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Funding slows for political parley

Democratic convention hunting for big donors

In the year since Boston was awarded the 2004 Democratic National Convention, organizers have attracted only about $3 million in cash donations, including just two worth more than $250,000, according to a list of corporate sponsors posted on the host committee's website.

The list shows that fund-raising has slowed considerably since Mayor Thomas M. Menino and US Senator Edward M. Kennedy secured $20 million in private cash commitments before winning the convention. Republicans, meanwhile, have already obtained more than $60 million in pledges for their convention, which will be held in New York City.

In an interview, Menino acknowledged that organizers are having trouble drawing additional big-dollar donors, but said fund-raising is on track. Because Boston is so much smaller than New York, he said, there are far fewer deep-pocketed donors to solicit.

"We're struggling to piece it together, and we're going to make it happen," Menino said. "Fund-raising's going well, but we're not like New York, where they have all these billionaires."

The host committee has said it is seeking to raise at least $28.5 million in private financing and is trying to collect even more than that because of uncertainty about public funding. Under an agreement with the Democratic Party, the city promised to have private funding commitments in place by this past July 1, though there was no penalty for missing the deadline.

In a sign that organizers are concerned about the pace of fund-raising, Menino and Kennedy are hitting the phones in search of dollars again this month. Both men had spent little time fund-raising since Democrats announced last November that they would hold the convention in Boston. The host committee also hired a fund-raiser in the spring.

Organizers had hoped that a loosening of donation guidelines by the Federal Election Commission in July would open the floodgates of financing, but that appears not to have happened. Still, officials with Boston 2004, the convention host committee, said they are unconcerned about the rate of fund-raising.

"We are very comfortable with where we are with fund-raising progress," said Julie Burns, a former Menino aide who is the host committee's executive director. "Big-dollar donors aren't necessary for us to meet our goals. Our smaller donors speak to the fact that we're more inclusive and speak to a broader audience."

Boston 2004 expects a burst of new donations in December and January, when companies put together their budgets for the new fiscal year, Burns said. The committee has heard from many businesses who have expressed interest in donating money but have not yet made formal commitments, she said.

Stephanie Cutter, communications director for the Democratic National Convention, said convention officials are confident that fund-raising targets will be met by the host committee.

"It's important to remember that we are still nine months away from the Democratic convention," Cutter said.

Burns declined to confirm the $3 million figure, citing a decision by convention organizers to not release fund-raising details until 60 days after the convention because they say they are not legally required to disclose the details any sooner. But Burns said the website is a complete list of confirmed donors, and the list includes ranges of contributions. Comparing the list the committee released last year with this year's posting, and using the upper end of each donation's range, the new donors only could have committed about $3 million.

Organizers appear to have had more luck gathering in-kind contributions, bringing in well more than $4 million in donated goods and services so far, according to the website. IBM has provided $2 million in computer equipment, Nextel is providing $500,000 in cellular phones, and Daimler Chrysler has committed about $250,000 worth of electric carts for use around the FleetCenter. Fidelity Investments is providing $700,000 in office space, on top of a cash commitment of $1 million.

The Democratic convention was originally budgeted to cost $49.5 million, but increased security measures are expected to bump that total upward by as much as $15 million. If the committee raises about $28.5-million in private donations, the remaining $36-million or so would be funded by a mix of public dollars, in-kind contributions such as computers and other equipment and services from the city, state, and federal governments. Much of the cash portion of the budget will be used to transform the interior of the FleetCenter into a venue suitable for a political convention.

The initial round of fund-raising by Menino and Kennedy last year appears to have netted all of the big donors, with nine donations of more than $1 million each and one -- by John Hancock Financial Services Inc. -- of $2 million. But the website shows that since that initial list no additional companies or individuals have promised the more than $1 million in cash necessary to make them "platinum benefactors."

Since last year, the host committee has added one additional gold benefactor -- with a gift of between $500,000 and $1 million -- in AT&T. Only one new "silver benefactor" -- with a gift of between $250,000 and $500,000 -- was added to the list: the Heinz Foundation, which is run by Teresa Heinz, the wife of US senator and presidential candidate John F. Kerry. An AT&T spokeswoman said the company's precise donation had yet to be determined, and an official at the Heinz Foundation said his group has promised $250,000.

At least two companies that fund-raisers had hoped to obtain big donations from have so far declined to contribute to the convention. In documents obtained by the Globe, organizers indicated that they would seek $250,000 from the development company Lennar Corp. and $500,000 from the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, but neither company has come through as a sponsor.

Menino said he is confident that the host committee will be able to raise enough money, and said he will avoid using city money "at all costs," though he is committing city police and other services.

Rick Klein can be reached at rklein@globe.com.

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