Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Politics

Tampa Bay Host Committee exceeds $55 million goal for GOP convention

TAMPA — A $5 million donation from Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson and another $4.6 million from St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards and his companies propelled the Tampa Bay Host Committee over its $55 million fundraising goal for the Republican National Convention.

In all, the nonprofit, nonpartisan host committee took in nearly $55.9 million to support the Aug. 27-30 convention held in Tampa, according to a finance report filed Wednesday night with the Federal Election Commission.

Through Oct. 2, the period that the report covered, the host committee had spent $52.4 million to put on the convention, leaving it with less than $215,000 in unpaid bills and $3.4 million in cash on hand.

The result, Tampa Bay Host Committee president Ken Jones said, was "a phenomenal convention that showcased Tampa Bay to the rest of the world."

"The host committee met and exceeded all of the goals it had set for hosting the convention, both in terms of financial contributions as well as execution and logistics," Jones said late Wednesday.

As is typical for national political conventions, big donors — executives, corporations and private foundations — contributed huge chunks of the funding.

Edwards, whose businesses include a mortgage investment firm, music production and distribution company and hotels, contributed $350,000 himself and $4.25 million from two of his companies.

Other big local contributors were Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, whose Vinik Family Foundation gave $1.5 million, and Ronald Wanek, an Ashley Furniture Industries executive who lives in St. Petersburg and who gave $1 million.

In all, the host committee had at least 18 donors who each gave $1 million or more either in cash or in-kind contributions.

They included some of the best-known technology names in corporate America — Cisco Systems, AT&T, Bright House Networks and Microsoft — all of which made seven-figure, in-kind donations of networking equipment and services, application development and telecommunications.

The American Petroleum Institute gave more than $2 million, and Bank of America and Florida Power & Light chipped in $1 million each.

Million-dollar contributions also came from individuals: chemical company executive David Koch, New Balance Athletic Shoe chairman James Davis and billionaire hedge fund founder Paul Singer.

Eventually, the host committee is expected to give the money it has left over to local charities, but that isn't likely to happen any time soon.

The Federal Election Commission is required by law to conduct one audit of the host committee's finances, and the organization plans to commission a second, private audit as well. In all, the process of shutting down the committee could take 12 to 18 months or more, and it is not expected to make any contributions until after it gets a clean bill of health.

The $55 million-plus the host committee raised is one piece of the larger financing picture for the RNC and its security.

The FEC also granted each party about $18 million for its conventions. And Congress appropriated $50 million to reimburse Tampa's security costs.

In contrast to the Tampa Bay Host Committee, the host committee for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., did not accept contributions from corporations or lobbyists, and fell far short of its goal.

The Charlotte host committee on Wednesday told the Charlotte Observer that it raised $24.1 million in cash and in-kind contributions — about $12.5 million short of its $36.6 million goal.

While DNC host committee CEO Dan Murrey told the Observer that organizers trimmed the convention budget to $31.3 million, the committee had to tap a $10 million line of credit that Duke Energy had extended for the convention.

Duke Energy, which merged with Progress Energy over the summer, said the committee borrowed $7.9 million, the newspaper reported, and a Duke Energy spokesman said no customer funds from the utility had or would be used to pay for any aspects of the convention or its activities.

The Charlotte host committee's report showed it owing $8.7 million in debts and obligations. Murrey told the Observer that neither President Barack Obama's re-election campaign nor the Democratic National Committee will contribute toward making up the shortfall.

Historically, the bulk of the money for national political conventions comes from big donors.

In St. Paul, home of the 2008 RNC, 87 percent of the host committee's money came from individuals, groups, foundations or corporations who gave at least $250,000, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that tracks election fundraising and spending nationwide. Of that, 44 percent came from 15 donors who wrote checks of $1 million to $3 million.

For the Democratic convention that year in Denver, 72 percent of host committee contributions came from big donors.

This spring and summer, Jones consistently said he expected the profile of the Tampa Bay fundraising effort to be similar to past conventions.

Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.

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