Reporter Todd Ruger covered the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., for The National Law Journal, where he hung out with lobbyists on the make, caught the big speeches and talked to lawyer/delegates about why the convention mattered to them. For more of his dispatches, and those of NLJ reporter Andrew Ramonas, who covered the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., with Ruger, please visit http://legaltimes.typepad.com/.
Taking on ‘Citizens United’
In his September 6 speech accepting the Democratic nomination for a second term in the White House, Obama targeted lobbyists and the U.S. Supreme Court for one-line criticisms.
Obama’s speech focused on the economy and jobs, taxes, the deficit and foreign policy and never mentioned the Supreme Court directly. But one of his first lines was a subtle dig on the Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which opened a flood of corporate donations into the election from contributors who can remain hidden.
“The truth gets buried under an avalanche of money and advertising. If you’re sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me — so am I,” Obama said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
And near the end of the speech, Obama connected the influence of money in politics to lobbyists, calling upon his party’s voters to hit the polls on November 6.
“If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void: lobbyists and special interests; the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are making it harder for you to vote; Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health care choices that women should make for themselves,” Obama said.
During a reception brunch just a block away from the arena where the Democratic National Convention was held, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) pressed a camera to his face and leaned back to photograph Tony Podesta, a lobbyist who runs the Podesta Group.
Next to Leahy stood a cameraman for ABC News, who had kept his video camera trained on Podesta as he greeted the crowd of corporate bigwigs from Nestlé and Wal-Mart and more than a dozen members of Congress, including Democratic senators Christopher Coons (Del.), Ben Cardin (Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).
“It’s a fun opportunity to convene and have our friends meet each other,” Podesta said .
The September 4 party was among the first of many hosted by law firms and lobbyist groups in Charlotte in venues surrounding the arena where President Barack Obama accepted his party’s nomination for the White House. Other events included a September 4 dinner at a posh steak house with attorneys from Alston & Bird, which has a big presence in Charlotte, and a late-night bash the same evening for the Democratic Governors Association sponsored by McGuireWoods.
Frank Emory Jr. usually uses his powers of persuasion on juries and judges, but his audience at the Democratic convention kick-off party was a little different: 350 senior officials from countries around the globe. The Charlotte- and D.C.-based Hunton & Williams partner hosted prime ministers and other heads of government during a reception for the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit that works to strengthen democracies.
As chairman of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Emory was there to convince the foreign officials that the city is a great place to locate a business. He told them how the convention shows the genius of the American system. He said he talked about how peaceful protesters can express their views and the little guy can stand up to the powerful.
Emory’s closing argument: Charlotte is a place that has always played above its weight, doing things people don’t expect, like landing NFL and NBA teams. “When we said we were going to go after the DNC, they laughed out loud,” he said. “And yet here we are.”
Spreading the Word
While serving as a Virginia delegate to the Democratic convention, Washington lawyer Patrick Mulloy spread the word about what he thinks is one of the country’s biggest problems: trade deficits.
On the convention floor, Mulloy, who serves on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, took a break from watching the action on stage to explain: The trade deficit has run to $4 trillion during the past 10 years, and that is detrimental to the American economy, he said. “Why is trade not discussed more?” he asked. “The people of this country know something bad is happening.”
Mulloy has been to conventions before. But he said the delegate floor pass he secured this time meant he didn’t have to search for a way into restricted areas. For example, Mulloy said, he walked across the floor on one occasion to speak with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, was to take the podium the next night. “It’s easier to get access,” he said.