Was Democratic convention the spectre of another ‘Bonusgate’?

Former Gov. Ed Rendell and Gov. Wolf last month in Philadelphia.

When the host committee for the Democratic National Convention held in Philadelphia last year donated $1.2 million in excess funds to charities, it held a press conference. But there wasn’t nearly as much fanfare when the committee distributed nearly $1 million in bonuses to former staffers, volunteers, and interns.

In fact, when reporters before the convention asked the committee to disclose its fund-raising and spending, it resisted until disclosure was required by Federal Election Commission rules, which was 60 days after the convention. The committee shouldn’t have waited that long. Now, the DNC and committee chairman Ed Rendell find themselves in an avoidable controversy.

From the convention’s planning stages, Rendell said, he told workers he was underpaying them and that if the committee raised enough money there would be more for them – like deferred compensation.

It came as a surprise, however, when staff writer Claudia Vargas reported last week that the checks ranged from a few hundred dollars for interns to more than $300,000 to host committee executive director Kevin Washo.

The revelation prompted Gov. Wolf to call for an audit, saying he was “disappointed” that the surplus funds were not given to taxpayers, who gave the convention a $10 million grant. Actually, the bonuses came from funds other than the grant, which has been audited. But Wolf’s reaction mirrors what many people were thinking.

The 2016 convention clearly was a success for the Democrats, Philadelphia, and the region in terms of money generated and the good publicity that the city garnered. Philadelphia’s stellar performance, like what occurred with the NFL draft, paid off big.

Rendell says criticism of the bonuses is another example of Philadelphia being uncomfortable with success. “When we’re successful, we eat our young,” the former governor said. But a good way to minimize the discomfort he cited is through straightforward communication and transparency that keeps the public from feeling like someone has pulled a fast one on them.

Rendell says he’s fine with an audit of all funds. So, let the spread sheets start flying. And in the future, event planners relying on taxpayer support should disclose as much as possible as early as possible.