All about that Democratic convention donor list you're not supposed to see yet
Who's paying for the Democratic convention? The public should be able to learn that now, say civic watchdog groups, some local Bernie Sanders backers, and even the state open-records agency. On Friday, Mayor Kenney joined the chorus. But with barely two weeks until the convention is gaveled to order at the Wells Fargo Center, the people raising the money still aren't saying.
Who's paying for the Democratic convention?
The public should be able to learn that now, say civic watchdog groups, some local Bernie Sanders backers, and even the state open-records agency. On Friday, Mayor Kenney joined the chorus. But with barely two weeks until the convention is gaveled to order at the Wells Fargo Center, the people raising the money still aren't saying.
The Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee, committed to raising more than $60 million to host the Democrats' convention, says it won't disclose that information until after the July 25-28 event.
The committee, led by such Philadelphia civic leaders as Ed Rendell and David L. Cohen, is keeping mum on the list of donors and how much the companies, unions, and individuals on it are giving. As the committee points out, federal law doesn't require such committees to disclose dollars and donors until 60 days after conventions.
Critics say that's part of the problem. "It's a huge gaping loophole that the public and reporters find out after the fact," said Aaron Schreb, legislative director of the watchdog group Common Cause. "It's a secretive process."
The other host committee, raising millions to stage the Republicans' July 18-21 convention in Cleveland, has likewise declined to disclose donors until after that convention.
Last time Philadelphia hosted such an event, things were more open: The host committee for the 2000 GOP convention here released donor names weeks before the event.
By then most of the fund-raising was done and the political atmosphere was different, participants said. This time, the money-raisers are still scrambling to raise the money.
Assuming it receives $10 million from the state once the budget is signed in Harrisburg, the Philadelphia host committee says it is nearly $4 million short of its goal.
Anna Adams-Sarthou, the committee's spokeswoman, declined to give precise numbers of how much has been raised.
"We're still in the middle of the process," Adams-Sarthou said Friday in an interview. "It does a disservice to us to release that."
Nonpartisan watchdog groups that track money in politics say it's a disservice not to tell the public sooner.
"After the convention is too late to hold people accountable, to see who is funding the convention," Richard Skinner, policy analyst at the Washington-based Sunlight Foundation, said.
If the committee does not hit its goal, it will have to tap a $15 million line of credit the city extended, putting taxpayers on the hook.
The host committee files quarterly fund-raising reports with the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development, the agency that guaranteed the line of credit. The state Office of Open Records has ruled that those records are public and should be disclosed - but the host committee has not complied. It has until Thursday to appeal the decision.
In the meantime, here are some of the donors whose names have come to light.
They range from corporations such as American Airlines and General Motors to major unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, to Center City law firms with a history of political contributions and connections, such as Cozen O'Connor.
Some are giving equipment. Cohen said Comcast will be the convention's exclusive telecommunications and high-speed internet provider, at a cost he wouldn't disclose. GM is providing a fleet of vehicles for delegates and elected officials during the convention; Sunoco is donating prepaid gas cards for that fleet. Microsoft will be donating software. PECO, too, plans to contribute.
And the complete list - the one the host committee isn't giving up yet - may still be growing. Rendell, the host committee chairman, and Cohen, the Comcast Corp. senior vice president who is special adviser to the committee, have been calling people repeatedly to try to close the funding gap.
Tech companies, venture capitalists and investors, and others who haven't given before are also being recruited, along with the usual political-donor base of law firms and labor unions, among others. Some have made general commitments but have yet to follow through.
Cohen said there is some local donor fatigue, given that many of the region's companies and firms gave big bucks for the papal visit last year.
"It might take three or four calls to get a commitment," Cohen said Thursday. "They'll say 'Oh, my God, I just gave, let me look at my budget.' "
One donor who feels tapped out is Ajay Raju, chairman and CEO of the Dilworth Paxson law firm here. Besides helping with the papal visit, Dilworth supports arts institutions and charities. Raju said the firm had not yet decided how much to give to the host committee.
He found himself in a bit of pickle - he had agreed to host parties for convention delegates of Latino descent and those of Indian descent. Raju did not realize at the time that the two events, which he says will cost in the tens of thousands, were not considered donations for purpose of convention fund-raising efforts.
He said the firm maxed out its charitable-donation budget for the year by April. "When Rendell came back asking for more, I had to literally show him my empty pockets," Raju said.
