- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2000

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) The 30 sponsors of a bash in this oceanside city thrown by the conservative House Democrats known as the Blue Dogs included a few unlikely names: the National Rifle Association, Philip Morris, U.S. Tobacco and the Cigar Association of America.
Even as Al Gore calls for federal regulation of tobacco and congressional Democratic leaders push for new gun laws, even as a full-page NRA newspaper ad asks, "Do Democrats want to destroy the Second Amendment," the tobacco and gun lobbies are helping finance parties during the Democratic National Convention.
NRA lobbyist James Jay Baker said Blue Dogs were among the 45 to 55 congressional Democrats who supported gun owners' rights.
"We support those folks who support us," Mr. Baker said. "Without those 45 to 55 Democrats that vote pro-gun in the United States Congress, we wouldn't have had the good legislative results that we've had so far."
While the NRA's sponsorship was limited to the Blue Dog Bash, Philip Morris was sponsoring several other parties, including helping to fund the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee activities.
In addition, the law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, which lobbies on behalf of Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and U.S. Tobacco, is helping to finance the Democratic National Committee events for its biggest donors.
"In order to best represent our 55,000 employees in the United states and millions of shareholders, we really want to participate in the political process in a bipartisan fashion," Philip Morris spokeswoman Peggy Roberts said. "We are willing and eager to share ideas and to have a dialogue, even with public officials who may not see things our way."
At the same time, the Los Angeles host committee for the Democratic convention refused to accept funding from tobacco companies, as did Mr. Gore's presidential campaign.
"This is the issue of hypocrisy," said Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger, whose advocacy group favors overhauling campaign finance laws. "This is a party that says, 'We're going to fight these interests,' but in the dark of night, who's paying for these receptions?"
One of the Blue Dogs, Rep. Max Sandlin of Texas, said the companies weren't getting anything special for their donations.
"It's just an opportunity to participate in the system," Mr. Sandlin said. "It's an opportunity for people to get together and talk."
On a pier jutting into the Pacific Ocean, thousands of delegates and other invitees made their way past protesters to the party. They dined on blue corn dogs, fish tacos, onion rings and brownies; listened to singer Patty Loveless; picked up bags of popcorn or servings of cotton candy from old-fashioned push carts; and drank Pepsi (another corporate sponsor) and Miller Lite, a Philip Morris product.
They could ride the roller coaster or the bumper cars, win a stuffed blue dog by sinking baskets or knocking over bottles and go home with boxes of donkey-shaped Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (another Philip Morris product).
And just in case the partygoers weren't sure who their hosts were, they were greeted by six giant signs thanking the corporate sponsors.
Miss Roberts, the Philip Morris spokeswoman, emphasized that her company, which also owns Kraft and Miller Brewing and is buying Nabisco, was much more than just a tobacco concern.
"We have many, many issues that we feel need to be addressed in the political process," Miss Roberts said. "In order to best represent our 55,000 employees in the United States and millions of shareholders, we really want to participate in the political process in a bipartisan fashion."


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