In the run-up to the Democratic convention, the 2016 Democratic National Convention Host Committee launched #WhatMakesPhilly, “a social media campaign to energize Philadelphians about the Convention coming to town and highlighting what makes the city the unique.”
What makes Philly unique? It continues to live down to its reputation as “corrupt and contented.” One of the longest serving congressmen, Chaka Fattah, is now serving time in federal prison. City Council Majority Leader Bobby Henon is under FBI investigation.
District Attorney Seth Williams, who no longer has a law license, is under indictment. One of the candidates running in the May 16 primary election to succeed him is in debt up to his eyeballs.
And we now know the real winner of the host committee’s #WhatMakesPhilly social media campaign was the committee’s executive director, Kevin Washo. Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Washo paid himself a $310,000 bonus:
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.
In the host committee’s report to the Federal Election Commission, Washo's bonus is described as “Consulting Services-Political.” On Dec. 23, 2016 -- five months after the convention ended -- he collected $13,805.96 in “salary.” By then, Washo had already been hired by powerhouse law firm Cozen O'Connor “to assist clients with government relations across Pennsylvania as well as in Washington, D.C., and New York.”
Washo may soon need a lawyer.
Philadelphia Magazine detailed the other bonuses.
The nearly $1 million in bonuses were authorized by Host Committee Chairman Ed Rendell. Philly’s culture of corruption is so embedded that Rendell, a former mayor and governor, brazenly said:
No donor did this out of the kindness of their heart. They all wanted access. They got exactly what they donated for. No donor should feel cheated.
Why should donors “feel cheated?” After all, they received “access” and a tax deduction. Millions of dollars in donations to the host committee were funneled through the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau Foundation. The financial scheme appears to violate the absolute prohibition on political campaign intervention by a Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. The bonuses also facially violate IRS rules against self-dealing.
Speaking of self-dealing, the host committee donated $75,000 of Other People's Money to, ahem, the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement.
On Mother’s Day, I decided to file a complaint about these greedy mothers (half the word) with the IRS and the FEC. When I visited the host committee’s website to find out who was on the board of directors, I discovered the site has been partially wiped clean (perhaps “with a cloth or something”), including its home page, sponsors and area partners.
Also on Sunday, Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statement denouncing Rendell and Washo for not returning the $4 million surplus to the state:
I am disappointed that when the host committee discovered there was a surplus, the first call was not to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to discuss returning the money to the taxpayers. The commonwealth supports large events that have an economic benefit to Pennsylvania and the region, but when there is leftover funding, that money should be returned to taxpayers. I am disappointed that the surplus was instead spent on bonuses and grants.
Wolf requested that Auditor General Eugene DePasquale review the host committee’s audit report.
UPDATE: Three Republicans -- Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne -- have called for an audit. In a letter to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, they wrote:
The revelations over the past several days are particularly troubling. It is undisputed that the DNC had no less than $4 million I unencumbered funds upon completion of the event. A small group of individuals including former Governor Rendell chose to allocate the excess on targeted special interest initiatives and exorbitant bonuses, one greater than $300,000. We were not contacted at any point by the officials at the DNC, the Governor’s Office, or DCED (who administered the grant) about the surplus. No efforts were made to return any portion of the surplus to the Commonwealth.
Kevin Washo and the other host committee staff will have to use their taxpayer-funded windfall to pay for lawyers.