Democratic Convention Chief Denies Funding Shortfall

Michael Hirsh

Stephen Kerrigan, chief executive of the Democratic National Convention, firmly denied reports on Tuesday that the party's efforts to stage its end-of-summer extravaganza in Charlotte, N.C., was in funding trouble and would have to be curtailed.

"We are right on track with the fundraising we are doing," Kerrigan told National Journal by telephone. He said a report by Bloomberg that the convention effort was well short of its budget of $36.65 million for the event was "inaccurate," and added: "I don't know where they're getting their numbers from."

Amid reports of disappointing fundraising totals for the Obama campaign nationwide, Bloomberg reported that the convention planners were "grappling with a fundraising deficit of roughly $27 million, according to two people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss internal party politics."

The story also noted that the Charlotte host committee announced on Monday that it was moving a planned Labor Day event kicking off convention week from the Charlotte Motor Speedway to uptown Charlotte. The Democrats had trimmed the convention program from four days to three to make room for a "CarolinaFest" Labor Day festival, which was previously described by Kerrigan as "a day to organize and celebrate the Carolinas, Virginia, and the South."

Democrats are hoping for a repeat of  President Obama's thin 14,000-vote victory in North Carolina in 2008 and for a win in Virginia as well--which along with Florida are the only Southern battleground states that Democrats have a realistic chance of competing in this fall. Even Republican pundits agree that Democratic victories in any of these states could seriously damage Mitt Romney's effort to garner the 270 electoral votes he needs.

As part of that effort, Democratic organizers are combing the state of North Carolina for supporters to pack the 72,000 seats in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, where the NFL's Carolina Panthers play, for Obama's Sept. 6 acceptance speech, which is intended  to be reminiscent of Obama's rousing address at Denver's Invesco Field in 2008.

Kerrigan would not say how much the convention effort has raised so far but insisted: "We have the resources we need. You're never fully funded until the last check is in and the last bill is paid." He said that the Bloomberg story confuses "apples and oranges" by suggesting that the Labor Day event was moved because of funding shortfalls. The Labor Day event is funded separately by Charlotte's local host committee, he said, and does not come out of the $36.65 million being raised for the national-convention events.

Suzi Emmerling, a spokeswoman for the host committee, said its funding arm, the New American Cities Fund, does accept corporate cash, unlike the Democratic convention organization, and "we're doing just fine." She would not be more specific.

Rob Lockwood, a spokesman for the North Carolina Republican Party, said that the Democrats have repeatedly said they're getting enough money in for the convention, but "they refuse to provide any documentation."

Kerrigan added that there was no plan to cancel the Labor Day event, as the Bloomberg story suggested was being considered. "It made more sense to have it in uptown Charlotte, right where the heart of city is," he said. 

The Charlotte Observer reported that the speedway festival, which would have taken place about 20 miles from uptown, was attracting little interest among journalists planning to cover the convention.