Utility Tasked With Funding Democratic Convention Finds Itself in Tight Spot

Wednesday, 15 Aug 2012 11:15 AM

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Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility, finds itself in a political pickle as the Democratic National Convention nears, as it is being accused of being too cozy with the Obama administration because of its financial support of the Charlotte event, the New York Times reported.

The Charlotte-based utility has solicited donations, donated office space, and guaranteed a loan to the convention committee, which puts President Barack Obama’s pledge to keep business and lobbyists away of the convention to an uncomfortable and challenging test, according to the Times.

Citing local pride, Duke’s chief executive, James E. Rogers, promised to be the public face for the effort to hold the convention in Charlotte, the Times reported. Duke has backed the Obama’s energy policies and received $204 million in stimulus money in 2010 to modernize its power grids and a $22 million grant in 2009 to develop wind energy technologies. Obama has often pledged to reduce the influence of special interests in politics.

Now Duke finds itself simultaneously defending against charges by conservative shareholders that it is too close with the Obama administration and against complaints that it hasn’t helped raise enough money for the convention, according to the Times.

The sources of more than two-thirds of the money raised for the 2008 convention would be banned under Obama’s restrictions, the Times reported, presenting a steep funding challenge for Duke Energy.

“There’s an inconsistency in trying to be purer than Caesar’s wife by not taking corporate money,” Bob Farmer, a treasurer of Senator John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, told the Times. “It just makes it harder on his fund-raising team, and maybe they even have to cut some corners to make sure their coffers are filled.”

Republicans have made no such pledges against accepting corporate money for their convention.

“From an economic development perspective,” Ken Jones, the president of the Republican convention’s host committee, told the Times, “this helps the community showcase itself to the world and helps create jobs, and these are laudable goals, whether it’s corporate or individual money.”

Rogers told the Times he did not learn about the restrictions until after Charlotte had been all but announced as the host. “From the beginning of time, conventions have been funded by corporations, by PACs, by lobbyists,” Rogers told the paper. “And so we went into this thinking we would do that in that traditional way.”

Still, Duke guaranteed a $10 million credit line and office space to the convention committee, the Times reported, which raises eyebrows of advocates for tighter limits on corporate influence.

“I don’t see the distinction,” Melanie Sloan, executive director of the nonpartisan group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the Times. “It’s just a way to try and have your cake and eat it too.”

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