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Raising money to host political convention 'tough sledding,' Pittsburgh finds

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
A Mitt Romney supporter looks adoringly as Romney speaks to the crowd at the Tampa Convention Center after being declared the winner of Florida's GOP Primary, Tuesday, January 31, 2012.

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Pittsburgh must do a “lot of heavy lifting” if it wins a bid for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, said an organizer of the Republican convention in Tampa.

Ken Jones, a Tampa attorney who worked on the past five GOP conventions, said he traveled the country for nearly three years, seeking corporate donations for the 2012 convention in his hometown.

“It's tough sledding to raise money,” he said. “I got laughed out of more boardrooms in this country than I care to remember.”

The Democratic National Committee invited Pittsburgh and 14 other cities to apply for its quadrennial presidential nomination event. City officials say they are gauging financial support from private donors before they prepare a bid.

Pittsburgh would have to establish a nonprofit staffed by community leaders as the fundraising mechanism for the convention, Jones said.

His advice for Pittsburgh: Be sure to include a clause that says the city is not responsible for costs.

“Our deal with the former mayor of Tampa was the mayor wasn't going to support the bid if it was going to cost the taxpayers of Tampa any money,” Jones said.

Tampa taxpayers ended up kicking in $676,000, according to the mayor's office. That came as a surprise to Jones, who said he thought the so-called host committee of community leaders covered costs.

“We had Democrats and Republicans,” Jones said. “We probably had socialists and communists and anarchists — I didn't care.”

Committee members were to tap as many people as possible for money. They raised about $59 million in cash and in-kind contributions, mostly from corporations, Jones said. The money paid for convention infrastructure, such as the stage, lighting and beautification efforts around Tampa.

The federal government kicked in $68 million, mainly for convention security.

Jones said the payoff was a $216 million economic boost for Tampa and global media attention for four days.

“We brought the community together, and we showcased Tampa,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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