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Party Time '08 -- A Star-Studded Democratic Convention

Besides obsessing over the lineup of prime time speakers, national convention planners in both parties are frenetically orchestrating the behind-the-scenes fun -- the real reason why people go to these events: to party.

More than just coronating their respective presidential nominees, the Republican and Democratic national conventions have long been bastions of booze-and-schmooze infused celebrations, where influence peddlers wine and dine the masses and rub elbows with the folks they hope will become the government's power brokers for the next four years. And even though a new lobby disclosure law is putting a bit of a damper on the logistics and degree of largess bestowed by corporations looking to cozy up to the next potential administration, never fear, partygoers. There'll still be plenty of entertainment and late-night partying in both Denver and Minneapolis.

First up, the Democratic National Convention in Denver, which begins, Monday, Aug. 25. Among the big-name performers likely to make a splash in the Mile High City are hip-hop king Kanye West, reggae/hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean and the rap/rock fusion band N.E.R.D.

A host of silver-screen and TV actors are also expected to be in Denver, according to convention sources, including: the ubiquitous Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, Warren Beatty and wife Annette Bening, Forrest Whitaker, Maggie Gyllenhaal (who stars with the late Heath Ledger and Sen. Patrick Leahy in the new Batman movie "The Dark Knight"), Cheryl Hines (of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," a Sleuth fave) and Ed Norton Jr.

The slew of corporate sponsors of the Democratic National Convention include United Airlines, Google, Coors Brewing Company, Anheuser-Busch, Xcel Energy and telecom giants Motorola, Qwest and -- a brand you'll see plastered all over the place in Denver -- AT&T.

As the "official wireless provider" of the Democratic National Convention, AT&T will be helping to sponsor a number of parties over the four days, including a bash for Bono's One Campaign. We hear that the One Campaign, in conjunction with the Recording Industry Association of America, is close to sealing a deal with Kanye West to perform at the event. (Something tells us Kanye won't be performing at the GOP convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Remember his "George Bush doesn't care about black people" riff after Hurricane Katrina?)

Of course AT&T can now focus on the fun side of the convention, thanks to congressional passage last week of the domestic spying bill. With its key telecom immunity provision -- supported by the flip-flopping presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama -- the company no longer has to worry about all those pesky lawsuits it faced for helping the Bush administration snoop on its unsuspecting customers.

MTV and Rock the Vote are also expected to host a party headlining N.E.R.D. and Wyclef Jean.

While he won't give specifics on entertainers and celebrities who will be attending, Chris Lopez, a spokesman for the Democratic convention's host committee, tells the Sleuth, "We are expecting both the A-List of Hollywood as well as citizens from across the country to show up in Denver and enjoy the convention ... There will be something for everyone to enjoy and participate in. It will be an amazing week that will culminate with the historical nomination of Barack Obama at Invesco Field on Thursday evening, Aug. 28."

The challenge for party throwers, given the constraints of the tough new ethics rules, is in hosting events that aren't just primarily concerts but that meet the "reception exception" under the law. In other words, a hot entertainer who ordinarily charges beaucoup bucks at any other venue can't just give away his or her concerts for free at a lobbyist-sponsored convention party where members of Congress and Hill staffers abound.

Rob Walker, a former chief counsel of both the House and Senate ethics committees, says the concert can't masquerade as a reception. "It can't be a concert calling itself a reception," he says.

Walker, now a lawyer with the firm Wiley Rein, notes that corporations and other entities that retain or employ lobbyists are skittish about sponsoring parties now that they face potential criminal and civil penalties if they knowingly give a gift that may not be acceptable under the gift rule. "This certainly accounts for the reluctance to donate to some of these things," he says.

Next up in the "Party TIme '08" series: the GOP convention in Minneapolis.

By Mary Ann Akers  |  July 14, 2008; 12:40 PM ET
Categories:  Party Time '08  
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