In spite of poor attendance, watchdog group still concerned about lavish private parties at RNC

Posted at 1:38 PM, Jul 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-20 20:42:28-04

In spite of poor attendance at many parties during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week, a government watchdog group still finds it "troubling" lobbyists work to lure elected leaders to lavish events.

"The question is always, "What do they get in return?" said Sheila Krumholz, executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan organization tracking how money influences politics.

"Certainly a cordial relationship is being developed. That is kind of the basic goal. Just to have friends you can call on when you or clients are in need," she said.

5 On Your Side Investigators gained exclusive access to one of the private parties held during the convention.

We were invited to the Distilled Spirits Council of America's lavish event at the Cuyahoga County Courthouse Monday night.

According to its website, the council is the "national trade association representing the leading producers and marketers of distilled spirits in the United States."

The event featured a top shelf tasting bar, 18-piece band, and dancers.

"This is a chance for us to showcase and build new relationships," said David Gulver, Vice-President for the Distilled Spirits Council of America. 

Approximately 600 local, state and federal leaders were invited to attend, according to Gulver.

Gulver said the council has held similar parties at political conventions for "decades" and have an event planned for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next week.

"This is for an exclusive club of deep pocketed donors and party leaders . . and that exclusivity is party of what's troubling here," said Krumholz.

"Average Americans can't get in. They're not even knowledgeable about what's going on, much less invited to the party," she said.

But when 5 On Your Side Investigator Sarah Buduson asked two members of Congress if they were concerned about the average voter's lack of access, they were unconcerned.

"People have been communicating with each other for 2,000, 5,000 years. It's good that people talk to each other," said U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA.)

"It is not at all," said U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) when asked if the parties paid for access to powerful leaders.

"These are relationships," he said.