Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Conventions Lose Appeal for D.C. Lobbyists

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The Democratic and Republican national conventions have lost their luster this year. Many lobbyists say the only thing they will get out of this year’s events in Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., (above) is a sunburn.

With just three weeks remaining before the Tampa convention kicks off Aug. 27, convention dance cards are noticeably lighter than in years past, as companies team up with charities to host events or scuttle them all together.

There are K Streeters who still want to play: Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti plans to ferry clients around Tampa in a luxury bus equipped with a disco ball, and Republican lobbyist Ari Storch is hosting a charity golf tournament at TPC Tampa Bay. Still, many others said the risks are too high.

Lobbyists fear political trackers fielded by groups such as the American Bridge, a Democratic opposition research organization, might catch camera footage of Republicans flirting with corporate America.

“It’s becoming more and more dangerous to have your name out there,” another Republican consultant said. “It’s better to be under the radar.”

That is especially true for in-house corporate lobbyists.

General Motors, for example, contributed $200,000 to each party’s host committees in 2008 and sent 735 cars to the two events combined, according to data compiled by the Campaign Finance Institute.

This year, the automaker is sitting out the conventions.

“Right now our energies are fully focused on designing, building and selling cars,” the company said in a statement. “Our presence at the conventions is at a level that reflects that focus.”

It’s a similar story for banks and other financial institutions, still reeling from the 2008 financial meltdown, according to industry lobbyists.

Defense firms in particular are trying to avoid any extra expenses, with the prospect of $500 billion in automatic cuts to the Pentagon budget looming next year. Many firms are focusing their efforts on protecting their projects from the cuts.

“They are all looking to cut costs across the board,” said one Republican defense lobbyist who is not attending his party’s convention. “They are not even attending some key trade shows, so they are even more reluctant to spend resources on the conventions.”

Still, service-oriented companies such as Coca-Cola, AT&T, Microsoft and UPS, official sponsors of the GOP convention in Tampa, continue to view the conventions as powerful branding opportunities.

Lobbyists at several of those companies said they were going for marketing purposes, not to influence the political conversation.

Coca-Cola plans to send at least three lobbyists from its Washington, D.C., office, as well as several state-based lobbyists, to both conventions. The company is one of several official sponsors of the GOP convention in Tampa.

It has also made a financial commitment to a Democratic committee through a sister nonprofit, dubbed New American City Inc., that can accept corporate contributions.

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