Fishy RNC Funds Exposed

What's the difference between the Republican National Convention and the Olympics? About $14 million in public money.

The City of Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania lured the GOP's convention not just with promises of hospitality and extra-efficient trash collection. They each donated $7 million to the Republicans -- funneled through a non-profit "host committee" called Philadelphia 2000 -- and urged local companies, universities and non-profit organizations to give liberally as well. While the International Olympic Committee spent months investigating allegations that Salt Lake City bribed Olympic officials with free travel and scholarships for their children to attract the event, the donation of tax dollars to the Republicans was sold as a matter of civic pride.

"We don't contribute to parties," said Paul Steinke, executive director of the University City District, a community organization in West Philadelphia, which contributed an undisclosed sum to the Republicans for the convention. "This was advertised to us as a non-partisan contribution to an event," he explained. Contributions from local and state government, however, dwarf those from many private sources, including corporate heavyweights Bell Atlantic, AT&T and Microsoft.

This might seem surprising in a city that is about four-fifths Democratic, has a Democratic mayor and a former mayor, Edward G. Rendell, who is now chairman of the Democratic National Committee. But in lobbying the Republicans for the convention, Rendell made it clear he was less wedded to his politics than to promoting Philadelphia.

All told, 230 companies, non-profits and government agencies have contributed more than $40 million in cash and services to the RNC, though the full details do not have to be reported to federal regulators until after the convention. Some of the largest contributions came from energy, aerospace, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, auto and insurance companies.

The Democrats have raised $28.6 million for their convention in Los Angeles. Many of the largest donors clearly see these contributions as a pragmatic way to ensure access to whoever wins the election. Eleven multinational corporations contributed to both parties' conventions. In Philadelphia, the infusion of cash comes after the most costly mayoral race in the history of any American city. The mayor, Democrat John F. Street, and his Republican opponent, Sam Katz, together spent $27 million on their campaigns.

The city's $7 million contribution also pales in comparison to an offer by the city to help finance new stadiums for the Philadelphia Phillies and Eagles somewhere in the city. The latest cost estimate for the two was $1.3 billion, of which the city would pay a significant portion.

It should be noted that two ostensibly objective sources of news on the Republican convention, both Philadelphia Magazine and Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. -- which publishes the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News -- each contributed $50,000 to the convention.

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