Local business leaders and elected officials need to raise $70 million for the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte. But that might not be as challenging as what Charlotte’s 2012 Democratic National Convention host committee faced.
Six years ago, that group fell about $10 million short of reaching its fundraising goals, in part because of contribution restrictions. Now, the RNC Host Committee in Charlotte is preparing to hire staff and launch its own fundraising blitz.
John Lassiter, a Charlotte businessman, former City Council member and 2009 mayoral candidate, has been named the host committee’s CEO. The group has lined up a roster of prominent names in the Charlotte business world as co-chairs: Ned Curran, CEO emeritus of Ballantyne owner Northwood Office; Doug Lebda, founder and CEO of LendingTree; and Walter Price, head of the law firm Moore & Van Allen’s public affairs practice.
“We have some pretty significant financial thresholds that are in front of us over the next two years,” said Price. “That will be one of our driving focuses.”
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Lassiter said he’s confident the group will hit its goal, and that plans are already in motion to start raising money.
“We’ll begin that process right out of the box,” said Lassiter. “We’re not nervous about meeting our fundraising goal, but it will require a lot of hard work.”
After the 2020 RNC was officially awarded to Charlotte, Lassiter said the group already has “more than 10 percent of the money that we need.”
A preliminary budget included in Charlotte’s bid for the RNC shows how much the group expects to spend on the convention.
The budget is $63.6 million, with the goal of $70 million added in to account for any contingencies. The group expects to spend $27.6 million for convention facilities; $8.4 million for event production; $2.4 million for office space; $1.2 million for headquarters hotel space; $1.8 million on hospitality; and $2.4 million on transportation services, among other categories.
Many of the expenses, especially those for technology and communications equipment, will be paid in in-kind contributions from corporations, the group said.
The host committee plans to make its biggest fundraising push between the fourth quarter this year and the end of the second quarter in 2019, according to a fundraising schedule. The group hopes to raise $17.5 million each quarter during that nine-month span, for a total of $52.5 million — or 75 percent of the total goal.
Security expenses will be covered by an expected $50 million federal grant, with the committee reimbursing the city of Charlotte for expenses that go beyond that.
DNC limited corporate cash
The 2012 Democratic National Committee had limited personal donations to $100,000 and banned corporate money paying for the convention.
“We had to go more grassroots in our approach,” said 2012 DNC host committee Executive Director Dan Murrey. Part of the challenges with the restrictions included having to educate everyone about the ban and trying to convince individual donors why they should give up to $100,000.
Because there weren’t multimillion-dollar corporate donations, the committee needed a larger number of donors and had to hire more fundraising staff, he said.
The 2020 RNC won’t face any such restrictions, and the lack of a ban opens the door for big contributions from businesses with a large Charlotte presence.
“We have an advantage in our structure,” Lassiter said. “We’re not making the decision the DNC did initially to only take individual gifts. We will be taking both individual and corporate funding. Our initial sense is there’s a lot of support for what we’re going to do.”
The RNC’s 2016 host committee received $67 million in contributions for the convention held in Cleveland, according to national media reports. Charlotte’s committee would have to raise a similar amount — between $68 million and $70 million in cash and in-kind contributions (like donating meeting space), according to bid documents.
Murrey, a Democrat, said it should be easier for the RNC host committee to raise money since it will be able to receive corporate donations. But controversy around Donald Trump’s presidency could make getting some corporate donations a challenge, he said.
“Corporations are going to have to consider how much controversy there is surrounding this candidate,” Murrey said.
The RNC host committee leaders said they will emphasize that they’re planning to throw a successful convention and promote the host city — not endorse Trump, who will likely be nominated for his second term with Charlotte as the backdrop.
“We are a nonprofit, civic organization. We are not political in nature,” Price said.
“We’re all civic-minded individuals,” said Curran. “We don’t have anything to do with the activities, the nominating process, what happens inside that arena, other than the preparation of it. This is about showcasing our city.”
That showcasing effort goes beyond raising money.
The host committee is also gathering a list of venues for the dozens of events that will take place around the convention, including places outside the central city, such as the U.S. National Whitewater Center and Charlotte Motor Speedway. They’re also launching a website, charlottein2020.com, to connect with local vendors, volunteers and workers.
“We really are going to focus on driving opportunities for local businesses, local vendors,” Price said.
Shortfall in 2012
In 2012, Charlotte’s DNC host committee initially needed to raise $37 million. Through cost-cutting, the budget was reduced to about $31 million, according to reports at the time.
But the committee still fell short and had to borrow about $8 million from a line of credit from Duke Energy, whose then-CEO, Jim Rogers, was a co-chair of the host committee. Duke shareholders footed about $6 million of that after the company was not repaid.
Lassiter said the 2020 RNC host committee will operate without such a contingency plan.
“We don’t have a giant backstop line of credit that we can rely on,” he said. “We’re going to try to run it like a business.”
Current Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good has supported bringing the RNC to Charlotte.
“Duke Energy supports all opportunities to showcase Charlotte on a national stage, and we would still plan to contribute at a level consistent with other large companies at previous conventions,” said spokesman Neil Nissan. “Any investment would come from shareholders, not ratepayers.”
Duke Energy did not contribute to the 2016 RNC or DNC conventions.
Because of the 2012 ban on corporate contributions for the DNC, Charlotte businesses instead donated to the host committee’s separate New American City Fund.
Major Charlotte businesses gave to that fund, including $500,000 from Wells Fargo and $5 million from Bank of America, according to media reports. The fund was used to pay the $5 million arena fee for the Spectrum Center, which was then the Time Warner Cable Arena.
In 2016, Bank of America gave $1 million to both the RNC and DNC conventions.
“When a host city steps up for an important civic responsibility like hosting a presidential nominating convention, the private sector plays an important part in helping the city be successful,” said Bank of America spokeswoman Ferris Morrison. “We have supported nominating conventions in Charlotte and other cities where we operate.”
Wells Fargo did not give to the 2016 RNC but donated $500,000 to the 2016 DNC, which was held in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Wells Fargo spokesman Josh Dunn said the company has supported host committees in markets where the bank has a significant presence.
On top of the fundraising, Charlotte would likely receive a $50 million grant from the federal government to cover security costs.
Conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia in 2016 met that budget, spending less than $45 million on security costs, Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann told City Council at its meeting this week.
If the federal grant isn’t awarded by March 2020, and an alternative source of money isn’t found, then the city can terminate its agreement, Hagemann said. The Federal Election Commission used to kick in $18 million to convention cities, but Congress ended that program.
Staff writers Jim Morrill and Deon Roberts contributed