The executive director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee can not provide receipts for nearly $150,000 in reimbursements paid to him over a three year period, according to a Broad + Liberty analysis.
It’s not clear what, if any, consequences or follow-up actions might be available to government authorities in the wake of this finding, as the Pennsylvania Department of State said its role in obtaining vouchers and receipts from campaign committees “is limited to receiving requests and making demands for vouchers.” The Department of State could not identify any enforcement or punitive measures at its disposal.
Trevor Southerland is the executive director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee which is not focused on any single Democrat running for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, but instead is focused on creating a majority in that chamber by supporting Democrats all across the commonwealth — something it was able to do in the 2022 elections.
Broad + Liberty reported in late July that Southerland had received more than $365,000 in payments categorized as “reimbursements” since coming onboard with the organization in 2021. That figure stood out as most campaign committees rarely have employees who request expense reimbursements over $1,000, but the HDCC’s campaign finance reports were strewn with five-figure expense reimbursements to Southerland in amounts like $19,682 or $27,987.
Southerland even had one eye-popping expense reimbursement in the amount of $39,216.
Broad + Liberty requested to see proof of $346,000 of those expenses, as allowed by Pennsylvania law. (The $346,000 for which Broad + Liberty requested proof of payment is slightly lower than the full $365,000 of expense reports reported on earlier because of an omission error by Broad + Liberty’s when filing the request with the Department of State.)
Of the $346,000 for which receipts or vouchers were requested, Southerland was able to provide proof of spending for $197,000, according to our analysis — leaving $149,000 unaccounted for.
Southerland and other officials with the HDCC did not return a request for comment on the disparity. Broad + Liberty provided its analysis to Southerland and other HDCC officials when requesting comment.
Southerland also only provided receipts (mainly by credit card statements) in bulk. He did not categorize his expenses by the campaign finance cycles prescribed by Pennsylvania law. When asked if Southerland should have sorted his receipts by cycle, a spokeswoman with the Department of State said, “The law does not specify how vouchers are to be submitted.”
Setting aside the issue of missing receipts for nearly $150,000, Southerland’s use of expense reports raises another problematic campaign finance issue.
Pennsylvania law requires that a campaign committee show “Each and every expenditure, the date made, the full name and address of the person to whom made and the purpose for which such expenditure was made.”
By bundling together so many payments into a single expense report, the line-by-line itemization that is supposed to provide transparency to the public is erased.
That has caught the attention of Rep. Jamie Barton (R-Berks/Schuylkill), who is sponsoring legislation that would require line-by-line itemization for things like expense reports, or making a single monthly payment to a credit card bill that might contain dozens of different purchases.
“I think both parties can get behind [this legislation], that’s what made sense to me” Barton told Broad + Liberty. “My background’s in the business world and in business we’re reimbursed for expenses all the time, but it’s an itemized expense report that we submit. It’s common sense ‘control practice’ that all businesses do — well, the majority of businesses do. It just makes sense to, when you’re asking for reimbursement: ‘Here’s the receipt, here’s where I was, here’s what it was for.’”
Update: On Wednesday, Sept. 20, reporter Stephen Caruso tweeted that Democratic officials confirmed to him the HDCC severed ties with Southerland.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports