Duke Energy Secures High Profile When DNC Comes To Charlotte
In Charlotte's quest to land the Democratic National Convention in 2012, Duke Energy and its CEO Jim Rogers have been center stage. He was the only business leader on stage at the press conference announcing Charlotte's selection to host the convention. Rogers is now leading the fundraising and has volunteered Duke Energy as the convention's safety net by guaranteeing a $10 million line of credit. Nominating conventions are a splashy blitz of political power and media attention culminating in the all-important speech by a presidential nominee. Some 84,000 people turned out to Denver's Mile High Stadium when Barack Obama was named the Democratic candidate in 2008. Conventions carry a hefty price tag. Charlotte's host committee must raise more than $36 million. In Denver, the convention host committee raised $55 million, including several corporate donations of more than a million dollars. But there was one thing Denver host committee CEO Mike Dino says he couldn't get: a letter of credit. "Everybody said a letter of credit is essentially a donation to the convention," recalls Dino. "They said 'We will make a donation to the convention effort, but we will not be doing it to the tune that you need a letter of credit that is in the several million dollar range.'" Denver wasn't alone. No Democratic convention host city has managed to secure a line of credit. To date, none have actually needed one, party officials say. Organizers of the upcoming Republican National Convention in Tampa say they don't have a line of credit either, and don't think they'll need one. But the rules are different for Charlotte. The Democratic Party has decided to prohibit corporate cash in this convention. So Charlotte leaders figured they could stand out against other cities bidding for the convention by actually securing a line of credit. Host committee interim director Will Miller says Duke was the obvious choice. "We feel very strongly that we can raise the money that's gonna be required to be raised, and Jim Rogers - because he is heading the fundraising - felt like it would be very easy to support the effort by putting up that credit enhancement," says Miller. Miller is adamant Charlotte won't need the line of credit, but the arrangement has become a rallying point for conservative activists. Some 13,000 people have signed a petition at FireJimRogers.com. The petition's organizers have ties to the Tea Party, so much of their concern is political. They're upset with Rogers' outspoken support for legislation to limit greenhouse gases. They speculate he's cozying up to Democrats so he can land a White House appointment. But they also say the line of credit exposes Duke shareholders to unnecessary risk - both financial and political. "What happens in the next election if Republican's sweep?" asks Tom Borelli of the right-leaning National Center for Public Policy Research. "Then (Duke Energy) is at risk for backing the political party that lost. Here you have Rogers who's putting all his eggs in with the Democratic Party." Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams says the company is "putting eggs in our hometown's basket." "It's certainly not partisan," says Williams. "It's just all about showcasing our headquarter city and our region and our state." Williams notes elected Democrats and Republicans around the state campaigned for Charlotte to host the Democratic National Convention because of the attention and tourism dollars it will bring. But to say that Duke's support is purely non-partisan seems a stretch to Dave Levinthal of the political money watchdog OpenSecrets.org. "If they didn't have a Political Action Committee, if they didn't lobby the federal government to the tune of the millions of dollars that they do every year, they might be able to say this is purely out of civic pride and for civic reasons," says Levinthal. "There is a political gain to be had here." Disclosure records compiled by Open Secrets show Duke Energy spent more lobbying Congress last year than ever before - $6.5 million. Duke's political action committee also beat its previous spending records, giving $1.45 million to both Democrat and Republican candidates. Climate change legislation, pollution regulations and nuclear policies are top priorities for Duke. Open Secrets' Dave Levinthal says going the extra mile to support the Democratic National Convention is bound to pay off for Duke. "If Duke Energy is in its time of need going forward, they're gonna be in a better position to ask for a little bit of help from Democrats for having made this gesture, even if they don't ultimately tap the funds that are being put on the table," says Levinthal. Because of the new ban on corporate cash donations for the convention, Duke Energy has found a way to secure what will likely be the most high-profile role any business will play when the Democratic elite come to Charlotte in 2012.