State Democrats feeding from hands they're biting

The campaign pep talk for the Connecticut delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. came from the host, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. But the drinks were on the worldwide beverage company, Diageo.

"I've got to say the liquor here is not bad, either," Malloy said Monday, the opening day of the convention. "We very much appreciate it, our friends who are supporting this event, very much appreciated. You have some of the best beers and best liquor available."

On Tuesday, the delegates cheered Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic national chairwoman, as she decried the influence of special interest money at the GOP convention.

Her audience was dining on AT&T's tab.

Corporate underwriting was alive and well in Charlotte last week, just as it was in Tampa during the prior week's Republican convention - though Schultz argues that the scale is different, as is transparency and public access.

AT&T is a major convention sponsor, as well as picking up the cost of smaller hospitality events for groups like the Connecticut delegation, which began each day with a 7:30 breakfast at its hotel, the airport DoubleTree.

And that was a problem for one Connecticut delegate, William Henderson, the president of Local 1298 of the Communication Workers of America, whose members are fighting AT&T over a contract in Connecticut.

"This is one breakfast I won't be eating," said Henderson, who stood in the back of the function room as fellow Democrats gathered at a buffet of scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, muffins and bagels. "I won't eat their stuff."

Except he didn't say stuff.

Henderson greeted delegates and guests, who included John R. Emra of Fairfield, an AT&T regional vice president in charge of lobbying the Connecticut General Assembly, with a sheet of paper that said, "AT&T, come on ... bargain a fair contract!"

Some of the delegates accepted the paper with one hand, while holding a cup of AT&T's coffee in the other.

Henderson could enjoy dinner Tuesdays and breakfast Wednesdays and Thursdays. Those meals were courtesy of United Health Care, CPV Inc. and Boehringer Ingelheim.

CPV is an electric-generating company with an office in Massachusetts. Boehringer is a drug company with a major presence in Connecticut.

On Monday, the bill for a Connecticut delegate barbecue at Treehouse Vineyards in Monroe, N.C., was picked up by Pfizer, the world's largest drug company with a major research center in Groton.

On the outing sponsored by Pfizer, one of the hosts accompanying the group was Peter C. Smith, a former Democratic state representative still active in Democratic politics. He also is a lobbyist, whose clients include Pfizer.

U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, who has hosted his share of fundraisers as chairman of the Democratic House caucus, downplayed the corporate underwriting as he looked over the breakfast buffet line, stabbing a piece of fruit with a fork.

"As long as it's transparent and it's recorded and you know where it comes from, that is a fact of life," Larson said.

Malloy was elected as Connecticut's first publicly financed governor, but he has not been shy about raising money from some of the same sponsors in his role as finance chairman for the Democratic Governors Association.

Like Larson, Malloy shrugged off the role of corporate sponsors, calling the hospitality suites, meals and goodie bags underwritten at Charlotte a part of the fabric of political conventions.

"That's what conventions are. It's like baying at the moon, to some extent," Malloy said. Then he laughed and suggested his hands are clean. "I am moving so quickly, I don't get to eat or drink anyway, so what's the difference?"

This story originally appeared at CTMirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror, an independent, non-profit news organization covering government, politics and public policy in the state.

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