For Charlotte Democrats, it could be a $10 million question.
Now that the White House has opened the door for corporate money to help pay for Januarys presidential inauguration, should the new rules apply to retiring the debt from Septembers Democratic National Convention?
On Friday, President Barack Obamas inaugural team reversed the self-imposed restrictions in effect for his first inauguration in 2009. Corporate contributions that year were banned, others capped at $50,000.
Charlotte convention organizers say similar restrictions, announced after the city won the convention in February 2011, made it harder to raise money for the DNC.
I assume that somebody said to the president, You really tied the hands of the people in Charlotte, said former Mayor Harvey Gantt, a leader of the host committee.
Charlottes host committee fell about $12.5 million short of its original goal of $36.6 million, according to reports filed in October with the Federal Election Commission.
Fundraisers operated under White House-imposed restrictions on where the money could come from. The rules barred cash contributions from corporations and lobbyists and limited individual donations to $100,000.
Earlier Democratic conventions, like their Republican counterparts, were under no such limits. In 2008, some donors gave $1 million to the Democratic convention in Denver.
Restrictions for the 2012 convention were included in the contract between the Charlotte host committee and Democratic Party organizers.
Still raising money
Faced with a shortfall, organizers tapped the $10 million line of credit that Charlotte-based Duke Energy had guaranteed to help Charlotte win the convention in February 2011. Duke said the committee borrowed $7.9 million from the line of credit, which it must repay by Feb. 28.
Dukes third-quarter earnings report recorded a $10 million loss due primarily, company officials said, to the possibility that the DNC Host Committee might fail to pay off its line of credit. Company spokesman Tom Williams called it a normal accounting procedure.
Our hope, he said, is to be paid.
In October the host committee also listed debts of $1.8 million. Aside from the bank debt, the biggest outstanding obligation was to Maryland-based Hargrove Inc., the conventions exposition and event services provider. It was owed $972,702.
The host committee owed the city $133,000 for Charlotte Convention Center operations and $28,000 for volunteer shuttles. City officials have said taxpayers will not be on the hook for any convention expenses.
Williams said Duke CEO Jim Rogers, who co-chaired the host committee, is still working to raise money. So is Dan Murrey, the host committees executive director.
Murrey said theyre trying to raise money within the contractual restrictions to retire a debt he said stands at something less than $10 million.
The inaugural committees fundraising rules do not change the host committee contract, Murrey said. We continue to collect on obligations made to us Well work within the rules they set forward.
Whether those rules might change is unclear.
Kerrigan leads inaugural
Steve Kerrigan, the Democratic conventions CEO, Thursday was named CEO of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Kerrigan, who also helped run the event in 2009, could not be reached. Neither could Mayor Anthony Foxx, who co-chaired the host committee with Rogers.
The convention debt is a fraction of what President Obama is expected to raise for the inauguration and what he raised for his campaign.
Inaugural costs are expected to be close to the $47 million tab from 2009. And new reports out this week showed Obama raised $1.1 billion for his campaign, the most expensive in history.
Cameron Harris, a Charlotte businessman who raised money for the DNC, said the presidents campaign should help with the Charlotte debt.
I would hope that Washington is going to step down and help pay some of those bills, Harris said. Quite frankly, thats what they ought to do.