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Gov. Wolf calls out Rendell, DNC 2016 host committee for spending $4M surplus

Gov. Wolf "disappointed" the $4 million surplus wasn't returned to taxpayers.

Gov. Wolf is asking the state auditor general review the $10 million that state taxpayers donated to the Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee last year for the Democratic National Convention.

The donation was the biggest in an effort that raised $86 million. Last week, the Inquirer reported that the host committee used a $4 million surplus to give nearly $1 million in bonuses to the 12-member host committee staff, $1.2 million in grants to local nonprofits, and more than $800,000 in municipal services refunds to the city.

Wolf said he was "disappointed" with how the extra money was spent.

"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," Wolf said in a statement released Sunday. "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 noted that an independent audit of the $10 million state grant was submitted to the state in December. The report indicated that the state grant was spent in compliance with the contract between the host committee and state -- on event expenses, including venue license fee and construction costs.  Nevertheless, Wolf wants a second look.

"The report will be provided to the Auditor General's office tomorrow," the governor's news release said. Later, J.J. Abbott, spokesman for Wolf, said that the governor wanted to "cover all of our bases" by sending the audit to the auditor general.

Anna Adams-Sarthou, spokeswoman for the host committee, said Sunday: "We're confident in our accounting and the fact that we spent the state money appropriately. ... We welcome everyone to review the audit."

After the convention, host committee officials 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. Not until then did it announce that it had met and exceeded its fund-raising goal.

The nearly $1 million in rewards to host committee staff was decided in November by the chairman of the committee, former Gov. Edward G. Rendell, executive director and treasurer Kevin Washo, and chief operating officer Eliza Rose. The checks ranged from $500 for interns and volunteers to $310,000 for Washo. (Rendell has said that Washo's pay was part bonus and part back pay for work he did early in the process.) The amounts were listed in a year-end report filed with the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 31.

Rendell has defended the bonuses, saying that the committee worked long hours for what he saw as low pay. On Saturday, he said no taxpayer money was used for the extra pay.

"None of the state money was earmarked for salaries," Rendell said. "We had to raise the money to pay our administrative costs. None of the taxpayer money was involved in this at all."

Committee staffers were paid monthly salaries that ranged from about $4,000 to $13,000. The largest amount went to Washo, who continued to be paid  through the end of March, eight months after the convention wrapped up.

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.

On Sunday, Abbott, Wolf's spokesman, said it is still early to say what, if anything, the state can do to recoup any money. "I think there will be more conversations about it," he said.