Local DNC host committee gives out nearly $1 million in bonus checks

The Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee used some of the leftover money it raised for the Democratic National Convention to pay nearly $1 million bonuses to staff and volunteers.

The rewards, which ranged from $500 for interns and volunteers to $310,000 for executive director Kevin Washo, were paid in November, four months after the convention. The amounts were listed in a year-end report filed with the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 31.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell, who served as chairman of the host committee, said that when he hired committee staff in 2015, he told them that in return for what he saw as low pay, he would take care of them at the end.

“If we do come out and raise enough money, we will decide what to do with it, but a significant part is bonuses and I told that to almost everyone we hired,” Rendell said Thursday.

The committee raised $86 million, of which $10 million, the largest amount, came from Pennsylvania taxpayers. After all payments were settled with vendors, the committee was left with a surplus of about $4 million.

On Nov. 25, all 12 of the host committee staff received bonus checks.

Washo, who had a monthly salary of $13,000 for two years starting in March 2015, received the most. Rendell said Washo’s payment was part bonus and part back pay for the volunteer work he did during the bid phase of the convention starting in August 2013 and until early 2015. Washo was part of a small team that worked to get the Democratic National Committee to pick Philadelphia for their convention. During that time, he was working for a Washington-based political consulting firm.

Washo said his work with the early committee was “above and beyond” a volunteer job.

Washo said the payouts were decided by him, Rendell, and chief operating officer Eliza Rose.

“It’s performance. Everyone worked hard. We tried to be fair,” he said.

Rose, who was paid between $9,000 and $10,000 monthly by the committee, received a $43,238 bonus.

Chief finance officer Jason O’Malley, who was paid about $8,000 monthly by the committee, received a $220,000 bonus. Rendell said O’Malley’s fundraising work deserved a “performance bonus.”

Other staff bonuses range from $13,357 for the office manager, who was paid $3,000 monthly; to $58,286 for communications director Anna Adams-Sarthou, who was paid between $4,000 and $5,000 per month.

Washo,  now a government affairs principal at the Cozen O’Connor law firm, said he could not remember what scale, if any, was used to determine the bonus amounts.

“They were awards for service well done. We had a small staff and worked very long hours. … We wanted them to know they are valued,” he said Thursday. 

After the bonuses were given out, the committee gave $750,000 to the School District’s Right Books Campaign, an effort of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia to put nearly 80,000 books in elementary schools.

The committee has paid back the city for any money spent during the convention and given out $10,000 grants to city nonprofits, including the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Food Trust of Philadelphia, and the Committee of Seventy. It also gave $25,000 each to Visit Philly and the Independence Visitor Center.

“In the end, on top of paying city services in the tune of $500,000 … the overall narrative, on top of making sure everything was paid, it was a successful event,” Washo said. 

Still, the bonuses left some flabbergasted.

“That’s terrible,” said U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, the Democratic Party chairman in Philadelphia, and one of the biggest cheerleaders in the effort to bring the convention to Philadelphia. 

Brady, who also served as an honorary vice chair of the host committee, said he was unaware such bonuses were given out until a reporter called him.

“I should’ve been on that committee,” he quipped.

But added that he was surprised there was money left over from the event.

After the convention, Rendell and Washo had said the committee was still $1 million short of its $64 million cash fund-raising goal. The host committee refused to release fund-raising documents to the public until the committee was legally required to file with the Federal  Election Commission  in late September. It was only then that it announced it had met and exceeded its fund-raising goal.

Rendell said the committee had budgeted for all sort of possibilities and that bills came in lower than expected.

“Some of the bills we were expecting came in at a third" of what was budgeted, he said, adding that the committee also received “some light checks” from donors post-convention.  

The Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, which raised money for the Republican National Convention, had about $500,000 left after all bills were settled, Emily Lauer, spokeswoman for the committee, said Thursday.

“We gave three $50,000 grants to three different nonprofits, which were selected by the [host committee] officers,” Lauer said.

No bonuses were given to the Cleveland host committee staff. That committee is holding onto the leftover money for “a few years for any potential obligations,” she said.

When Philadelphia hosted the Republican National Convention in 2000, no bonuses were given to the host committee staff.

The 2016 host committee incorporated itself as a nonprofit, which makes the bonuses even more noteworthy. Asked about that, Rendell said the host committee was not a “permanent” nonprofit.

“If we were a permanent organization, no way we would give out those bonuses. We would stretch out that money for future years,” he said, adding that the host committee is wrapping up its activities. “Our people worked 16 hours a day without question. They were pretty much brutalized.”

Donors to the 2016 host committee were not notified of the bonuses, Rendell said.

“But donors also didn’t know we were going to give three-quarter million to the School District,” he said, adding that no one had complained about the committee’s use of the extra funds.  As of March, Washo, Rose, and O'Malley continued to receive monthly paychecks from the committee in addition to the November bonuses.

“Again, I think this was entirely appropriate,” Rendell said.

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