The Democratic National Convention will be virtual this year, leaving wealthy donors without the usual venue to make inroads with party leaders. Still, many Democratic donors have already invested in this year’s event.
The major funders behind the convention won’t be revealed until this fall, because the bulk of its funding goes to the Milwaukee Host Committee, a nonprofit that isn’t subject to disclosure rules like political committees. The top donors usually consist of influential corporations and unions, and this year’s host committee offered luxurious accommodations to the most generous donors as it attempted to meet its $70 million fundraising goal.
What is disclosed are the donors helping pay for next week’s event by giving massive amounts of money to the Democratic National Committee’s convention account. Just 100 donors combined to give $7 million to the account, which can pay for convention-related expenses.
In a 2014 omnibus bill that ended public funding for conventions, Congress created three new party committee accounts to help party committees pay for conventions, physical infrastructure and legal battles over recounts. These new accounts, which can take six-figure donations, were criticized for giving wealthy donors more influence over the leading political parties. Coupled with the 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on how much money a donor can give in each election, the so-called “cromnibus” bill allowed wealthy individuals to give far more to parties than ever before.
During the 2020 cycle, donors may donate a whopping $106,500 to the convention account each year. Some of the biggest Democratic donors have already done so, including former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg and No. 3 Democratic donor Karla Jurvetson.
Others gave the maximum donation twice. Billionaire investor Henry Laufer and his wife each gave $213,000 to the convention account. Laufer is joined by his former coworker at New York hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, Wolfgang Wander, in giving the maximum allowed in each of the last two years. New York hedge fund manager Aaron Sosnick and the California-based Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians — tribes are allowed to donate corporate funds directly to political parties — also gave $213,000.
Parties like to raise money for these accounts through big-dollar joint fundraising committees. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden launched the Biden Victory Fund in April, allowing donors to write $620,600 checks. That money is distributed to the DNC’s various accounts, Biden’s campaign and numerous state parties. The committee raised $86 million from wealthy donors in just over two months, but didn’t distribute that money as of its most recent filing.
Trump’s big-dollar joint fundraising committee, Trump Victory, allows donors to give $580,600, money that is distributed to the Trump campaign, state parties and Republican National Committee accounts.
These party “cromnibus” accounts are supposed to keep their spending to specific activities, but a lack of clear guidance from the Federal Election Commission has allowed parties to use these accounts for apparently unrelated services. Even tracking spending from these accounts is difficult due to their perplexing reporting system.
This year’s Democratic National Convention reportedly struggled to raise cash amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with businesses and wealthy individuals hesitant to open their pocketbooks. The host committee reduced its workforce in April amid Biden’s comments that the convention might go virtual, and the DNC announced a mostly virtual event last month.
Biden will not travel to Milwaukee, instead accepting the nomination virtually. The convention was expected to draw over 50,000 visitors to the city, but business owners and city government leaders no longer believe it will draw much of a crowd. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) are expected to speak at the Wisconsin Center, but national figures will deliver virtual remarks.
Former President Barack Obama, along with many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates including Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, are slated to speak at the DNC. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a prominent Republican Trump critic, will also speak.