Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fundraising success for RNC host committee came from small number of big checkbooks

More than $28 million in donations came in during July and August for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

DIRK SHADD | Times

More than $28 million in donations came in during July and August for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

TAMPA

In the months leading up to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, local boosters talked a breezy, confident game: Fundraising? Going well. No worries.

Privately, it was much harder than they let on.

Recession-battered companies that gave to previous national political conventions were sitting this one out. Companies in major regions of Florida seemed indifferent to their sales pitch. (Hello, Orlando? Disney? Universal?)

Two months before the Aug. 27-30 convention, the Tampa Bay Host Committee was nearly $30 million short of its $55 million goal, according to data from an 833-page report filed this week with the Federal Election Commission.

One month out, it was still more than $15 million short.

"There were days when we were genuinely concerned that we might not make it," host committee president Ken Jones said Thursday.

But make it they did — and then some. How is a story largely about a few people with the ability to write big checks, to persuade others to do so, or both.

• • •

As much as anything, the numbers show this: This was a convention paid for by the 1 percent.

Contributions totaled nearly $55.3 million: $44.9 million in cash and $10.4 million in donations of goods or services.

The host committee had 18 donors who gave $1 million or more. Those included hedge funds and their founders, high-tech companies, industrialists, CEOs and several charitable trusts.

Some are well-known supporters of conservative candidates, like Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who propped up Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign for a while; or causes, like David Koch, who with his brother Charles controls a chemical, oil and household products conglomerate giving them a combined net worth of $50 billion.

Altogether, those 18 donors accounted for 60 percent of the money raised for the RNC.

Add in the donors who gave at least $100,000, and the host committee raised about 91 percent of its money in increments of six or seven figures. That's a higher percentage of big-money donors than for either national political convention four years ago.

• • •

With $4.6 million from himself and two of his companies, St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards was a hero of the host committee's fundraising effort.

Organizers say Edwards played an even bigger role than his contributions alone suggest.

He's credited with helping to pull in the Seminole Hard Rock Casino Tampa ($100,000), David Koch ($1 million) and three Pinellas County title company executives, William Baumgart, Ian Gorman and James Sketch, who combined gave another $1 million.

Edwards was also among the many local boosters who worked to persuade Adelson to write the biggest check the host committee would receive — $5 million.

"We pleaded our case so much — over and over — I think he just finally said, 'Okay,' " Edwards said Thursday.

"Bill's a Vegas guy," Jones said. "He produced Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday party last year. He had a show in Vegas, Cheap Trick does the Beatles, at Paris Hotel. It was sold out for three months. So he knows Steve Wynn. He knows Adelson."

Much of that money arrived when it was really needed. Edwards' biggest corporate contribution, Koch's check and Adelson's check — they all came in a rush of $14 million in donations during July. Nearly $14.3 million more followed in August.

Edwards, a member of the host committee's executive board, got involved in fundraising early. Host committee chairman Al Austin said organizers wanted him because of his concern for his community and his generosity.

But both Austin and Edwards said the task turned out to be harder than anyone expected.

At one point, Edwards said, he was even in a meeting where the idea of cutting back aspects of the convention was discussed.

But the whole idea of the convention was to increase tourism and show off the area — not only to delegates but to national and international journalists, he said.

It had to work, so Edwards said he decided to "prime the pump one more time" and re-double his efforts to get people on the verge of donating to give.

"To me," he said, "when you promise somebody that you're going to do something, you've got to do it."

• • •

A little more than a year out from the convention, host committee leaders talked of raising 45 percent of their funds inside Florida. In the end, it turned out to be 27 percent, and it wasn't evenly distributed.

Contributions from the Orlando area were negligible — not quite $500,000. Neither Universal Studios nor Disney gave a dime.

"Orlando? I can't speak for the companies that didn't give," Jones said. "I will tell you that we pitched them. We sat down with them on numerous occasions and we asked."

• • •

The host committee reported spending $52.4 million through Oct. 2.

In coming months, the host committee plans to commission an economic impact study that looks at how much direct convention spending took place in the Tampa Bay area — not only from the money raised by the host committee, but from money spent on the convention by the Republican Party and on security spending by the city of Tampa.

