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'People Power' May Lead To Low-Wattage Event

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Workers set up Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte in preparation for the Democratic National Convention.

The group has accepted donations from Bank of America, Duke Energy, Wells Fargo and other corporate backers that are prominent in Charlotte. Bank of America and Duke Energy are headquartered in Charlotte, and Wells Fargo has its East Coast headquarters there. All three have giant corporate offices within a few blocks of the convention site.

Third, the definition of "official convention activities" used by the Democrats has shrunk to exclude several major events. These include a Labor Day "CarolinaFest" party in Uptown Charlotte that will be open to the public.  New American City and its corporate sponsors also are paying for "unofficial" welcome bashes for the news media and the delegates. Time Warner Cable Inc. is sponsoring the media party at the North Carolina Music Factory.

Finally, the party's contract with the host committee stipulates that all contributions "shall be disclosed publicly," but the first donor reports won't be made public until Oct. 15. That's consistent with federal reporting deadlines, Emmerling says. But it also means that donor names won't be public until long after the convention leaves town.

Duke Energy Draws Notice

The environmental group Greenpeace has called on the DNC to sever its ties with Duke Energy, the largest electric power holding company in the country. Company CEO Jim Rogers is co-chairman of Charlotte in 2012, alongside Mayor Anthony Foxx. Duke Energy has also reportedly guaranteed a $10 million line of credit to the host committee, in case fundraising falls short.

The company might have to step forward. The host committee has received some big assists, including a March visit to Charlotte by first lady Michelle Obama that featured entertainment by singer James Taylor at two fundraisers for both high-dollar and low-dollar donors. Also toiling to round up checks have been spine surgeon Dan Murrey, executive director of Charlotte in 2012; North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue, a host committee honorary co-chairwoman; and Foxx.

Still, convention organizers' low-dollar fundraising gimmicks, launched with the help of a full-time grass-roots finance director and a five-person marketing staff, range from the campy to the quixotic. An online store would have to sell an awful lot of $15 convention mugs or $17 "Future Delegate" baby onesies to get anywhere near $37 million.

A special fundraising appeal from Michelle Obama promised any donor who pitched in "$5 or whatever you can" the chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the convention and to meet the president.

"Has it been a challenge? Absolutely," says Emmerling. "But a lot of people have been very responsive to it and appreciate what we're trying to do."

It remains to be seen, however, whether Democrats will score any political points for trying to run a less-corporate convention - or even manage to bring their people-powered shindig into the black.

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