Corporate cash paid DNC’s arena fee

Corporate cash paid DNC’s arena fee

Corporate cash paid DNC’s arena fee


by TIM FUNK / The Charlotte Observer

Posted on September 14, 2012 at 5:05 AM

Charlotte’s host committee paid for one of the biggest Democratic convention expenses – $5 million for use of Time Warner Cable Arena – from a fund that accepted cash from corporations.

Though President Barack Obama had instructed convention organizers to not use business money for the actual convention, Dan Murrey – head of the city’s host committee – said Thursday that contracts signed in early 2011 allowed for his group to pay the arena license fee from either of two funds.

One, to cover the cost of running the convention itself, was not to accept corporation cash, lobbyist money or individual contributions of over $100,000.

The other, to pay for pre-convention events promoting Charlotte, could take business donations.

The $5 million arena fee, which Murrey called “a big check to write,” came from the latter, dubbed the New American City Fund.

“The contract(s) specifically stipulated that it could come out of either fund,” Murrey said.

Or, as the Arena License Agreement puts it, the host committee may pay the fee from its administrative budget.

In a wide-ranging, post-convention interview, Murrey also said that, while many local businesses stepped up to support the convention effort, he was disappointed that some held back because they saw it as a political, not a community, event.

Overall, he characterized local corporate support as “inconsistent.”

“I appreciated that so many of the businesses were able to get that this was really a big deal for Charlotte,” he said. “I just wish I could have convinced more people who couldn’t get beyond (the politics of the convention). I can understand that, but I also feel like this is a community that’s always put Charlotte first and politics second.”

Mostly, though, Murrey trumpeted the success of what he called the plan “to tell Charlotte’s story to the rest of the world. … All the feedback we’ve gotten has been that Charlotte came off very well, that many, many longtime convention-goers told us that it was the best convention they’ve ever been to.”

As the day-to-day leader of the Charlotte in 2012 host committee, Murrey oversaw efforts to ready Charlotte for the convention and then promote the city to 35,000 guests.

But its contract with the Democratic National Convention Committee also called for the host committee to raise $36.65 million to pay for the actual convention. Making that job harder: the restrictions imposed by Obama.

While the host committee struggled to raise that money – various reports all year indicated it was short of the goal – Murrey’s group also launched the separate fund to pay for CarolinaFest, parties for media and delegates and pre-convention activities designed to promote Charlotte. This New American City Fund did accept donations from Duke Energy, Wells Fargo, Belk stores, Bank of America and other corporations.

Though the convention is over, Murrey remained mum Thursday on how much of the $36.65 million the host committee ended up raising – or even whether it is still making calls on donors.

“Enough to put on a great convention,” Murrey said when asked for the total raised.

The details about how much was raised and who gave will be spelled out in the host committee’s filing next month with the Federal Election Commission, he said.

Murrey also declined to say whether the host committee tapped a $10 million line of credit arranged by Duke Energy, whose CEO, Jim Rogers, was the committee’s co-chair and chief fundraiser.

“We’ll delineate all of that when the time is right,” Murrey said. “Honestly, we’re still tabulating things. Invoices are coming in and we’re still in that whole cleanup process.”

In the interview, Murrey also discussed other convention matters:

• CarolinaFest was moved uptown after he questioned the logistics of holding it at the Charlotte Motor Speedway – an idea hatched by the Democratic convention committee.

“The more we got into the planning and the logistics,” he said, “we realized how much time would be lost in transporting people off site, and that we may lose people who didn’t want to put that time in.”

• CarolinaFest, which drew 30,000 people on Labor Day, was a big hit that helped set a festive tone for the rest of convention week.

“It added a lot of energy,” Murrey said. “I had literally dozens of Charlotteans come up to me and say how proud they were to be from Charlotte on that day.”

• His biggest disappointment was that the threat of thunderstorms caused President Obama’s acceptance speech to be moved inside, denying tens of thousands of Charlotteans the chance to witness it.

“I wasn’t a part of that decision, (but) I think it was (the right one),” he said. “The weather was really troublesome all week. And there was a big storm Thursday. It wasn’t storming at the 10 o’clock hour (when Obama would have spoken), but it would have been challenging for people standing in line all day.”

• Local and visiting police ended up being “the best tour guides we had.”

“It set a tone that people are going to be safe and secure but they’re also going to be welcome and that those two things aren’t mutually exclusive,” Murrey said.

• The Charlotte attributes most cited by delegates – friendly, clean, interesting, fun – will cause many of them to return as tourists.

“I think Charlotte just got on the list of cities people want to check out.”

• Charlotte may go after other events – the Super Bowl, the Olympics – but its success at hosting the convention means it no longer has anything to prove.

“It made us feel a lot more confident in saying who we are rather than what we need to become,” he said. “We’ll still be looking for other accomplishments, but there’s some satisfaction now that Charlotte is a great place and we don’t necessarily have to work so hard to check off the next box.”

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