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As Denver (and St. Paul) try to raise money for the conventions, they are traveling far and wide:
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his Colorado counterpart, Bill Ritter, each trek to New York this year on a mission. Their task: to persuade corporate executives to help sponsor the national political conventions being staged in their states next year. Ritter plays host to fellow Democrats in Denver in August 2008, while Pawlenty welcomes fellow Republicans to Minneapolis-St. Paul a month later. "A convention like this is an opportunity to showcase the city and state internationally," said Ritter, who is in his first term.More on how the corporations are being hit up:
Organizers estimate it will take at least $100 million in corporate funds to underwrite the conventions, with grants from the Federal Election Commission accounting for only a fraction of the costs. Because Minnesota and Colorado aren't home to many Fortune 500 companies, elected officials from those states must travel across the country to make their pitches Ritter, for example, recently traveled to Chicago and Las Vegas and plans trips to Washington and Los Angeles.
To raise money for next year's events, organizers are offering donors everything from luxury seats at the convention hall to receptions with elected officials. In Denver, organizers even auctioned off the right to throw out the opening pitch at a Colorado Rockies game. (The winning bid: $3,150.)
Taxpayers help underwrite convention costs by designating a $3 contribution on their tax returns each year. That public money — about $16.5 million for each 2008 convention — has barely kept pace with event costs. Private funds account for a growing share of non-security expenses.
Organizers of the Republican and Democratic conventions are offering companies access to power brokers and the chance to lobby them as they try to pick up their fundraising pace a year before the events. The pitches for corporate sponsorship — such as golf with state and national GOP leaders for $2.5 million — highlight the role unlimited contributions known as "soft money" will play in staging the events.Fundraising is lagging a bit, but Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is not worried:
Corporate donations are legal for conventions, but Fred Wertheimer, a critic of the practice and president of the non-partisan watchdog group Democracy 21, said the donations give companies "the opportunity to buy access and influence." In contrast, candidates are limited to raising campaign funds in chunks of $2,300 or less and cannot accept corporate or union cash.
In Denver, companies donating at least $250,000 can host talks with politicians on issues affecting their industries. Other private events with Democrats such as Rep. Diana DeGette also start at $250,000. DeGette said contributors aren't gaining special favors: "A reception that donors attend … doesn't in itself show any undue influence."
Molson Coors Brewing is giving $1 million to the Democratic convention. Spokesman Dan Lewis admits the donation gives his company, which also makes ethanol, a chance to lobby. He insists the donation reflects civic pride. "To have that many decision-makers of any party in your hometown is an opportunity you don't want to pass up," Lewis said.
Hickenlooper has been making lots of trips out of town shoring up donations, and he's certain the money will be there at the finish line. "We've been raising lots of private money for the national convention. It's hard work; we're not a city with a lot of corporate headquarters, but we're looking outside of Denver," Hickenlooper said.
Local organizers and the Democratic National Committee have set a series of incremental "benchmarks" for raising $40 million in cash and $15 million in in-kind donations by June 2008. The host committee for the 2008 DNC said in early June it had fallen $2 million short of the $7.5 million in cash it hoped to raise by that point.
Hickenlooper said he has traveled to New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and San Diego to meet with potential donors. "There's a lot of foundation work this year," Hickenlooper said. "I think we'll be alright. I'm not worried."