RNC host committee meets goal of raising $58 million

RNC balloons
Balloons fill the arena at the end of the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Energy Center.

Planners of last month's Republican National Convention in St. Paul met their goal of raising $58 million in cash and in-kind contributions to stage the four-day affair.

A report filed last night with the Federal Election Commission shows who gave what, and how the money was spent.

For months, the Minneapolis St. Paul Host Committee declined to say exactly how much companies were shelling out. The new report gives a first glimpse into those details.

It's clear that some Minnesota firms gave generously. Target, Best Buy and UnitedHealth all donated more than a $1 million each. Host committee CEO Jeff Larson said the in-state businesses stepped up in a big way.

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"We had 18 of 19 Minnesota Fortune 500 companies participating. We are thrilled with the amount of participation we got from the local community," Larson said.

But other top spenders include folks with no visible Minnesota connection. They include a global financial strategist and the former CEO of Univision.

In fact, by Larson's estimate, 57 percent of the cash raised by the host committee came from outside Minnesota.

"That means that companies and others that were seeking federal influence purely, or didn't have any interest in promoting Minnesota particularly, accounted for most of the money," said Steve Weissman

Weissman is with the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute in Washington D.C. He's been keeping a close watch on fund-raising efforts for the party conventions here and in Denver.

Organizers of the Democratic National Convention in Denver say they raised $61 million, a few million more than raised in Minnesota for the RNC.

Weissman finds the amount of private fund-raising for political conventions troubling. He said donors are paying a lot of money to seek influence in Washington.

"Well, the problem is that these are unlimited donations. If you give money to support, say, Senator McCain, you're limited to $2,300. No corporation or union can give any money. But when you're talking to the convention that nominates John McCain -- which is a big ad for him -- companies are allowed to contribute directly from their treasury, without asking anybody," Weissman said.

And in fact, many companies, such as Qwest and Xcel Energy, choose to give to both party conventions.

The new report shows that the Minneapolis-St. Paul committee raised $51.3 million in cash and an additional $7.2 million in in-kind donations.

The 1,150-page document also details how the host committee spent the money. Aside from the Xcel Energy Center and businesses affiliated with the arena, the top 15 vendors that received money from the convention were not from Minnesota.

Two construction firms that helped transform St. Paul's pro-hockey arena into a prime-time convention site received the biggest payments. Veteran Broadway producer David Nash's company, based in California, provided much of the pageantry and theatrics. The Dallas-based convention and exposition firm, Freeman, also helped lead the build-out.

The two companies received a total of $17 million. That represents about a third of the total cash raised.

But Jeff Larson, the host committee CEO, said a lot of that money eventually went into the hands of local labor.

"What you'll find is that some of the major disbursements were made to the larger general contractors, who then went out and hired a lot a lot of the local vendors who actually did the work. Most of the labor here was local labor," Larson said.

The report suggests that contractors, caterers, hotels and transportation companies were able to cash in on the event. This runs contrary to the experience of many smaller businesses, including restaurants and retailers, that struggled.

The committee still has nearly $5 million dollars in hand, but Larson said his group will whittle that number in the months to come as it pays for utilities and other outstanding bills. It will file another report in January.

It's possible that any remaining money could go charity. For example, Boston donated its $4 million dollar surplus to area causes after hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

Larson says that option may be possible down the road.