CHARLOTTE — Bill Clinton, Harry Reid and Elizabeth Warren will all be at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next month.
So will Wal-Mart, Discover Financial and CSX.
While delegates conduct the Democratic Partys business in Time Warner Cable Arena, those and other sponsors with a business or political agenda will put on hundreds of private events, from raucous parties to staid policy seminars.
To help them get the most out of it and stay on the right side of ethics rules a small but growing number of Washington-based political consultants and attorneys have turned their attention to Charlotte.
Everybody has a mission to promote their message or their cause at the convention, said LeeAnn Petersen, a political consultant at Conventions 2012, which is advising companies on how to get their message out, both in Charlotte and in Tampa, Fla., site of the Republican National Convention.
Its clients for the DNC include consumer product mainstays like General Mills and Johnson & Johnson, as well as Bacardi, the Home Shopping Network and the NBA, according a list on the firms website. Companies like these will sponsor events, promote products and rub elbows with lawmakers when they come to Charlotte in the first week of September.
The Democratic Party has decided not to accept corporate money to put on the convention itself, but some government watchdog groups say the corporate world will have outsized influence anyway. Private events drawing prominent guests outside Time Warner Cable Arena give companies the chance to influence policy, build good will in Washington or simply draw attention to their new products.
Theyre not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, said Bill Allison, editorial director of the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation. Theyre doing it because theyre trying to improve their standing in Washington.
Trade associations, which represent groups of companies, dont have a product to promote. Theyll focus instead on portraying their industries in a positive light for the political leaders gathered there.
These consultants and attorneys have taken on added importance in recent years as state and federal ethics laws have become tighter.
Free-for-all parties have given way to more coffees, lunches and policy forums.
Evening receptions, too, are more carefully scripted. One notable ethics rule prohibits congressmen or staffers from accepting meals. Appetizers, though, are OK.
Dunn: 704-358-5235 Twitter: @andrew_dunn