DNC host committee spends more in salaries, bonuses than previous conventions

Art of Politics
File: In this July 28, 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her running mate Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., celebrate in a sea of falling balloons during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee that raised funds for the Democratic National Convention last summer had less than half the staff as its 2012 counterpart in Charlotte yet spent $300,000 more. 

The total personnel tab, including salaries, benefits and bonuses, for 19 full-time and part-time staffers on the Philadelphia committee was $3.7 million, reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission show. The 2012 Charlotte Host Committee spent $3.4 million on 41 employees, including full time and part time.     

When Philadelphia hosted the 2000 Republican National Convention, the local committee paid about $650,000 in salaries and benefits to a full-time staff of seven. Adjusted for inflation, the committee paid $919,000 in today’s dollars. 

The contrast in the two Philadelphia conventions, despite being 16 years apart, has frustrated David L. Cohen, Comcast senior executive vice president. He was chairman of the 2000 convention host committee and special adviser for the 2016 host committee.

“I had concerns throughout the process that the paid staff was too large”  last year, Cohen said, leading him to question the "propriety" when he found out that bonuses were given out to the 2016 staff. A review of records showed that the bonuses were even higher than initially reported -- totaling $1.2 million. 

Former Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who has been a close ally of Cohen's for decades, was Philadelphia 2016 host committee chairman. Since the convention, Rendell has butted heads with Cohen over the bonus payments. 

"We told our people if we did a good job there would be deferred compensation, and we did a great job," Rendell said in defense of the 2016 bonuses. He added that personnel expenses in 2000 were lower because they used a lot of consultants.

The 2016 Philadelphia host committee raised $86 million in its convention effort, $10 million of which was a state grant and the rest from corporations and individuals. Three months after the convention ended, with most bills paid, the committee repaid the city $520,000 for municipal services used during the convention. It also gave away $1.2 million to various nonprofits -- including $750,000 to the city school district and $75,000 to the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement -- and rewarded its staff and volunteers with bonuses and stipends totaling  another $1.2 million.

State Republicans have said that without the $10 million state grant, the committee -- a state-registered nonprofit -- wouldn’t have had a surplus. They have criticized the committee's use of surplus money and called for a hearing and an audit

Rendell has defended the bonuses by saying that employees were given small salaries. But a review of records showed that the Philadelphia committee staff was paid more than the Philadelphia staff was paid in 2000, the 2012 Democratic convention host committee in Charlotte, and the 2016 Republican National Convention host committee in Cleveland. 

The Cleveland 2016 Host Committee paid its chief executive officer, David Gilbert, a total of $526,000 through a variety of payments and agreements with the two organizations, Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, where Gilbert is CEO. The payments, over a two-year period, included a $140,000 bonus after the convention, said Cleveland committee spokeswoman Emily Lauer. (The committee's initial CEO, Terrance C.Z. Egger, was contracted to receive a $25,000 monthly salary. Egger left in mid-2015 to become publisher of Philadelphia Media Network, which publishes the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com.)

Chief operating officer Diane Downing was an "executive-on-loan" from a bank in Cleveland that paid her salary, Lauer said. After the convention, the committee paid Downing a $30,000 bonus. The committee's finance assistant was also "loaned" by a Cleveland accounting firm. In addition, Destination Cleveland and Greater Cleveland Sports Commission provided the committee with staff equivalent to 11 full-time executives over the two-year planning and winding-down period as an in-kind contribution with an estimated value of $2.3 million, Lauer said. The committee employed two managers and two coordinators whose annual salaries ranged from $30,000 to $58,000. 

In state public disclosure forms, the 2016 Philadelphia committee listed its top salaries: executive director Kevin Washo at $240,000; chief operating officer Eliza Rose, $180,000; deputy director Angela Val, $144,000; and director of external affairs Jordan Schwartz, $120,000. 

The top salaries for the 2012 Democratic committee in Charlotte were: $197,500, executive director Daniel Murrey; $99,000, chief operating officer Kathryn Cutright; and $67,609, chief financial officer Bobby T. Martin. 

The 2000 Philadelphia Host Committee paid its executive director, Karen Dougherty Buchholz, an annual salary between $120,000 and $150,000, Cohen said. Federal Election Commission reports show that Buchholz was paid a total of $305,000 between August 1998 and September 2000. Adjusted for inflation, she would have been paid $431,596 in today’s dollars for the two-year effort. (By comparison, Washo was paid a total of $810,000, including a $310,000 bonus for his work with the 2016 committee. Rendell has said that the bonus was part back pay for work Washo did during the bid phase. Washo was vice president of a consulting firm hired to do work during the bid phase.)  

Cohen said no one on the 2000 staff received a bonus. 

“Everyone was off our payroll by Sept. 30,” Cohen said. The FEC filings showed a $30,000 payment in March 2001 for payroll but do not give a person-by-person breakdown. Cohen said that the payment might have been what he called reconciliation. 

The 2012 Charlotte committee also wrapped up its payroll in September that year. In October, seven full-time staffers received severance payments totaling $111,000. Bobby T. Martin, the Charlotte committee’s CFO, said those payments were essentially bonuses, which ranged from $5,000 for the director of volunteer operations to $25,000 for the finance director. The committee’s executive director, who was paid a post-tax total of $233,952 for a 15-month period, opted out of a bonus. 

“It was at his discretion,” Martin said. He added that staff salaries and severance payments were approved by a board of directors. 

The Philadelphia committee bonus packages, ranging from about $20,000 to $310,000, were given out the day after Thanksgiving. They were approved only by Rendell, Washo and Rose. After receiving their own bonuses, Washo and Rose also continued to be paid full-time salaries and benefits through March (Washo had started working full time at Cozen O'Connor in November). So did Jason O’Malley, who collected a $220,000 bonus. In total, the 2016 committee spent $3.7 million in staff salaries, bonuses and benefits, including 401(k)s.

A difference between the 2016 Philadelphia and 2012 Charlotte committees is there was money left over for the Philadelphia committee to continue paying staff. Charlotte had a deficit of $10.9 million, which it later closed through loan forgiveness. 

"I think there’s a little difference there," Rendell said, referring to Charlotte. "If there was a deficit, there wouldn't have been deferred compensation" for Philadelphia 2016.

The Philadelphia 2000 Host Committee also appeared to have fallen short when the IRS audited the committee and found some discrepancies. Ultimately the committee settled with vendors, often at a fraction of the debt, and the committee closed its books with a surplus less than $500,000, Cohen said. The extra money went to the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., and the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Load comments
Continue Reading