moments with legislators and their staffers to make their case for this corporate tax break or that deregulation bill. And they pay top dollar for that time:

Congress watcher Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute says the convention's corporate sponsors also see the convention as an extension of the lobbying activities that over the past 10 years have seen expenditures for Washington lobbying double to $2.8 billion.

The convention party scene "is all part of their arsenal for reaching out and having people see their lobbyists and their executives as friends," he says.

Says University of Pennsylvania Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson: "If you worry about money in politics, this is something to be concerned about. And I worry about money in politics."

Put all the restrictions you want on the dimension and method of delivery for the food you'll serve, and on the semantics of the invitation language -- it's still buying access plain and simple.