Production crew makes final preparation on the stage for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. David Goldman/AP
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A banner emblazoned with AT&T’s logo welcomes visitors in downtown Charlotte during the Democratic National Convention. (Michael Beckel/Center for Public Integrity)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While Democrats have touted their grassroots fundraising efforts for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, deep-pocketed corporate donors are helping underwrite the event.

Among the corporate sponsors at the Charlotte convention: AT&T Inc., Bank of America, Duke Energy, Time Warner Cable, Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, UnitedHealth Group, Piedmont Natural Gas, US Airways and law and lobbying firm McGuireWoods.

The corporate sponsorship appears to fly in the face of the Democrats’ pledge to host a “people’s convention.”

The party’s 2012 “host committee” is not accepting contributions from corporations, lobbyists and political action committees. Democrats also capped how much money individuals can give at $100,000.

But the party is accepting in-kind donations from corporate firms. In addition, a second nonprofit, called “New American City” was established in May to “defray” administrative expenses and other costs. New American City does accept corporate money.

The exact levels of these companies’ financial support won’t be known until mid-October when filings will be submitted to the Federal Election Commission.

Like their GOP counterparts, the Democrats received about $18 million in public funding to finance their convention. And both parties raised tens of millions of additional dollars, funneled through nonprofit host committees that help facilitate the events.

Host committees have traditionally relied on corporate funders but top Democratic leaders — including President Barack Obama, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro — all penned solicitations aimed at small-dollar donors.

“This convention is relying on a grassroots network made up of people like you to give small amounts to help make this convention a success,” Obama wrote in one typical fundraising appeal.

A few lucky donors won trips to Charlotte and many had their names memorialized on the exterior of on a pro-Obama NASCAR stock car displayed at the convention.

When asked by the Center for Public Integrity about this fundraising experiment during a press conference Monday, Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Steve Kerrigan said it was a “huge success.”

“We’re thrilled to have done it this way,” Kerrigan said. “[We are] thrilled with the way it worked.”

Several unions were listed as sponsors, despite their displeasure with the selection of “right-to-work” state North Carolina as host of the convention.

Among them:

  • Service Employees International Union
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • United Food and Commercial Workers
  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
  • National Education Association
  • United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States, Canada and Australia
  • International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers
  • National Air Traffic Controllers Association
  • United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America.

In 2008, when the Democrats hosted their national convention in Denver, unions accounted for about $9 million of the approximately $63 million raised by the host committee, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal records.

That year, the SEIU, Laborers’ International Union, National Education Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the American Federation of Teachers each gave the host committee between $1 million and $1.5 million, according to FEC records.

Many of the sponsors of the Democratic convention were also sponsors of the host committee in Tampa for last week’s Republican National Convention.

“The Coca-Cola Company believes we have a role to play in the political process and that includes helping to make the political conventions a success,” said Coca-Cola spokeswoman Nancy Bailey.

For John Sebree, the senior vice president of public policy with Florida REALTORS, which had a role in supporting events at both conventions, the appeal of being involved as a sponsor is clear.

“Out of sight is out of mind,” said Sebree. “If we’re not there, then someone else is telling their story — and not ours.”

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Michael Beckel reported for the Center for Public Integrity from 2012 to 2017.