Donors pick up convention tab

WASHINGTON — Labor unions and wealthy donors are helping to close funding gaps for both national political conventions, sometimes contributing more than what they could legally donate to Barack Obama or John McCain.

The American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) each recently gave at least $500,000 for the Democratic convention in Denver.

Republicans asked New York Jets owner Robert W. "Woody" Johnson IV to reach out to friends and corporate contacts to raise funds for their convention Sept. 1-4 in St. Paul.

Political action committees (PACs) of unions can give only $5,000 directly to a candidate for a primary or general election. Individuals are limited to $2,300. There is no cap on how much any union, company or individual can give to a political convention.

Denver-based Qwest Communications has committed $6 million in cash and in-kind support to both conventions. Companies cannot give directly to candidates.

Johnson has raised more than $500,000 for McCain, according to the campaign's website. He said in an e-mail that he was "very excited" to be part of the St. Paul fundraising team but would not say how much he has collected or donated.

A full list of donors for both events will not be released for months.
Obama and McCain have made reducing the influence of special interests in Washington central to their campaigns.

Obama does not take money from PACs or federal lobbyists.
McCain bars lobbyists from his paid campaign staff and is the co-author of the 2002 law that banned unlimited donations to political parties.

Neither man has tried to end unlimited contributions to conventions, which government watchdogs such as Common Cause have called an "egregious loophole."

"What credibility does (Obama) have as a reformer if he takes direct corporate and union money for the convention?" said Steve Weissman of the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute. About McCain, he said, "The host committee financing his convention is still taking unlimited contributions."

McCain "will pursue reforms targeting" unlimited convention donations if he sees evidence that donors are trying to influence policy, spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

Obama campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro said the late end to the primary season left no time for the Illinois senator to change convention fundraising practices this year. The long Democratic primary battle also hampered the Denver host committee's fundraising, Shapiro said, so Obama has "encouraged those who support us to support their efforts."

The teachers' union contributed $750,000 last month for the Democratic convention Aug. 25-28, spokeswoman Janet Bass said. AFSCME has donated $500,000, political director Larry Scanlon said. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a union representing hotel, restaurant and textile workers have also contributed but would not disclose the amounts.

The Democratic convention was $11.6 million short of its fundraising goal in mid-June. Steve Farber, a top fundraiser for the Denver host committee, said the group is on pace to meet its budget.

Jeff Larson, CEO of the St. Paul host committee, said Johnson "has helped open doors that we might not have been able to open." Larson said fundraising "has picked up" since July when the committee reported raising $39 million of its $58 million goal. He declined to disclose amounts.

Qwest Communications*$6 M
Level 3 Communications$1 M
Molson Coors$1 M
Union Pacific$1 M
Xcel Energy*$1 M
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)**$500,000
Vail Resorts Management Company$500,000
Wells Fargo$302,800

Qwest Communications*$6 M
UnitedHealth Group***$1.5 M
St. Jude Medical$1 M
US Bancorp***$1 M
Xcel Energy*$1 M

Donors pick up convention tab -