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Democratic Convention Fundraising Hosted By Corporate Lobbies, Super PACs

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Gov. Martin O'Malley spoke at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night before his band played at an event sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Gov. Martin O'Malley spoke at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night before his band played at an event sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- "Jeff Bridges, eat your heart out!" yelled Martin O'Malley, clad in a black t-shirt and jeans, before launching into a raucous Irish tune with his band at a Democratic Governors Association event Tuesday. Just an hour earlier, the Maryland governor had spoken to the Democratic National Convention.

One table at the governors' gathering was notably reserved for the American Petroleum Institute, the chief lobbying organization of the oil and gas industry. The institute was sponsoring Tuesday night's event under the aegis of its "grassroots" lobbying campaign, Vote 4 Energy. The event was one of many corporate-sponsored parties and fundraisers to be held throughout the convention week in Charlotte, according to invitations collected by the Sunlight Foundation's "Political Party Time" initiative.

Representatives sitting on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and senators involved in transportation policy will be attending an event sponsored by the American Trucking Associations, the American Bus Association, BNSF Railway, CSX Corporation and the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association on Wednesday evening.

The Democratic Governors Association, which O'Malley chairs, held another event sponsored by the energy industry Wednesday afternoon at the Duke Mansion. The gathering was sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Edison Electric Institute, the chief lobbying arm of the electric utility industry.

Democratic super PACs are also busy in Charlotte, raising unlimited contributions and engaging in donor cultivation and maintenance. The major events have been organized by Unity 2012, a joint fundraising group that distributes contributions to three super PACs: Priorities USA Action (supporting Barack Obama), Majority PAC (Senate Democrats) and House Majority PAC (House Democrats). Multiple gatherings for the three throughout the week include happy hours, private donor briefings and an end-of-convention party hosted by actress Jessica Alba and her husband, Cash Warren.

On Wednesday, the super PAC trio hosted an event at the home of major donor James Simons, founder of the high-speed trading hedge fund Renaissance Technologies. The invitation promised that high-level Democratic members of Congress would be in attendance, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Steve Israel (N.Y.).

Senators and representatives are allowed to attend super PAC events so long as they do not solicit contributions in excess of the $5,000 that they can personally receive under federal campaign finance regulations. The Simons invitation made note of this by stating, "All federal officeholders are appearing at this event only as special guests. All federal officeholders are not asking for funds or donations."

Reid faces a busy fundraising schedule, as he is set to attend a Unity 2012 event and a fundraiser for his own leadership PAC at the same time on Wednesday evening.

The super PAC American Bridge 21st Century has also scheduled donor briefings, including a Wednesday evening event that will feature the group's founder David Brock and Chairwoman Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Sen. Al Franken (Minn.), former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and political strategists Paul Begala and James Carville.

On Wednesday afternoon in hotels throughout downtown Charlotte, contributors to the Obama campaign could still be seen cycling in and out of rooms off the lobby picking up invitations and information about donor events.

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