Scaled Back Democratic Convention: A Sign of Fundraising Problems?

Democrats' Charlotte convention scaled back amid fundraising rumors.

ByABC News
August 21, 2012, 4:13 PM

Sep 3, 2012— -- For Democrats, this year's convention in Charlotte, N.C., is slimmer and trimmer than in years past, clocking in at three days of official business, with one day turned over to a public event.

"Instead of holding a closed-door four-day affair, we've replaced one day of convention programming with a free, public event to kick-off the convention," Democratic National Convention Committee spokesperson Joanne Peters told ABC News.

At first pass, a shorter convention might not seem like a big deal. While convention organizers say it helps to open the convention to the people, even if only for another day, others see the curtailment as a potential red flag of fundraising woes.

The original plan started with a typical Monday opening and included four days of convention business -- just as Democrats have done for years.

But in January, organizers announced they were scaling it back.

"The convention program will be three days instead of the traditional four to make room for organizing day and celebrating #DNC2012 the host community," the convention committee Tweeted from its account, @DemConvention.

The schedule change nixed Monday's convention activities in favor of a free festival on Labor Day called CarolinaFest 2012, intended to celebrate the Carolinas, Virginia and the South, according to an announcement. The grassroots festival was slated for the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a NASCAR track about 14 miles from main convention business at Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena.

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Organizers said the added festival was a way to engage more of the public in convention activities and make it an event for the people.

"This convention isn't about political ritual and speeches on the floor," said Steve Kerrigan, CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, in January. "It's about the American people coming together to commit ourselves, and our country, to a path that creates more opportunity for all Americans."

But the game plan changed again in June, when organizers plucked CarolinaFest 2012 from the racetrack and moved it to downtown Charlotte.

Convention officials pointed to logistical reasons for shifting it closer to official convention venues. Still, the change led to swelling rumors that Democrats were struggling to meet their fundraising goals.

The Charlotte in 2012 Convention Host Committee is the nonprofit arm charged with raising enough money to run the convention, and it has a $36.6 million contract with the DNCC.

For the first time in history, this host committee is operating under a set of strict fundraising rules: It's not allowed to take money from corporations, PACs or lobbyists, and it can't accept individual donations of more than $100,000.

The host committee is sponsoring CarolinaFest 2012 on its own -- meaning it's not part of that $36.6 million, and it will include corporate cash, according to the DNCC.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, whose city plays host to the Republicans this week, said he's not jealous of the uphill climb Charlotte organizers face with those fundraising rules.

"It's like fighting with both hands tied behind their back," said Buckhorn. "I would've been very, very frustrated if I had to operate under the same restrictions."