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BofA and the DNC: Quiet but significant support

Public ire toward lenders puts party, bank in delicate position

Democrats excoriated Bank of America last fall over a proposed $5 monthly debit card fee, with one even taking to the Senate floor to urge people to pull out their money.

But just a week and a half earlier, party leaders organizing the Democratic National Convention quietly deposited $17.7 million into the bank.

This year party leaders announced deposits totaling $4.5 million at two community banks and a credit union, touting their commitment to small and minority-owned lenders. Yet they’re doing much more business with Bank of America: The share of convention money passing without fanfare through the nation’s second-largest lender could reach $65 million.

Large companies headquartered in a convention host city often lend high-profile support, financial and otherwise. But at a time of public antipathy toward banks, neither Democratic leaders nor Bank of America have much to gain in publicizing the bank’s involvement in its hometown convention.

Local Bank of America executives have said little about what involvement the bank or its employees will have during the DNC. Party leaders, too, have sought to downplay corporate America’s role.

Much of it has to do with President Barack Obama’s decision to eschew corporate contributions for an event typically awash in them.

But public anger at the financial industry and the president’s own criticism of Wall Street have put Bank of America in an even more awkward position, even though Obama will be renominated in a football stadium named for the bank.

In the latest example, a Democratic leader caused a stir this month when Politico reported that she called it “Panthers Stadium” in an email rather than “Bank of America Stadium.” The convention committee said it wasn’t an intentional slight to the bank.

Instead of taking a leading role, Bank of America has made several quiet contributions to convention planning. A bank spokeswoman confirmed last week that the bank is donating money to the nonprofit fund the host committee is using to promote Charlotte, and Bank of America is underwriting two newsmaker gatherings organized by media companies.

As the convention nears, bad news about banks keeps unfolding – from the Libor rate-rigging scandal at Barclays to the mounting losses from bad bets at JPMorgan. And just last week, former Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill called for the government to make banks separate their consumer and investment arms.

“Corporations like Bank of America have a pretty significant public relations problem with the country as a whole,” said Peter Ubertaccio, a professor at Stonehill College in Massachusetts who studies political conventions. “It’s a much more delicate balancing act this year than it may have been even four years ago.”

Boston and Denver

Banks, including Bank of America, have a history of involvement in political conventions both Democratic and Republican.

For the 2004 convention in Boston, Bank of America donated $1.4 million to the host committee, Federal Election Commission documents show, and was one of five companies to be given Platinum Plus status.

Much of the money was committed by executives of FleetBoston, the company Bank of America acquired in late 2004. Fleet executives remain in the top ranks at Bank of America, including CEO Brian Moynihan, strategy officer Anne Finucane and director Charles Gifford.

In Denver in 2008, Bank of America donated $100,000 to the convention host committee.

Denver’s largest company at the time, Qwest Communications, joined several others in putting its name and checkbook behind bringing the 2008 convention to Denver.

Qwest’s Colorado president, Chuck Ward, was a key figure in drawing the convention to Denver and remained visible as the company set up a telecommunications hub in the Pepsi Center’s parking lot.

Two months before the convention, the Denver committee also released a list of 57 corporate partners, including Wells Fargo, Pepsi and Target.

By the end of the convention, four dozen Fortune 500 companies had given more than $12 million to the Denver host committee, according to an analysis of Federal Election Committee reports.

In Charlotte, Duke Energy, Wells Fargo and Belk Stores have all pledged money to the host committee’s nonprofit. Duke has also donated office space and backstopped a $10 million line of credit for the convention, and its CEO Jim Rogers is co-chairman of the host committee and a lead fundraiser.

AT&T has been named the official wireless provider of the convention, and on Thursday, Time Warner Cable announced it is sponsoring the media party as a show of support to the city.

What they’re saying

Bank of America spokeswoman Nicole Nastacie acknowledged last week that Bank of America had donated money to the convention host committee, but declined to say how much. Donations will become public two months after the convention.

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, chairman of the host committee, similarly was tight-lipped after taking the stage with Bank of America Charlotte market president Charles Bowman at a charity event last month.

“They’re obviously a valued corporate partner in Charlotte. They’ve been so crucial for the development of our city,” Foxx said. “We are always excited to engage with Bank of America on any number of things. … There’s a process we’re going through that I’m not at liberty to discuss.”

Bowman, too, said Bank of America was only working with the host committee as a “contributor,” without elaborating.

“We’re involved,” he said, “but the host committee is running the show.”

Bank of America already has the majority of the $17.7 million of public money given to the conventions from the $3 political donation check-off box on federal tax returns. The host committee, charged with raising $36.7 million, also has its accounts with the Charlotte bank, according to FEC records.

The New American City Fund, the host committee’s nonprofit seeking about $15 million in corporate donations, puts its money in Bank of America as well.

The DNC committee acknowledges putting the majority of its deposits in Bank of America, saying it’s because the bank is headquartered in the host city and because conventions have had success with the bank in the past.

And when the convention rolls around, Bank of America’s name will be on at least two events.

The bank is sponsoring The Atlantic magazine’s “ Path to Power Luncheon” in both Charlotte and Tampa, Fla., where past and current government leaders will talk about the importance the presidency will have in the next four years.

Bank of America is also the sponsor of Politco’s “Playbook Breakfast” series, to be broadcast live on C-SPAN and co-hosted by the Observer during the convention. The bank’s involvement there is not strictly convention related, though. It has sponsored the series since at least March 2011.

Two people with Bank of America connections are on the convention’s steering committee, a loosely connected group serving as advisers.

The bank declined to make one, Andrew Plepler, who deals with social responsibility and consumer policy, available for an interview.

The other, retired Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl, said he has not been heavily involved in the planning, though he has been consulted on some aspects, such as security.

“Truthfully,” he said, “I’m just an honorary chair – which, with that and a dollar, you can ride on any bus in town.” Staff Writer Kirsten Valle Pittman contributed.

Dunn: 704-358-5235 Twitter: @andrew_dunn
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