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Let the Parties Begin--and Bring a Checkbook

August 13, 2000|SHAWN HUBLER

Where are the "real" parties? This is the question. This is, in fact, the only question as the Democratic National Convention lands, fully choreographed by now, in Los Angeles. By cell phone and e-mail, by fax and land line, the plea has ricocheted since the Republicans left Philadelphia.

"Are you going to any parties?" the conversation starts, and then, "No--I mean real parties." It is understood in these circles that there is a difference.

It was understood, for example, that Saturday's host committee feast for 15,000 reporters and delegates in downtown Los Angeles was not one of the "real" parties. Nevermind the 800 waiters, the four buffets, the 23,000 pieces of sushi, 12,000 beef taquitos, 6,000 barbecued pulled-pork sandwiches. It may have been catered by chef Joachim Splichal's Patina, but for the connoisseurs, it was too proletarian, too zoo-ey. The "real" gig, the glamour gig, was said to be in Mandeville Canyon at the Ken Roberts estate.

There, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and their host, Stan Lee, the comic book magnate, were hobnobbing with a thousand or so good friends. It was a "gala." It had live music and celebrities. Still, one veteran lobbyist explained, "These things with a thousand people are fine when you start out, but the real parties are at private homes with just a few people and face time." Also, he noted, real parties tend to be fun and cool and alive with the unexpected. This party had an entertainment lineup straight outta the easy-listenin' archives: Michael Bolton. Paul Anka. Cher.

There was, however, this other party-within-the-party. "Very limited seating," the RSVP cards said. A $25,000 contribution to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign bought two VIP tickets. Whether a $25,000 plate of fish with a roomful of rich strangers and two tuckered-out politicians constituted a "real" party, however, was anybody's guess.

It is said that there was a time when the political parties truly partied. This, apparently, was before that giant sucking sound turned out to be the whoosh of big money Hoovering the last speck of joy out of democracy. This week, for every merry reunion of pols and/or pundits, there's a fistful of closed-door dates that promise to be every bit as grinding and manipulative as what the home audience will see on TV.

"It's fund-raising, fund-raising, fund-raising," L.A. lobbyist Joe Cerrell chuckled knowingly the other day, paging through the week's 20-page-plus party schedule. As it was in Philadelphia, he and others note, the festivities here have been hijacked more nakedly than ever by the jones for moola, cash, dinero, long green.

If money is the mother's milk of "the process," as the insiders like to call it, then Greater Los Angeles this week is the nation's 4,083-square-mile political milking machine.


"It's awful. Awful. And getting worse," says Brentwood Democrat Stanley Sheinbaum, who figures he's received three dozen invitations with little cards attached asking, on average, for $250 to $5,000. "The little folk are never heard from, and so the various candidates don't feel responsive to them."

There are maybe 100 convention parties a day around Los Angeles this week. Four out of five are closed. The Democratic National Convention Committee calendar, which tracks these events, is stamped "confidential." This may be because conventions tend to feel like family reunions--and therefore private--to the political stalwarts who attend them. Or it may be because it's one thing to hear sermons on C-SPAN about soft money and special favors, and something else entirely to view the extraction machinery at work.

Here is just a fraction of what's happening today in the party of working people and welfare mothers:

As you read this, a $100,000-a-sponsorship Governor's Cup golf tournament will be teeing off at the Riviera Country Club and a $100,000-a-couple brunch for the Clinton Library is convening at Barbra Streisand's Malibu compound. Bank of America is feeding the Congressional Black Caucus at the top of a downtown high-rise. DaimlerChrysler and the United Auto Workers are preparing to salute the mayor of Detroit.

Dr. Steven Teitelbaum, a Westside plastic surgeon and staunch Democrat, is planning to throw open his office for a $1,000-a-person fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton. ("Terrific face," one invitee mused of the guest of honor. "And it hasn't been done. I could tell.") Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), if the schedule holds, is planning to join Entertainment Finance Associates for cocktails at tony Bar Fly. Armani will host a "shopping opportunity" for selected Democrats at its Rodeo Drive store.

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