Partying With Gustav: Less Than Conventional

Posted September 1, 2008 at 6:10pm

Long before it made landfall in the U.S., Hurricane Gustav already was having an effect on the party scene at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota.

Corporations, lobbyists and party organizers who came to the Twin Cities to schmooze with the party’s political elite quickly recalibrated plans based on grim weather reports. They turned a long list of receptions and late-night parties into fundraisers for hurricane relief.

By the eve of the convention, it became clear that the parties would take a more somber tone.

At a convention kickoff party hosted by health care giant Johnson & Johnson, the company canceled live music and told the crowd of its efforts to help provide health care supplies to hurricane disaster areas.

“We have medical equipment and supplies ready to send to the Gulf,” Johnson & Johnson government relations head Cliff Holland said at the party, which honored the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership.

The band that was to play, Blame It On Jane, is the band of J&J lobbyist Jane Adams. Instead of playing on stage, Adams mingled with the crowd.

“Under the circumstances, we felt it was not appropriate,” Holland said of the live music.

Company executives said they briefly considered canceling the event itself, but they thought it would be too difficult to spread the word to guests.

Main Street Partnership’s president and CEO, former Rep. Charles Bass (N.H.), told the crowd, assembled in a four-story atrium at the law school of University of St. Thomas in downtown Minneapolis, that the scaled-back party would not diminish the importance of the convention’s business: nominating Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as the GOP’s presidential candidate. “We are proud to be here supporting Sen. McCain,” he said.

The Johnson & Johnson party was not bereft of all entertainment. An actor dressed as Abe Lincoln glided through the room, posing for pictures with delegates.

Other events around town were quickly reconfigured to focus on raising money for hurricane victims.

Dan Berger, a lobbyist with the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, said the myriad events his group and its members are hosting this week will include donations to help with hurricane relief.

“There will be Red Cross representatives at most of these events collecting donations,” he said.

It wasn’t just partying at the “Rock the Vote,” Digg and MySpace party Sunday night at the Fine Line Music Cafe. In a break from local bands, organizers reminded partygoers of the need to support the Gulf relief efforts and that they would be on the ground to make sure young people vote in the Gulf Coast area.

Many party organizers also sent e-mails out to guests and sponsors letting them know their events were now focused on charitable efforts.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and his wife held court at the official delegate party at the convention center Sunday, which maintained its lively atmosphere. But Gustav’s impact was clear: Officials from the Republican National Committee were at the event handing out copies of the convention’s reduced opening schedule.

Medical device maker Medtronic made changes to its “Celebration of Medical Technology and Innovation” event held on Monday.

In an e-mail sent to attendees, the company said, “We will utilize this event to raise needed money for hurricane relief efforts, with a goal of raising $250,000. To that end, the American Red Cross will have representatives at our event to receive personal contributions for their relief efforts. The Medtronic Foundation will match the first $125,000 raised during the event and will dedicate those funds to health clinics and health care providers in need as a result of the hurricane.”

Similarly, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States changed its party name from the “Spirits of Minnesota” to the “Spirits of the Gulf Coast.” The final decision to change the party into a fundraiser for the Red Cross was made Sunday morning, according to Frank Coleman of DISCUS. In addition to asking attendees to contribute, the party sponsors were expected to make a sizable donation to the Red Cross as well.

The Grammy Foundation is planning a charity concert Tuesday and an e-mail sent out assures guests it “will be held as scheduled.”

The e-mail continued: “Since it has always been planned as a benefit for The GRAMMY Foundation, the non-profit arm, and MusiCares, the organization that provides assistance to the music community in need, it is now more important than ever to be raising funds for Grammy charities.”

The Grammy e-mail added that “The Grammy Foundation provided more than $4 million in relief to New Orleans musicians after Katrina. This party will benefit those in the music community impacted by Gustav.”

Ditto for a Friends of New Orleans party last night, a charity event sponsored by several companies, including Roll Call.

Gloria Dittus, chair of FONO, wrote in an e-mail that the event’s goal of raising money and focusing on the importance of wetlands restoration was as important as ever. The “event will stay true to these goals and will also provide an opportunity for all attendees to help those affected by the latest storms in the Gulf Coast,” she added.

Other groups were still weighing their options.

LeeAnn Petersen, who is organizing a day at the Minnesota Twins’ Metrodome on Thursday complete with batting practice on the field, said she and the event’s sponsors were considering canceling outright, moving forward as planned or turning the activity into a hurricane relief benefit.

Already, the baseball event was to benefit a charity, the Minnesota Twins Community Fund. But she said organizers were considering diverting most of the money to Gustav efforts.

“I think that’s going to be a theme you’ll see all week,” she said. “We’re all going to look to things we can do to help.”