TAMPA — The 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee has raised about $15 million of its $55 million goal to support next year's Republican National Convention in Tampa.
"We're ahead of schedule," committee president Ken Jones said Wednesday. Every deadline set by the Republican National Committee, "we've met."
And if you count pledges and responses from "everybody that we've talked to who says they're interested, it's all raised," Jones said. "But it's a matter of turning pledges into dollars."
The fundraising update comes as 250 Republican National Committee members gather in Tampa to hold their summer meeting and get a look at next year's host city.
This week, members of state delegations will fan out across Tampa Bay to scout hotels and party spots. The convention is expected to bring 45,000 visitors to the area the week of Aug. 27, 2012.
"This is a Super Bowl times four," Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said at a news conference at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel. "Estimates are that $175 million outside dollars will be spent here during the convention."
The event is 388 days away, but host committee leaders expect fundraising to ramp up as the schedule moves to less than a year away. And they say many donors simply like to wait.
"We are in an economic down time, and a lot of people don't like to put their money out a year in advance," host committee chairman Al Austin said. "But because we are a 501(c)3 charity, we give them the option of giving part of it in 2011 and the balance in 2012 prior to the convention."
The host committee expects 45 percent of its contributions to come from within Florida.
By comparison, 36 percent of the six-figure donors to the host committee for the 2008 convention in St. Paul were from Minnesota, according to a study by the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that tracks election fundraising and spending nationwide.
And big donors accounted for most of the money both host committees raised four years ago.
In St. Paul, 87 percent of the host committee's money came from individuals, groups, foundations or corporations who gave at least $250,000, according to the finance institute study. For the Democratic convention in Denver, 72 percent of host committee contributions came from big donors.
So how about Tampa?
"It's everything from a thousand dollars up to $5 million," Jones said.
Really? Someone gave $5 million?
"We've had a commitment," he said.
The money the host committee is raising is separate from the $55 million in federal funds that the city of Tampa is seeking to pay for convention-related security. That is expected to come in the form of a congressional budget appropriation that Mayor Bob Buckhorn and police Chief Jane Castor have lobbied for in Washington.
The host committee says the money it raises will be spent easing the burdens of local governments as they host the convention and to promote the region — not to support any particular candidate.
"Our candidate is Tampa Bay," Jones said. "Everything we do is with an eye toward getting economic development in the bay area, so when we ask for money, we're not asking for a political purpose."
To prospective donors, Austin pitches the convention as a "tremendous economic development opportunity."
"We've never had an opportunity where we've had CEOs from 49 other states converge in one place for a week," Austin said. "If we don't take advantage of that opportunity, it's our fault."
"I've been a real estate developer all my life, so I'm an eternal optimist," Austin said. "I happen to believe if we do the job right, and if we do it the way I know we're going to, I think they'll come back in '16."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.