Many had hoped that Jim Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy, the giant utility headquartered in downtown Charlotte, would be able to leverage his local credibility and national business connections to bring in the tens of millions of dollars needed to put on the event in early September.
Instead, several people with close working knowledge of convention planning said this week that Rogers, consumed with his company’s $26 billion merger with Progress Energy and an ensuing corporate controversy, has been too distracted to devote sufficient time to the convention.
A spokesman for Rogers, Tom Williams, dismissed the criticism. Williams said Tuesday that Rogers has put in a substantial effort, hiring a fundraising aide on his personal dime and enlisting former president Bill Clinton to headline events.
The Duke-Progress merger won approval by North Carolina regulators last month but immediately drew more scrutiny when a mysterious chief executive shuffle put Rogers, who was thought to be close to retirement, back in charge of the new energy behemoth.
The sudden change prompted regulators and the state’s attorney general to launch investigations, and Rogers spent much of Tuesday afternoon in Raleigh, the state capital, being grilled by the state utility commission about the merger.
Rogers’s convention critics spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive internal discussions. They said in interviews this week that Rogers’s focus on the Duke-Progress deal in recent months had left a void in the top ranks of the Charlotte host committee, the group tasked with raising the event’s $36.65 million price tag. That, according to the critics, has added to the burden on other less-well-connected local leaders, including the city’s young mayor, Anthony Foxx, to try to make up the difference.
Williams said Rogers had moved early to secure $10 million to $11 million in corporate contributions, which were directed into a separate account being used to produce a Labor Day street festival and other activities designed to promote the city and has raised “substantial” sums for the main convention event. “He’s doing what he can when he can,” Williams said. Still, Williams added: “He’s also committed to Duke Energy. That’s his number one priority, as it always has been.”
Convention officials declined to comment on fundraising specifics beyond saying that fundraising is “on track.”
But several people familiar with the internal discussions say the host committee has raised about $20 million, about $16 million short of the goal for convention expenses. If the rest is not raised, Obama’s cash-strapped campaign might be forced to cut a large check to cover the difference.