The “hope and change” mantra that lifted Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008 raised unrealistic assumptions about his administration that were bound to be debunked after a few years in office. That’s why his re-election campaign strategy is based on demonizing his opponents rather than running on a record of all the “change” he effected. Yet there are some vestiges of the messianic tone of his 2008 run that remain, and one of them is a ban on corporate sponsors at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The ban is a holdover from the rhetoric of four years ago that asserted the Obama candidacy would bring an end to the way lobbyists and big business attempt to influence politics. This was a joke even four years ago as the Democrat raked in record contributions from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street titans and corporate giants. But the 2012 convention in Charlotte will be free of such sponsors, allowing the Democrats to claim they are faithful to their ideals.
However, as the New York Times reports today, the leading local booster and organizer of the Charlotte convention just happens to be the CEO of the nation’s largest energy company, which has been a major beneficiary of the president’s trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle. Duke Energy CEO James E. Rogers claims that he and his company are going all out to help the Democratic jamboree as a matter of local pride. But the company’s costly contributions to the event have raised serious issues about the way it stands to benefit from Obama’s policies, making a mockery of the Democrats’ pose as the opponents of corporate influence. Rather than a tribute to the party’s stand against influence peddling, the lack of other corporate sponsors merely illustrates President Obama’s ongoing hypocrisy about big business and ethics.
Rogers is under fire not so much for the way he has used his perch at the company to help raise money for the Democrats as the manner in which Duke Energy has donated office space and guaranteed a loan to enable the financing of the convention. While as the Times notes, the Democrats sent out a fundraising letter last year with Michelle Obama’s signature promising “a different convention for a different time,” the company’s outsized role as a sponsor combined with the fact that it received $226 million from the president’s stimulus and energy initiatives has exposed the Democrats to both mockery and legitimate complaints.
The problem here is not so much the obvious conflict of interest as Duke Energy, which stands to rake in even more presents from the government if Obama is re-elected, plays host in Charlotte. Rather it is the pretense that the Democrats are trying to cleanse the political system of the influence of money. Even many Democrats admit that it is not possible to eliminate corporate contributions to hold conventions and that the Republicans, who have no such faux restrictions, are being a lot more honest about it this year.
As President Obama has proved during his four years in office, his administration has broken new ground in crony capitalism as the stimulus and other measures poured money from government coffers into the pockets of companies like Solyndra that had a friend in the White House. It is not so much the spectacle of Democratic corruption that grates on the voters but the president’s pose of being above such petty concerns. Contrary to the way it is being sold to the public, the Democratic convention is a tribute to the venality of their candidate, not his ethics.