Sen. Bernie Sanders‘s (I-Vt.) new proposal to prohibit corporate funding of party conventions drew sharp criticism from lobbyists on Monday, with some arguing the move would discourage cities from offering to host the quadrennial gatherings.
Sanders’s plan, unveiled Monday by the Democratic presidential candidate, would ban corporate contributions to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee next July if Sanders is the nominee. If he becomes president, Sanders vowed to shift to mandatory public funding for Democratic and Republican conventions.
“On the substance side, hosting a convention is a major endeavor that can strap the budgets of parties and cities – the money has to come from somewhere and cutting off corporate donations may further depress interest in hosting a convention,” said Stewart Verdery, CEO of public affairs firm Monument Advocacy.
“On the image side, the Democrats always have to balance their populist rhetoric with quieter outreach to the business community – telling companies who would like to partner with the party to take their ball and go home will easily feed into an anti-capitalist motif,” he added.
Seventeen donors funded about 75 percent of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, which included donations of more than $1 million from companies like Comcast, Peco Energy, AT&T, Facebook and Bank of America, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In his proposal, Sanders said lobbyists from donor companies “were everywhere and filled the VIP suites” at the convention, which was held in Philadelphia, home to Comcast and Peco.
None of the companies that contributed more than $1 million responded to requests for comment.
In 2016, the Democratic host committee raised $69.7 million for the convention; the Republican panel raised $65.7 million.
“I don’t think that limiting the ability of corporations to participate in the Democratic process is a good idea,” said lobbyist headhunter Ivan Adler. “Once you head down the slippery slope like this, it’s hard to get back.”
One Republican lobbyist questioned whether big-monied individuals will really be pushed to the sidelines.
“Money is like water. It finds its way. If people want to figure out ways to contribute, they’’ll figure out a loophole,” the lobbyist said.
Sanders’s campaign pushed back on some of the criticism.
“Bernie Sanders is building an unprecedented grassroots campaign to end corruption, and as a nominee would host a grassroots conventions for delegates, party members, teachers, workers, nurses, farmers, and students — corporate lobbyists will never buy influence with Bernie, period,” Josh Orton, Sanders’s national policy director, said in a statement.
Sanders’s plan would also ban all corporate donations for inaugural events and cap the individual donation for inaugurations at $500.
One Democratic lobbyist said this was a “desperate” move by Sanders to gain ground on Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), his chief ideological rival in the Democratic primary.
“Bernie is falling behind Warren and needs to try to be relevant again following her missive on taxing free speech and lobbying; this is simply a game of one-upmanship from a desperate campaign that doesn’t have the ability to draft a 27-page thesis like Warren,” a Democratic lobbyist said.
Warren last week unveiled a plan to tax corporations and organizations that spend $500,000 or more annual on lobbying the federal government, a move that lobbyists argued would be unconstitutional.
End Citizens United, a progressive group that pushes for reforms to end political corruption, applauded Sanders’s proposal for financing party conventions.
“The Senator’s new plan to end the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics builds upon his career-long work to fix our broken political system and take the power away from corporations and mega-donors,” Tiffany Muller, the group’s president, said in a statement.
His plan also includes a massive overhaul of public elections by ending super PACs, abolishing the FEC, banning donations from federal lobbyists and corporations, among other ideas.
Updated at 8:07 p.m.