Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez transferred $22,270 to key backer Jaime Harrison in March, a month after Harrison dropped out of the race for DNC chair and threw his support to Perez two days ahead of the vote.
The contribution from Perez’s campaign committee, which was disclosed in an IRS filing by Harrison’s campaign, wiped out the debt Harrison had accrued in the race to lead the DNC. He was said to have had the third-highest number of supporters when he dropped out of the race and endorsed Perez, who went on to win the chairmanship by a 35-vote margin out of 435.
Harrison, who was chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party at the time, said in an interview that he and Perez did not discuss the transfer at the time of the endorsement, and Perez also transferred funds to two other failed candidates for DNC chairman. The report showing Perez’s contribution to Harrison — more than one-fifth of the money Harrison raised — is the first glimpse into the campaign finances behind Perez’s bid as he closed in on the chairmanship this winter. Perez’s committee last filed a financial disclosure in January; another is due at the end of this month.
“Tom’s staff — which is very gracious of them — asked if they could be helpful” with debt weeks after the race was over, Harrison said, and he accepted. Harrison said he made his decision to endorse Perez based on conversations with Perez and Rep. Keith Ellison, Perez’s main rival, about their vision for the party in the weeks before he dropped out. Harrison said he never discussed campaign expenses with Perez at the time.
Perez also gave $5,000 to political commentator Jehmu Greene, who endorsed him after she dropped out of the race, Greene said — although that only covered a part of her campaign debt. DNC Communications Director Xochitl Hinojosa said that Perez also assisted Sally Boynton Brown, now a top staffer for the Florida Democratic Party who did not respond to a request for comment.
“Tom had left over funds after the DNC race and was happy to help the other candidates who asked for help with their campaign debt,” Hinojosa said.
Raymond Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman who endorsed Ellison after ending his own DNC campaign, wrote in an email that he was not offered help retiring his debt after the race was over. Buckley, who exited the campaign a week before the vote, did not specify how much campaign debt he had left over.
“It took a lot of work, but I believe we paid all the bills,” Buckley wrote.
A Perez aide said Harrison, Greene and Boynton Brown were the only three candidates who asked for help with their debt.
Greene, who received $5,000 in funds from Perez’s campaign after the DNC chair race was over, said in an interview that her debt from the race “far exceeds” the amount she received. Greene said that she received the funds after talking to a contact who worked on Perez’s team and telling him about her debt. (The DNC did not clarify why Perez’s campaign retired Harrison’s full debt but not Greene’s.)
“[Perez’s staff] made a very gracious offer to be helpful, and I think that’s a sign of his character and his commitment. I think he really did bring in voices to help move the party forward,” Greene said.
Indeed, the insular four-month campaign for votes from a few hundred committee members grew expensive for many candidates, who hired staff, ran digital advertisements and traveled the country to seek support in-person — both from committee members and from rank-and-file Democrats invested in the outcome.
Perez’s campaign told POLITICO at the end of January he’d raised $825,000. Harrison reported spending just over $100,000 on his campaign and raising slightly less than $80,000 before Perez’s donation.
The heated race to head the DNC took on additional significance as a proxy battle involving Sen. Bernie Sanders, who endorsed Ellison (and who was endorsed by Ellison during the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries). Ellison is now the deputy chair of the DNC, while Harrison is the associate chair and senior counselor to the committee.
The contribution from Perez to Harrison, dated March 27, was one of only two donations Harrison took in after the DNC election, which was held on Feb. 25 in Atlanta. The other donation was for $50.
Ellison and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who dropped out of the race shortly before the voting began, did not have debt after the campaign and did not receive any transfers from Perez, spokespeople said.