The 'People's' Convention?

DNC in Charlotte to Feature Million-dollar tickets, luxury suites, concierge services for the 1 Percent

February 9, 2012

The organizers of the upcoming Democratic National Convention are doing everything possible to get around the same financial restrictions they once promoted in a concerted effort to make sure that America’s wealthiest individuals, corporations, and lobbyists contribute their "fair share" to the convention.

Host committee spokeswoman Suzi Emmerling, formerly of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, insisted that convention leaders were not attempting to sidestep the fundraising restrictions. Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Steve Kerrigan, she said, had simply been "educating Beltway types about the new rules."

"All of this is brand new," Emmerling tells the Washington Free Beacon. "A convention has never been funded this way before, so there are a lot of false assumptions about what we're doing."

Democrats are billing the upcoming Democratic National Committee’s annual convention as a "People’s Convention," funded by "the people." At President Obama’s request, the host committee in Charlotte—which must raise $36.6 million to pay for the convention—has promised to refuse donations from corporations, lobbyists or other special interest groups, including unions. Individual contributions are limited to $100,000.

But living up to these ambitious self-imposed rules is proving more difficult than party leaders expected. Local sources say the DNC is approaching wealthy Bank of America executives in an effort to unload some of its premier convention packages. A number of these executives have been shocked at the audacity of the proposition, given the administration’s attacks on not only the bank but also on wealthy Americans in general. President Obama and his Democratic colleagues have repeatedly charged that wealthy Americans are not "paying their fair share" to the federal government in the form of taxes.

Steve Kerrigan, the committee CEO, recently convened a meeting with lobbyists and other Beltway power brokers at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington D.C. Democratic sources told Bloomberg that Kerrigan, a former national political director for Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), touted an expensive array of convention "packages" that were aimed at attracting ultra-wealthy donors.

One of the options is the $1 million "Presidential" level, which includes a "premier uptown hotel room" and "concierge services," as well as the $500,000 "Gold Rush" package.

Convention leaders have also sought to court ultra-wealthy donors by moving the president’s acceptance speech to Bank of America Stadium (the bank is headquartered in Charlotte), the 74,000-seat home to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the decision was intended to allow "greater participation from all walks of life." However, Democratic sources confided that the move would allow convention organizers "to sell more skyboxes to wealthy donors," according to Bloomberg.

Committee officials dispute the report. "Decisions about convention planning are driven by engaging more people in the process, not by money," Kerrigan said in a statement.

Still, the decision was criticized on the left by those who were not pleased with the idea of Obama accepting his party’s nomination under the banner of the country’s second-largest financial institution, which received a $45 billion taxpayer-funded bailout during the financial crisis. Obama himself has directed some tough rhetoric toward Bank of America. For example, when the bank proposed charging a $5 monthly fee to debit card users, Obama complained that the bank was "using financial regulation as an excuse to charge consumers more."

But "educating" the super-rich is not the only way the DNC has sought to sidestep its convention fundraising rules. For instance, while the convention committee isn’t accepting cash donations from corporations, there are no corresponding restrictions with respect to "in kind" donations such as food or equipment, which can add up to millions of dollars. The DNCC has also established a separate "Hospitality" committee, called the New American City Foundation, to sponsor parties and other events associated with the convention, which is not bound by the same fundraising restrictions.

The overall fundraising effort appears to be struggling. Convention organization recently decided to shorten the length of the convention from four days to three. Local officials, meanwhile, have raised concerns about the host committee’s refusal to disclose its fundraising progress.

Scott Stone, former Republican candidate for mayor of Charlotte, cites the host committee’s refusal to release its fundraising records as "a significant concern." "Not only because of the lack of transparency," he says, "but if they don’t meet their numbers, taxpayers could be left with the bill."

A host committee official tells the Washington Free Beacon that there are no plans to publicly release fundraising figures before the FEC-mandated deadline of one month following the convention. Meanwhile, organizers in Tampa, Fla., site of the 2012 GOP convention, announced back in August that they had raised $15 million of their $55 million goal.

A review of the DNC fundraising figures from the 2008 convention in Denver suggest that party leaders were wildly optimistic to believe they could raise $36 million from "the people." Of the $61 million the DNC raised for the Denver convention, more than 70 percent came from donations of $250,000 or higher. Nearly a quarter of the convention’s funding came from just 12 donations of more than $1 million. Union groups alone gave $8.3 million (14 percent). Contributions of $100,00 or less—this year’s limit—accounted for only 5 percent of the total.

Published under: Democratic Donors , DNC