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Are Duke Energy's woes hurting DNC fundraising?

Merger has top claim on time lately for ‘fearless leader’ in DNC fundraising

With only a few weeks to go and possibly millions more dollars left to raise, organizers of the Democratic National Convention won’t be able to count on Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers as much as before to lead the money drive.

“Our fearless leader in fundraising” is what Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx called Rogers just a few months ago, as the Charlotte in 2012 host committee – co-chaired by Foxx and Rogers – struggled to raise the nearly $37 million that will fund the actual convention.

For nearly a year, Rogers has flown to Obama fundraisers nationwide to meet big donors and worked the phones to pitch potential contributors to the Sept. 4-6 convention.

But things changed in July. A controversy erupted over the way Duke handled a high-profile merger with Raleigh-based Progress Energy. And now, with some on Wall Street and on the N.C. Utilities Commission suggesting that Rogers should step down, his time and energy are focused on navigating the way ahead for himself and America’s biggest utility.

“What’s important to understand is I’ve been asked by the (Duke) board to deliver on the benefits of this combination,” Rogers recently told the (Raleigh) News & Observer about the post-merger company. “I have my head down, sleeves rolled up, and that’s what I’m trying to achieve.”

On Monday, Duke spokesman Tom Williams told the Observer that, since the merger, Rogers “has been more strictly focused internally. … It’s his top priority and more of his day-to-day priority. The merger is taking a great deal of his time.”

Asked whether Rogers is doing anything now to raise convention money, Williams said this: “I’d say he’s still involved. I can’t say what he’s done.”

So where does this leave the host committee and its uphill push to reach $36.6 million? Its leaders aren’t saying much.

A spokesman for Foxx referred the Observer to the mayor’s previous comment, in which he said Rogers has been “a wonderful asset to the convention efforts and continues to be.”

In a statement Monday night, Dan Murrey, executive director of the host committee, said: “Jim’s leadership in paving the road was critical in developing our fundraising strategy and he is certainly still engaged in the effort.”

If Rogers is indeed sidelined, it could make a job that started out tough even more so. Local fundraisers for Charlotte’s DNC have been hamstrung by first-ever restrictions placed on them by President Barack Obama – no corporate cash or contributions from lobbyists or PACs allowed, unlike past conventions.

“All I know is I spend a lot of time raising money,” former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt recently told the Observer. “It is hard. But we’re getting there.”

Foxx and other convention organizers have remained mum on how much they’ve raised so far, saying only that they’re “right on track.” Reports citing Washington sources have said the host committee is still millions of dollars short of its goal.

When the news broke in early 2011 that Charlotte had been chosen to host the convention, Rogers joined Foxx for a triumphant news conference.

The Duke CEO hired a full-time convention fundraiser with his own money – she’s still fundraising, Williams said Monday – and personally contributed $100,000. He was also introduced by Obama at some campaign fundraisers, including one in New York City.

Now, with Duke and Rogers taking heat from regulators and investors, Foxx or others on the host committee may have to lead the way financially in the final pre-convention weeks.

One Charlotte business executive raising convention dollars acknowledged that Rogers is “real hard” to get to these days.

“He’s only doing what his (Duke) board is telling him to do,” the fundraiser added.

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