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Secret ‘Menu’ Details Perks for Big Democratic Donors

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Those seeking invites to the most lavish receptions at the 2012 Democratic National Convention -- "gold ticket" access to "dialogues," and private breakfast briefings with party luminaries -- can expect a hefty price of admission.

A list of high-end convention packages circulated by the Charlotte in 2012 Convention Host Committee, and obtained by ABC News, shows that those and other perks are being offered to donors who raise $1 million or donate $100,000 to the convention's nonprofit planning arm.

The cash-for-access formula has been a longtime staple of national political conventions, and though Democrats told ABC News they have tried to shift the focus to access for grassroots supporters this year, critics say the menu of perks for donors is a reminder that those giving big dollars can still expect special treatment.

"We pride ourselves on being a country of equality, and this kind of arrangement subverts that," said Kathy Kiely, managing editor of the Sunlight Foundation reporting group.  "If you have big money to give, you get a lot more access."

The packages for the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C., are tiered.  Top fundraisers and donors are given "premier credentials" that access luxury suites and the convention floor.  They also grant donors hotel locations with close proximity to party leadership events, and special access to a special hospitality house near the convention floor.

Someone who raises $1 million tops the list, while top flight packages are also spelled out for those who donate $100,000 directly, or raise more than $650,000 (Trustee Package), $500,000 (Piedmont Package), $250,000 (Dogwood Package) and on down.

Democrats say they are trying to move away from the cash for access tradition. This year, the party's contract with the convention host committee included the first ever restrictions on who can donate, and on how much they can give.  The Host Committee announced it would not take corporate or lobbyist money, and that it would limit individual giving to no more than $100,000.

"We've gone further than any convention in history to find ways to provide greater access for the public," said Democratic National Convention Committee spokeswoman Joanne Peters.

Dan Murrey, the executive director of the Host Committee said in a statement to ABC News that his group is "raising money for this convention in a way that has never been done before."

The committee hired a full time grass roots finance director, and tried to be creative in enticing smaller donors to contribute to the event -- even sponsoring a barbecue sauce competition, a poster contest, and a chance for anyone donating $3 to win a trip to the convention with the airfare and hotel provided.

With just weeks left to go, Murrey said the host committee had raised money from nearly 65 times more individuals than did the Denver committee.

"Our grassroots fundraising has exceeded expectations in terms of broadening the donor base and engaging more people in the effort," he said.

Melanie Roussell, a DNC spokeswoman, added that she believes the Charlotte convention "will demonstrate what we've been arguing all along -- that the president and Democrats are on the side of working families and committed to strengthening the economy from the middle class out."

For those promised access to special events in exchange for large donations, the Democrats host committee has left unspoken just how much access, and to whom, their money will buy.  While the convention packages dangle opportunities to attend "dialogues" and "breakfast briefings," there is no indication noted about the identities of the dignitaries who will attend.

The money raised by the committee is not intended to be spent on the president or Democratic members of congress, but to help cover the roughly $36 million budget to throw the event.  Similarly, the Tampa Bay Host Committee notes on its donor website that the more than $50 million it plans to raise for the August convention "will be used to alleviate the burdens of local government and promote the Tampa Bay area."

If their track record holds, Republicans will be offering even pricier perks for those attending the GOP Convention in Tampa, Fla.  Four years ago, the Republican convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul provided donors of $5 million or more a private dinner and a separate golf outing with the Republican leadership.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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