Jones has said he expects the overall economic impact to be in the range of $175 million, and he stuck by that estimate Thursday.

And he said he thinks that's true even with some big contracts, like a $5.5 million bus transportation contract to Gameday Management Group of Orlando, going to companies outside the Tampa Bay area.

With 400 charter buses to put on the road, Gameday hired buses from this area and well beyond, Jones said.

"They may be based in Orlando, but the job was here," he said. "They had to go to the restaurants here, stay in the hotels here, so I think that even though they were from slightly outside of the bay area, they were still here in the bay area doing a job which impacted our economy."

NOTABLE corporate donors

Top donors

Donor Amount
Sheldon G. Adelson, casino CEO, Las Vegas $5 million
Bill Edwards and companies, mortgage investments,
music production and promotion, hospitality, St. Petersburg
$4.6 million
AT&T Services, Washington, D.C. $3.09 million (cash and
in-kind telecommunications)
Cisco Systems, San Jose, Calif. $3.03 million (in-kind services and equipment)
Bright House Networks, East Syracuse, N.Y. $2.5 million (cash and
in-kind telecommunications)
American Petroleum Institute, Washington, D.C. $2.02 million
Microsoft, Fargo, N.D. $1.5 million (cash
and in-kind software)
Vinik Family Foundation, Boston, Mass. $1.5 million
Bank of America, Charlotte, N.C. $1.1 million (cash
and in-kind office furniture)
James S. Davis, chairman, New Balance, Brighton, Mass. $1 million
David H. Koch, Koch Chemical Technology Group , Wichita, Kan. $1 million
Robert L. Mercer, financial analyst, Renaissance Technologies,
East Setauket, N.Y.
$1 million
Paul Singer, hedge fund founder, New York, $1 million
Ronald Wanek, executive, Ashley Furniture Industries,
St. Petersburg
$1 million
Florida Power & Light, Juno Beach $1 million
Robert Wood Johnson 1962 Charitable Trust, New York $1 million
Paulson & Co., New York $1 million
Jerry Perenchio Living Trust, Los Angeles $1 million

Source: Federal Election Commission

Donor Amount
Bacardi USA $179,261*
American Petroleum
Institute
$2,022,473
Tampa Bay Times Fund Inc. $25,000
Seminole Tribe of Florida $250,000
TECO Energy Inc. $250,000
Google $350,000

* In-kind beverage services

Fundraising success for RNC host committee came from small number of big checkbooks 10/18/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 19, 2012 3:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: Irma makeup days, HB 7069, charter schools and more

    Blogs

    MAKEUP DAYS: Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart waives two of the required 180 days of instruction to help districts complete the …

    Education Commissioner Pam Stewart
  2. Rays morning after: At least Archer looked good

    Blogs

     

  3. Financially strapped Brooksville raises tax rate and fire fees

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — After conducting an intensive examination of the city's financial position over the past couple of months, the Brooksville City Council has settled on its 2017-18 budget and a tax increase and fire fee increase to help pay for it.

    City Council member Joe Bernardini voted against the budget and the tax rate increase, saying it contained no employee raises and almost no capital expenses.
  4. Mexicans dig through collapsed buildings as quake kills at least 217 (w/video)

    World

    MEXICO CITY — Police, firefighters and ordinary Mexicans dug frantically through the rubble of collapsed schools, homes and apartment buildings early Wednesday, looking for survivors of Mexico's deadliest earthquake in decades as the number of confirmed fatalities stood at 217.

    A man is rescued from a collapsed building in the Condesa neighborhood after an earthquake struck Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. The 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico, killing more than 100 people. [Associated Press]
  5. Lacking support, lobbying ordinance gets no hearing in Hernando

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — A push to publicly identify people who lobby top county officials was rejected by a majority of the Hernando County Commission this week when commissioners decided to pull a proposed lobbying ordinance from the agenda.

    Commissioner Steve Champion said there was not a consensus to bring a lobbying ordinance forward so the item should not have been placed on the agenda.