CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In its hard climb to raise $36.6 million for the Democratic National Convention, Charlotte’s host committee is reaching out to one of the party’s perennial allies: labor unions.
They represent a potentially lucrative fountain of money. While the convention’s new self-imposed fundraising rules prohibit cash donations from corporations, lobbyists and PACs, they put no limits on money from union treasuries.
In other words, organizers of the 2012 convention in Charlotte can’t accept a penny in cash from businesses, but can take $1 million or more from a labor union.
“It’s in the master contract,” said host committee spokeswoman Suzi Emmerling, referring to the Charlotte committee’s 52-page agreement with the Democratic National Convention Committee.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Emmerling said, the host committee can accept any amount from another group that has nonprofit status under IRS guidelines. Labor organizations, such as the AFL-CIO, are classified as 501 (c)(5).
On Monday, 30 or so labor representatives were in Charlotte to tour the convention’s major venues: Time Warner Cable Arena, where the delegates will renominate President Barack Obama; Bank of America Stadium, where the president will give his acceptance speech; and the Charlotte Convention Center, where 15,000 journalists and others will set up shop.
The national convention committee “picked us up by bus outside the (uptown Hilton) hotel and took us around,” said James Andrews, president of the N.C. AFL-CIO.
Then, at each stop, Andrews said, DNCC staffers pointed out “opportunities” – skyboxes, ballrooms, restaurants – that could be rented for union functions.
Andrews said they were also given material outlining fundraising packages that could bring perks such as tickets to events, access to hospitality suites, credentials and help with hotels.
Among the packages: The “Carolina” (give $100,000 or raise $1 million); the “Trustee” (give $100,000 or raise $650,000); and the “Tar Heel” (give $25,000).
It was unclear Wednesday how responsive labor unions will be in helping bankroll the 2012 convention, scheduled for Sept. 4-6. The national AFL-CIO, for example, declined comment about the Monday tour. And some unions, upset that the Democrats chose to convene in a right-to-work state, say they’ll boycott the Charlotte gathering.
Still, convention organizers expect most unions will supply members as delegates as well as contributions, as they’ve done at past conventions.
A history of union support
At the 2008 convention in Denver, 25 percent of delegates were from union households. Unions contributed more than $8 million to the convention.
Among those giving $1 million or more to the Denver Host Committee, according to OpenSecrets.org: the Laborers Union ($1.5 million); the National Education Association ($1.18 million); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ($1.02 million) and the American Federation of Teachers ($1 million).
In Charlotte Monday, groups on the tour included the AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the American Federation of Teachers, and the United Auto Workers.
Emmerling said other groups allied with the Democratic Party also get similar tours.
Republicans criticized the appeal for help from labor unions. “These requests make it more than clear that President Obama is attached at the hip to big union bosses and their big-labor agenda in North Carolina,” said Matt Connelly, spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
But Democrats have pointed to the upcoming GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., which has no restrictions on giving. That convention’s host committee has reportedly received contributions from a host of big corporations – including AT&T, Microsoft and Coca-Cola – in its quest to meet its $55 million goal.
Bloomberg News, citing anonymous sources, reported this week that the Charlotte host committee was halfway toward its $36.6 million goal. But neither the host committee nor the DNCC will reveal how much has been raised. “We’re on track” is all Dan Murrey, head of the host committee, will say.
New rules, smaller donations
Mike Dino, CEO of the Denver host committee four years ago, said he talks to the Charlotte organizers periodically. What is he hearing?
“The same thing that was on my mind at this point in 2008: ‘Gosh, are we going to meet our budget? We’re getting closer.’ ”
Emmerling said the new rules have meant relying more on smaller donations from more people. “Already, we have 22 times more donors than Denver did,” she said.
And Charlotte’s Cammie Harris, a Democrat who has been asked to raise $1 million for the convention, said the host committee is up to the job.
Even some local Republicans are giving, in hopes of helping Charlotte shine in September, said Harris, who mentioned that his GOP-leaning brother, Johnny Harris, “has made a sizable (contribution).”
“I feel very, very confident that at least that amount of money will be there,” he said of the $36.6 million, “and that people of the world will get a great look-see at a great city.”