CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Democratic National Convention made a big deal about keeping big corporate dollars out of the formal convention. But those dollars are paying for lots of the lavish parties swirling around the convention.

John Legend, Edwin McCain and DJ Nick Canon performed at Light up the Night Monday night at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The bash was brought to party goers by Duke Energy and AT&T.

Across town go-go dancers gyrated at the Democratic Governor s Association party and at the Fillmore Tony Bennett sang for Nancy Pelosi. The Sunlight Foundation has tracked more than 400 parties crammed into four days, many of them paid for by special interest dollars.

The Democratic host committee here in Charlotte has said they're not taking corporate money, not taking PAC money, not taking lobbyist money but at all these auxiliary events is where this money is being spent, said Liz Bartolomeo, Communications Manager for Sunlight.

Corporate sponsors also dot street corners in uptown Charlotte, sponsoring events like the Carolina Fest.

This private money in the form of quote 'donations' just leads people to believe that this is just a system to launder money and influence inside our political process, said Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor who wrote a recent book, Republic, Lost, arguing that big money has corrupted the American political system.

In 1980 Lessig was himself a Republican delegate voting for Ronald Reagan. Now he s a Democrat who is critical of the influence of big money on both parties. He said the biggest difference between the Republican convention in Detroit and the Democratic convention in Charlotte eight elections later is, the enormous private money that goes into supporting these really lavish events.

In Charlotte the party won t stop for three days. Corporations will pick up the tab for most of it. But critics say in the long run the public pays the real price.

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