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For many politically connected law and lobbying firms, the Democratic National Convention this week isn’t so much about the Party as it is about the parties. The real action at the convention is not on the floor, where everything has been scripted months in advance. It’s at the social gatherings. And although law firms probably won’t be bagging new clients there, sponsored events are opportunities for the firms to get their names out and to show that their partners hobnob with the powerful. “You do events to give yourself visibility,” says Stuart Pape, managing partner of Patton Boggs. “That’s part of a branding campaign for a firm like ours.” In Boston, where the convention begins Monday and ends Thursday evening with John Kerry’s acceptance speech, the parties are coming in all shapes and sizes: receptions, brunches, midnight snacks, dinner dances. Most are designed to thank political supporters, to demonstrate a firm’s proximity to power and, not incidentally, to let the good times roll. Take Pape’s firm, a card-carrying member of the Washington law and lobbying elite. Patton Boggs has long and deep ties to the Democrats. Name partner Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. is the son of two former members of the House of Representatives and a power player in his own right. The firm is co-sponsoring a splashy buffet supper Wednesday at Saint — a hipper-than-thou nightspot in the Copley Plaza Hotel where $11 martinis are the norm. Sponsors are tight-lipped about what this type of affair can cost. But a high-end Washington event planner says an evening event for several hundred people in a swank location can easily run to $100,000 and above. At the Patton Boggs party, the guest list might be the main attraction. The firm is honoring the Massachusetts congressional delegation — which includes, of course, Kerry, and Kerry’s campaign confidant and fellow senator, Edward Kennedy. The firm’s co-sponsor for the reception is MassMutual Financial Group, a longtime client. “It’s natural for us to partner with them, and it’s natural to honor the Massachusetts delegation, which is the home state delegation of the convention and the delegation that is associated with the presidential nominee,” says Pape. Patton Boggs, of course, is not the only politically savvy firm that has put together an invitation-only event at the convention. On July 27, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld is holding a brunch at the Algonquin Club honoring New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the convention’s chairman who had been on the short list of possible running mates for Kerry. Akin Gump partner Joel Jankowsky says he sees the brunch as a follow-up to an event at the 2000 Democratic convention in Los Angeles honoring name partner Robert Strauss. “We anticipate an every-four-year event,” says Jankowsky, head of the firm’s government relations practice. “Bob Strauss was chair of the Democratic National Committee, and honoring Bill this time is a very natural thing for us to do. His contribution to the party is well known, and he’s a friend of many people in the firm.” Also competing for attention Tuesday are Reed Smith and Hogan & Hartson, which are both supporting “Our Big Fat Ethnic Party” at Meze Restaurant, a Greek eatery near the FleetCenter, home of the convention. The event is intended to honor “America’s ethnic leaders,” according to an invitation in Greek-styled lettering. Other sponsors of the event include Black Entertainment Television, the Polish-American community, the Serbian American Institute, Industrial Bank, and Gristede’s, a New York-based supermarket chain. Another sponsor is the D.C. Voting Rights and Political Education Fund, a new nonprofit group intended to educate the public about D.C. residents’ push for greater political power. Judith Harris, managing partner of Reed Smith’s D.C. office, says her firm is also sponsoring an event at the GOP convention in New York next month. Harris says the firm had a straightforward intent in sponsoring the Democratic convention event: “It’s all about Scott.” “Scott” is A. Scott Bolden, a Reed Smith partner who chairs the D.C. Democratic State Committee and is a past president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. Bolden says the event was the brainchild of Christine Warnke, a governmental affairs adviser at Hogan & Hartson who is a convention delegate and wanted to salute diversity in the District and across the nation. “Given that American ethnic leaders permeate the Democratic Party, and given the message of Kerry and [John] Edwards, this kind of event is a good way of getting corporations involved,” says Bolden. But even the most dedicated supporter of ethnic pride may find the scheduled time of the reception a bit daunting: The “big fat appetizers” aren’t served till 10 p.m., and one can network shamelessly until the doors close at 2 a.m. Late-night indulgence is a common focus of the Boston events. The night before the ethnic party, for example, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the American Gas Association are co-sponsoring an evening of dancing at Felt Boston, a fashionable cocktail lounge and billiard club. The entertainment: Los Lobos, the Grammy Award-winning folk-rock band from Los Angeles, and a DJ playing Latin music. The time frame: That familiar 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. slot. Also on Tuesday, at a more normal hour for cocktails, Piper Rudnick is hosting a tribute to former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. Richards is a former senior adviser at the now-defunct firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, many of whose lawyers joined Piper Rudnick in 2002. John Merrigan of Piper Rudnick, who co-chairs the firm’s federal affairs group, says, “We’ve done events for both parties at every convention since the ’90s. This event has been planned for over a year around the themes of politics, real estate, women, party leaders, and major donors, and it gives us a chance to renew our relationship with all of these groups.” If the good times can last till the wee hours, they can also have an early kickoff. At lunch time on Tuesday, Blank Rome Government Relations, a firm whose political contributions have skewed heavily Republican this year, is presenting antipasti and fresh peach Bellinis at Via Matta, a new Italian restaurant. A Bellini is a champagne drink, and Heather Miller Podesta, a principal at the government relations firm, says the idea is to have “a small, special, unique event where people can grab a bite to eat, have a cold drink, and relax with friends.” Podesta says the event was planned as “a thank you from the firm for Blank Rome Government Relations’ clients, friends, and politicians we know.” The firm also sent a copy of Zagat’s guide to Boston restaurants to every Democratic member of Congress, Podesta says, “just to make sure you eat well.” On the convention scene, food for thought seems to be, well, an afterthought. But for those who want to focus on the issues, the American Constitution Society, a D.C.-based organization devoted to promoting liberal values in the law, is holding a July 27 program at the Boston Public Library on “The Constitution at a Crossroads: 2004 and the Future of American Law.” Featured is a star-studded cast of thinkers, including former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger III, Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan, Judith Lichtman of the National Partnership for Women and Families, and professors Laurence Tribe and Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School. The nonprofit ACS will hold a reception after the panel discussion, but spokesman Trooper Sanders doesn’t promise attendees a lavish spread. Nothing more than beer and wine, a few hot appetizers and lots of plates of carrot sticks. “ACS would rather spend its money on programs that make a difference rather than parties,” Sanders says.

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