An investigation by the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee in 2021–22 found “credible evidence from multiple witnesses” that its former executive director, Ethan Smith, personally fostered a harassing and hostile work environment against at least one employee.
According to a document obtained last week by Broad + Liberty, a former employee of the HDCC provided a complaint against Smith to the committee sometime in 2021.
After an investigation by two attorneys from Fox Rothschild, the HDCC issued a “Results of Investigation” letter on April 8, 2022.
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“In sum, several of Complainant’s allegations that Mr. Smith engaged in inappropriate comments and conduct were substantiated by credible evidence from multiple witnesses,” HDCC attorney Adam Bonin wrote in the letter.
“These include allegations that Mr. Smith made demeaning comments, singled out Complainant for humiliating and abusive treatment, and made sexual comments in the workplace that made multiple staff members uncomfortable. As explained more thoroughly below, Mr. Smith declined to participate in a voluntary interview to respond to the allegations but provided a statement, which has been reproduced below in full.”
Broad + Liberty is withholding all information that would identify the accuser. Broad + Liberty is also providing the formal letter from the HDCC and Smith’s response, but is withholding the accuser’s written complaint.
According to Smith’s LinkedIn resume, he served as executive director from December 2011 to 2014.
Most recently, he founded his own research and strategy firm, Upswing, based in Washington, D.C.
A flattering article from WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR affiliate, helped the company’s launch this summer, saying Ethan Smith was “the pollster behind the wins of Pittsburgh progressives Lee, Gainey, Innamorato, and more” — referring to Rep. Summer Lee, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, and candidate for Allegheny County executive Sara Innamorato, all Democrats.
As the Executive Director, I understand it was my responsibility to lead a team that always felt respected.
Ethan Smith did not participate in the investigation but did provide a written response to the conclusions, saying in part, “Like most, there are things that I wish I had said or done differently when I was younger.”
“It is perplexing to hear joking references and asides that were laughed at in the moment dredged up a decade or so later in this context. Having said that, as the Executive Director, I understand it was my responsibility to lead a team that always felt respected. I regret someone feels that I did not live up to that 100% of the time.”
Smith said the investigation was based on “recollections of jokes and causal conversations [that were] embellished or warped.”
Requests for comment to Smith and the HDCC were not returned.
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The House Democratic Campaign Committee tries to manage pooled resources not just to elect Democrats to Pennsylvania’s lower chamber but to do so in a way that creates a majority.
Earlier this year, the HDCC faced another set of turmoil when Broad + Liberty revealed the committee’s executive director, Trevor Southerland, had been receiving unusually large “reimbursement” payments, many of which were over $20,000.
All of the reimbursements totaled $365,000 for a short two-year period.
When Broad + Liberty used an element of Pennsylvania law to request receipts for the spending, those receipts fell short of the spending by more than $150,000.
Sutherland was fired days later, after the second report from Broad + Liberty.
Since then, Rep. Patty Kim, who served as treasurer for most of Southerland’s tenure, has announced her intention to seek a promotion to the state Senate next year. She did not respond to a request for comment as to whether she bore any culpability for the reimbursement fiasco that cost Southerland his job.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at email@example.com, or use his encrypted email at firstname.lastname@example.org. @shepherdreports