Facebook Twitter

Salt Lake Chamber mum on GOP convention bid finances

SHARE Salt Lake Chamber mum on GOP convention bid finances

SALT LAKE CITY — Who exactly picked up the $50,000 tab this week for hosting the site selection team for the 2012 Republican National Convention?

The Salt Lake Chamber, which is heading up the bid effort, won't say.

"We're a private organization, and this is what we do. We raise money to promote our state," said chamber vice president Natalie Gochnour.

Gochnour said the chamber has "been very clear" it raised the money needed for the three-day visit that ended Wednesday by charging $2,500 a table to attend a dinner with the GOP team.

"That's as much as we've been willing to disclose," she said.

It's a different story for Tampa, Fla., and Phoenix, the two cities also competing to host the convention where the party will formally name its next presidential candidate.

"It just doesn't seem like that big of a deal. It was a community effort," said Gordon James, a member of the Phoenix host committee. "This is very straightforward. This is a marketing thing for the city. There is nothing sinister, no politics."

About half of the Phoenix bid costing just under $50,000 came from a single donor, retired oil executive Bob Lavina, said James, who noted he had raised the rest "the old-fashioned way. I called people and asked them for it."

James said the committee has filed as a nonprofit corporation that will be required to disclose its donors.

So has the Tampa host committee, according to Steve Hayes, executive vice president of Tampa Bay & Company, that city's convention and visitors bureau.

Unlike Salt Lake City and Phoenix, Hayes said, the Tampa bureau paid for the bid, as it did when Tampa tried for the 2004 and 2008 GOP conventions. The previous bids cost as little as $60,000 and as much as $90,000, he said.

Even though the bureau is not required to disclose its finances under Florida law, Hayes said it would detail how much was spent on the latest bid once the costs are tallied.

"If someone were to ask how much it cost us to go after this, we would tell them," he said. "It's more letting people know the investment in going after a piece of business. It doesn't happen for free."

The head of the site selection team, Michigan GOP national committeewoman Holly Hughes, said Salt Lake City's host committee should become a nonprofit entity, which would require that donors be disclosed.

"The sooner they get it, the sooner they can raise money and be ready to go," she said. "They really need to, the sooner the better, actually. That helps for us to know if they're really serious or not."

Asked if the team wanted the details of the fundraising process that paid for its visit to be transparent to the public, Hughes answered, "Absolutely. Absolutely."

But Gochnour said the Salt Lake Chamber has no intention of turning the host committee into a nonprofit, unless the city is awarded the convention and becomes responsible for raising the $50 million the event is expected to cost.

"It's certainly something you can do, but it's not a requirement," Gochnour said. "The way this is thought of in the chamber of commerce world is this is what we do. We're an economic development organization."

Members of the site selection team, made up of nine GOP committeemen and committeewomen and three alternates from around the country, arrived Monday afternoon and toured possible convention facilities, including EnergySolutions Arena and downtown's massive City Creek project. They also attended a Utah Jazz game and saw the Utah Olympic Park outside Park City.

Thousands of Republican delegates and journalists from around the world are expected to converge on the city selected to host the convention, set for the week of Aug. 27, 2012. A decision is expected this summer.

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com