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Corporate Funds Pledged For Republican Convention Under Fire

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at West Chester University in West Chester, Pa., on April 25.
Matt Slocum
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at West Chester University in West Chester, Pa., on April 25.

As Donald Trump prepares to accept the Republican nomination, just over eight weeks away, he's let it be known he thinks the nominating conventions are boring.

He's right. Every nominee since 1980 has been known before the opening gavel. Floor fights are nearly extinct. The TV audience is dwindling.

Trump wants a flashier GOP convention. But the event already has its own controversy, because of the nominee himself.

It's about money.

This spring, several progressive groups said Coca-Cola, Microsoft and a few other big corporations should retract $100,000 contributions pledged for the Republican convention in Cleveland.

The progressive groups said the money would help promote Trump, thus compromising the corporations' own policies not to discriminate.

"They can't be out there professing their commitment to those core values, when they end up making decisions to align their brand with Trump's racist and sexist campaign," said Murshad Zaheed, political director of Credo Action. "They can't have it both ways."

The contributions were for Cleveland's nonprofit host committee, not the Republican national committee.

Zaheed said Coca-Cola and Microsoft both backed out of their pledges. The two companies dispute that. They told NPR that yes, they have reduced their cash contributions for both conventions — but those decisions were made last year. And both still plan to supply their products — drinks and technology — to the conventions.

The groups are also putting pressure on Google, which is the official live-streaming service for the convention. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on the company's cash contributions.

All three corporations emphasized that they don't make political endorsements.

David Gilbert, president of the Cleveland host committee, said, "I wouldn't say there's been no effect, but overall it's been pretty small."

In fact, the host committee so far has raised $56 million, so a couple of $100,000 checks are not a crisis.

"We have actually already raised more money than any other political convention in history," Gilbert said.

And , site of the Democratic convention, isn't far behind. A spokeswoman there declined interview requests.

The Republican and Democratic national committees are raising money, too.

What moves corporations, unions and wealthy donors to give? Among the reasons: hometown spirit, civic responsibility and, of course, access to powerful politicians.

"These conventions are all about providing one-on-one access to the very well-financed donors behind the conventions," said Craig Holman, of the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen.

Forty years ago, the conventions were financed purely with public funds. The 1976 conventions cost about $9 million each, adjusted for inflation. In the 1990s, the Federal Election Commission relaxed the rules, allowing host committees to raise money without limits. Private funds flowed in. The 2012 GOP convention cost $74 million.

Since then, Congress has ended the public funding, and Congress and the FEC have opened two new channels for more private money. The only federal funds this year are $50 million for security at each convention.

The upshot, said Holman: Bloated soirees that are "seen by party leaders as being an excellent opportunity for lawmakers and candidates to embrace the very wealthy special interests and the corporate interests."

Disclosure of those interests has to wait. The host committees don't file their reports until September, two months after the balloons drop on the nominees.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.