A live-events company with ties to the White House is urging the Obama administration to open some of the nation’s most treasured grounds to its productions.
Austin-based C3 Presents disclosed last month that the company hired the Ben Barnes Group LP, a well-connected Democratic lobby shop, to advocate for the "use of national parks for events."
It paid the Barnes Group, also based out of Texas’ capital city, $15,000 during the third quarter to lobby Interior Department officials on the issue, a mandatory disclosure filing shows.
C3, which is owned by Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter, is already known to the administration. It put on President Obama’s 2008 election-night rally in Chicago’s Grant Park, his first inauguration at the Capitol the following January and the White House Easter Egg Roll.
"In all of these cases, we were approached to pull off in a matter of weeks what should have taken months to develop and execute," the company’s website says.
The lobbying firm hired by C3 is also familiar to many Democratic officials. The Barnes Group gave $127,587 to Democratic candidates in the 2014 election cycle, more than 10 times the $11,700 it gave to Republicans, according to contributions analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics, a money in politics watchdog group.
Ben Barnes, the firm’s founder, has even deeper ties to the Democratic Party.
President Johnson predicted in 1970 that the former lieutenant governor of Texas would one day win the White House. Barnes’ career in elected office was cut short in the following years when a run for governor was derailed by his proximity to a stock fraud scandal.
Despite that setback, he has remained active in Democratic politics in subsequent decades as a major fundraiser. Individually, Barnes gave $169,550 to Democratic candidates last cycle, making him one of the top 300 donors in the country.
Neither the Barnes Group nor C3 responded to requests for comment about their parks lobbying.
But the events company could be angling to produce the "pretty epic surprise concert" Anheuser-Busch promised as part of its reported $2.5 million sponsorship of the National Park Service’s centennial celebrations.
That relationship and event have come under fire from some environmentalists. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility raised concerns earlier this year that the Park Service’s partnership with a beer maker was promoting drinking and could ruin the park experience for visitors in search of tranquility and natural beauty (Greenwire, April 30).
C3 may also be attempting to push back against some negative media attention it received in September, after it produced the Landmark Music Festival on the National Mall.
"Activists and historians who monitor the Mall say the decision to charge admission to the music festival sets a troubling precedent that could signal an end to the days of free music in the national park, ushering in an era of pricey, multi-day festivals," The Washington Post reported at the time.
Ten percent of the all-day concert’s gross ticket receipts went to the Trust for the National Mall, a nonprofit group that is an official fundraising arm of the Park Service. The trust received a similar cut of concession sales and donations from corporations that sponsored the festival, including MillerCoors, State Farm insurance, Volkswagen and Red Bull.
C3 hasn’t had K Street representation for the past five years. Before then, it paid the firm Capitol Partners less than $5,000 per quarter between 2009 and October 2010 to "monitor infrastructure, public lands and budget issues and appropriations," filings show.
The events company appears to be the only group currently lobbying to open national parks to concerts and other live productions.
Other organizations that have lobbied on national parks issues this year are focused on concessions, expanding access or general funding issues.