Politics & Government

Democrats don’t have their hands tied raising convention money this year

President Obama leads his wife and daughters from the stage at the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena in uptown Charlotte Sept. 6, 2012. Dan Murrey was charged with raising $37 million for many of the activities surrounding the Charlotte convention. But rules handed down from President Barack Obama and his re-election campaign made it harder.
President Obama leads his wife and daughters from the stage at the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena in uptown Charlotte Sept. 6, 2012. Dan Murrey was charged with raising $37 million for many of the activities surrounding the Charlotte convention. But rules handed down from President Barack Obama and his re-election campaign made it harder. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

Dan Murrey might envy Kevin Washo. To a point.

Murrey was the executive director of Charlotte’s host committee for the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Washo heads the host committee staff for this summer’s convention in Philadelphia.

Murrey was charged with raising $37 million for many of the activities surrounding the Charlotte convention. But rules handed down by President Barack Obama and his re-election campaign made it harder.

The Charlotteans had to abide by a ban on monetary gifts from corporations, donations in excess of $100,000 and contributions from anyone registered as a federal lobbyist.

“It definitely created a challenge for us,” says Murrey, CEO of OrthoCarolina. “Two big reasons: It was different from what everybody had done before, and so we had to introduce the concept to donors that we were trying to do it a different way. The other challenge of course was by having a limit of $100,000 … you had to touch more donors rather than just a handful.”

Despite promises from the convention’s Democratic spokesmen that fundraising was “right on target,” the Charlotte host committee fell considerably short of its goal. Duke Energy, which had extended a $10 million credit line, had to come through with the money, which came from shareholders and not electric customers.

Philadelphia Democrats may not have their hands tied in the same way, but they have their own challenges.

The 2016 host committee has a goal of $85 million. Anna Adams-Sarthou, the committee’s communications director, says the committee is contractually obligated to raise $60 million. The additional money, she says, is for community activities, a cushion against unforeseen expenses and whatever the party’s convention committee might need over and above its own budget.

“We’re doing well,” Adams-Sarthou says, adding that the committee has raised “well north of $40 million.”

How far north won’t be known for a while. As in Charlotte, the committee doesn’t have to report its finances until weeks after the last balloons have fallen on the convention floor.

And despite the lack of Obama’s restrictions, there’s some indication it’s still a hassle.

Politico reported last month that several big companies, including Duke Energy, Bank of America and Time Warner Cable, had yet to commit to help. And the bank gave $5 million to the Charlotte convention. One reason, it suggested, is because companies have been reluctant to give to what could be a wild Republican Party convention and don’t want to favor one party over the other.

In 2014, Congress also ended the much-maligned practice of writing each convention big checks from the presidential tax checkoff fund. For the 2012 conventions in Charlotte and Tampa, Fla., that amounted to $18.2 million each.

“Nobody likes the idea of tax money going to what amounts to a party, that’s also an ad for the party,” says Bob Biersack, an analyst with the Center for Responsive Politics.

But Congress allowed each party to create a special convention account and collect donations much higher than the usual limits; Biersack wrote this week the law means individuals and PACs can give up to three times the usual limit for gifts to a national party.

Murrey says by barring donations from corporations and lobbyists, the 2012 restrictions made him and his staff rely on smaller donations from real people.

“It made our jobs harder,” he says, “but made our job that much more fulfilling.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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