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Democrats miss marks to finance convention

The Democratic Party is struggling to raise money for its convention in Denver on Aug. 25-28, with fund-raising by the host committee falling far short of the party’s goals and lagging behind the Republicans’ efforts for their convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
/ Source: The New York Times

The Democratic Party is struggling to raise money for its convention in Denver on Aug. 25-28, with fund-raising by the host committee falling far short of the party’s goals and lagging behind the Republicans’ efforts for their convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

So far, the Denver host committee is about $15 million short of the $40.6 million it must raise by June 16. With only $25 million raised so far, the committee is scrambling to offer a new round of special deals for corporate underwriters, as well as to devise a backup plan should the fund-raising fall short and plans for the convention need to be scaled down.

“We will raise the money,” Chris Lopez, a spokesman for the host committee, said. “We are working every day to get it done. We are in a situation where we have to get it done and we will. We can’t make any excuses.”

There are many reasons that have been floated for the money woes faced by the Denver committee. It is not uncommon for host committees to lag in fund-raising, only to see large donations arrive in the month before the convention. And some are concerned that the protracted nominating fight between Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has made fund-raising more difficult.

GOP on target with its fundraising
The Democrats’ situation contrasts markedly with that of the Republicans, whose committee is on budget in its $39 million fund-raising drive for the Republican National Convention, to be held in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Sept. 1-4. Teresa McFarland, a spokeswoman for the host committee, said it expected to meet its June 15 target of having 80 percent of the money raised by that date.

In fact, the Twin Cities committee has budgeted $58 million for the convention, nearly $20 million more than it is contracted with the Republican National Committee to raise. Half of that $58 million is to be raised from Minnesota companies, and half from national fund-raising, according to the committee’s marketing material.

Ms. McFarland said that her committee had been aided by the fact that 19 Fortune 500 companies are located in the region and that “we have been thrilled with the generous support of the local community.”

Mr. Lopez cited a lagging economy in explaining the Democrats’ fund-raising problems. Since the bulk of the money is raised from major corporations, corporate financial restraints are affecting all charitable contributions, the Denver committee included.

“We’ve got to deal with the fact that there is belt-tightening all across corporate America,” Mr. Lopez said. “They are reducing spending, and that has had a big impact. We are no different than others trying to raise money in this environment. Everyone is facing it.”

Last-minute challenge met before
Even so, Mr. Lopez says Denver is ahead of where Boston was in 2004 at this time.

The Boston host committee was far behind in fund-raising before the Democratic convention, but made it up in a last-minute blitz headed by Senator John Kerry, the party’s nominee, and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the committee’s co-chairman.

Denver’s mayor, John W. Hickenlooper, has suggested that the Democrats’ long nominating battle has distracted potential donors. But, no matter the obstacles, the Denver host committee is aggressively packaging corporate sponsorships that promise corporate executives access to key politicians in return for writing a check to the host committee.

In addition, the Denver committee is appealing to civic pride.

“This is a historic event for Denver,” Mr. Lopez said. “It’s the first national convention in the interior West. It gives Denver a chance to demonstrate that it can host a national convention and show that Denver has the wherewithal to raise money and be the place where you want to be.”

In addition to the millions in corporate donations to the host committees, each party will get $16.3 million in federal dollars to pay for convention expenses, generally the salaries and travel expenses of party officials who work on the convention. On top of that, each city will also get $50 million in federal antiterrorism money to pay for security at the conventions.

Another venue for PACs?
Over the years, the price of the conventions has continued to rise, causing many campaign finance experts to raise questions about whether the host committees are really civic boosters or have become yet another venue for special interest groups to gain access to politicians.

The money raised by the host committees goes to build the podium, buy the balloons, build the skyboxes and the news media centers, rent the arena, and make all the internal changes to the structures where the conventions will be held. While the money is raised by the host committee, it is spent by the party.

Clearly, Denver is marketing political access to corporations. One big selling point is that host committee donors will be able to come into contact with 232 members of Congress, 51 senators and 28 governors, according to the committee’s promotional literature.

Big ticket corporate donors — at the presidential level ($1 million), the platinum level ($500,000) and gold ($250,000) — are promised invitations to private events sponsored by Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado and Ken Salazar, the Democratic senator from the state, according to the literature.

Companies that have already donated to the Denver committee and whose logos appear on the committee’s Web site include the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the Ford Motor Company, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Merck, Lilly, Allstate, Travelers, Lehman Brothers, A.T.& T., Visa, Target and Western Union.

Even though the Denver Host Committee has missed its fund-raising targets, the Democratic Party does not appear to be concerned.

“We remain focused on planning and executing a world-class convention that showcases our nominee, our party and the best of Denver and the Rocky Mountain West,” Natalie Wyeth, press secretary for the party’s convention committee, said in a statement.

This article, Democrats Miss Marks to Finance Convention, first appeared in .