South Jersey Democratic power broker George E. Norcross III is raising $3 million - but not for the convention per se. He's staging a free concert featuring Lady Gaga and Lenny Kravitz on the Camden waterfront on the convention's last day. Hillary Clinton is invited.
Those were different times
Cohen, a key fund-raiser for the 2000 GOP convention as well as this year's host committee, said an issue for the effort this time is that there's far less public funding available.
In 2000, the city, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey chipped in $31.8 million in cash and services. This year, only the state has promised $10 million.
Also, the major parties no longer receive federal funding for conventions. In 2000, for instance, that accounted for $13.7 million of the GOP tab. Now both parties have to raise their own money to help with such costs.
Cohen, too, won't say who is donating this time or how much. Neither will Rendell, who as mayor in the 1990s was Cohen's boss.
"Our fund-raising efforts are ongoing - and going well - and it is important that we not hinder that process as we enter the final weeks leading up to the convention," Rendell wrote in a recent letter to the Inquirer. "Once that process is complete, we do want that information to be available."
Cohen, in an interview, pointed to Wednesday's protest by Reclaim Philadelphia, the handful of Vermont Sen. Sanders' supporters and former campaign aides who want Cohen and Rendell to quit the host committee. Among the group's various political gripes: They want the donors' names revealed.
"People out there have their own partisan agendas and if a company is on there . . . 50 demonstrators show up outside their offices because 'XYZ bank' invests in fossil fuels or participated in raising money for Republicans," Cohen said. "I don't see the public interest in knowing who the donors are."
Some large companies that have been regular donors to both conventions have decided to sit out this year. One example is Verizon, which in 2000 as Bell Atlantic donated $3 million for the GOP convention.
"We are not directly supporting either convention this year, nor did we in 2012," Rich Young, Verizon spokesman said. "We decided to stay the course . . . way ahead. The candidates weren't a factor."
American Airlines is giving to the Democratic convention's host committee but not its Cleveland counterpart; company spokesman Matt Miller said that was because Philadelphia is a major hub for the airline. He declined to say how much American is giving here.
Many other firms on the list likewise declined to say what, or how much, they are giving.
Michael J. Heller, CEO of Cozen O'Connor, said the law firm is "respecting the host committee's decision to not get into specifics," and would not say how much Cozen is donating. Heller did say, "We were told our contribution was among the most generous of the law firms."
Philadelphia 2000 cochairman David Girard-diCarlo, a lawyer who was a close GOP adviser to then-Gov. Tom Ridge, said the political climate is very different now.
"People are upset, people are frustrated," Girard-diCarlo said in an interview. "I don't think it's a good comparison to compare 2000. It's so different."
Leaders of this year's host committee expressed a similar sentiment when asked why, unlike their 2000 counterparts, they weren't revealing donors yet. Kevin Washo, executive director of the committee, said that "to say that we are not being transparent is just not true."
The committee has listed 35 of the top donors on its website. They include unions as well as companies such as AT&T, Microsoft, Chevron, and Comcast.
Perks for 'Premier' donors
Washo declined to say how much each is giving and what sort of perks they may get in return. Perks are part of the fund-raising effort: Sponsor packages start at $25,000. Anyone who gives more than $1 million is dubbed a "Premier Philadelphian," entitled to tickets to "exclusive VIP party"; plus VIP passes to official host committee events with celebrities and luminaries, a special lapel pin and commemorative apparel.
"It's much more marketing-driven than access-driven," Adams-Sarthou said.
Schreb, of Common Cause, says it's more than that. He and other critics contend some donors help underwrite the conventions in order to sidle up to party leaders, officeholders, even would-be presidents. Companies such as GM or Comcast lobby in Washington on a host of issues.
"It's a boondoggle for corporations to gain access," Schreb said.
Raju, Heller, and Cohen say their firms donate not to get access but to promote Philadelphia. "When you are a big corporation, you want to support your city," Heller said. "It's good business and it's the right thing to do."
As it happens, the city mayor, who is also the honorary chairman of the host committee, is among those asking the committee to name names. Spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said Friday in an email that Kenney has "asked the Host Committee to release its donors" but that the committee said it had promised donors it wouldn't release names until 60 days after the convention - the deadline in federal election law for making that information public.
"He has been assured that the Host Committee's fund-raising is on track," Hitt said, "and he believes they do have the public interest at heart."
Staff writers Chris Brennan and Joseph N. DiStefano contributed to this article.