To justify a $310,000 bonus given to the staff leader of the local effort to host the Democratic National Convention here, former Gov. Ed Rendell said much of the money was to cover volunteer work done before Philadelphia was formally selected.
It turns out that the beneficiary of the bonus, Kevin Washo, was being paid during the exploratory period — by the political consulting firm hired to bring the convention to Philadelphia.
Washo was vice president of New Partners, which was paid $243,000 for helping the city win the bid.
U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, Democratic Party chairman in Philadelphia, who helped the city win the convention, called the payout “terrible.”
Rendell, who served as chairman of the committee and authorized nearly $1 million in bonuses given to committee staff in November, said he was not aware that New Partners had been paid for work in the bid phase or that Washo had been working for it.
“We might have double-paid him. I’ll have to check into it. That’s interesting,” Rendell said Friday.
On Saturday evening, Rendell said that after looking into the matter he determined Washo was not paid twice. Rendell said that while Washo had a salary with New Partners it was for the work he had with other clients, not the convention bid.
"There was no double-dipping," Rendell said Saturday. "Kevin didn't get paid any of the money New Partners got from us."
Washo said that he was a paid employee of New Partners but that the firm did not receive a contract with the local bid committee until 2014. He said he was working on the bid for more than a year before that.
“I had a passion for this project early on, stuck my neck out for this early on,” he said Friday. “This was a lot of work on top of other clients.”
Ken Smukler, a political consultant who worked on the convention bid from the beginning, said that he met with Washo and Brady in the summer of 2012 to discuss a potential Philadelphia bid.
“It wasn’t until summer of 2013 when we put meetings together” to start planning a bid, Smukler said. It was around that time that Washo brought New Partners to the table. The consulting firm had worked with Democrats in Charlotte, N.C., in prior years to land the 2012 convention.
Smukler said Washo and Tom McMahon, another executive at New Partners, put together a presentation in then-Mayor Michael A. Nutter’s cabinet room that summer to discuss the potential of bringing the convention to Philadelphia.
“I don’t think they were getting paid, because there was no money to be paid,” Smukler said of the presentation work. Sometime after that, Brady reached out to Rendell, and Philadelphia 2016 was created as a nonprofit to raise funds for the effort to win the convention bid.
Sometime in 2014, New Partners signed a contract. It was unclear Friday what that contract was worth.
Once money started rolling in, consultants began to be paid. New Partners received its first check for $130,010 on Oct. 27, 2014. It received two others after that, totaling $243,010.
Washo was not paid individually by the bid committee during that time. He did, however, continue to receive a monthly salary from New Partners.
Philadelphia won the convention bid in February 2015. Things kicked into gear then and a host committee staff was created.
Washo quit his job with New Partners and became executive director and treasurer of the host committee. He was paid about $13,000 monthly starting in March 2015 and as recently as March of this year. (Since November, he has been working as a government affairs principal at the law firm Cozen O’Connor.)
The host committee was designated a nonprofit and charged with fund-raising and organizing welcome parties for the convention.
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 bonuses. In addition to Washo’s $310,000 check, rewards ranged from $13,357 for the office manager, who was paid $3,000 monthly, to $220,000 for the chief financial officer, who was paid about $8,000 monthly.
Washo and Rendell have defended the bonuses, saying everyone worked very hard. In addition, they said the committee paid the city more than $800,000 for municipal services incurred during the convention, and gave a $750,000 grant to the School District and several $10,000 grants to other nonprofits in the city.
Anna Adams-Sarthou, who served as spokeswoman for the host committee, said Friday that the $10 million from the state Department of Community and Economic Development was earmarked for the convention project and “no part of that funding went towards any staff compensation.” She said there was no “comingling” of funds.
In addition to the bonuses, some of the host committee staff continued to be paid full-time salaries months after the convention, as recently as March. In comparison, the Philadelphia host committee for the 2000 Republican National Convention did not pay any bonuses, nor were staff paid more than a month following the convention, according to financial reports from the time.
Rendell said donors shouldn’t be upset by the bonuses.
“No donor did this out of the kindness of their heart. They all wanted access,” he said. “They got exactly what they donated for. No donor should feel cheated.”