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“Apparently nothing has changed,” DNC executive committee member James Zogby tells Status Coup.
DNC Chair Tom Perez has vowed neutrality during the 2020 Democratic Primary three years after the party, by all objective measures, tossed its full body on the scale to make Hillary Clinton the Democratic nominee over Bernie Sanders.
But Perez’s mission may be complicated by the man he’s appointed as the DNC’s new Finance Chair: Chris Korge, a Florida real estate mogul, attorney, former lobbyist and prolific moneyman who the New York Times once advised presidential candidates to make their first stop before deciding whether to run. Korge’s son Andrew seems to agree, dubbing his dad “K-Money” and “K-Stacks.”
One lawmaker who’s benefited from Korge’s cash is controversial former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as well as former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who Korge once referred to as a “big sister” to him.
Korge donated $2,700 to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz during her 2018 reelection campaign, but maybe more importantly, donated the same amount during her 2016 primary contest against surprise progressive insurgent and Sanders-endorsed Florida professor Tim Canova. At the time, Wasserman Schultz was, for the first time, vulnerable of losing her seat in the face of Canova, who received $3.8 million in small-dollar donations from 209,000 individual donors to compete with Wasserman Schultz’s big money machine. Canova ultimately lost by 6,775 votes—but not without controversy. Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, a Wasserman Schultz ally, destroyed the paper ballots from the race, which cost her her job and resulted in a Judge ruling the destruction of the ballots, for which Canova wanted to inspect seeking irregularities, was illegal.
Overall, Korge donated $13,400 to Wasserman Schultz’s campaigns since 2011; he also gave the DNC a significant amount a year before Wasserman Schultz was named chairwoman. According to OpenSecrets.org, Korge donated $15,000 to the DNC in April 2010; a year later, Wasserman Schultz was named chairwoman.
Combing through financial records, Status Coup found that Korge donated $5,000 to the DNC in Wasserman Schultz’s first month as chairwoman in 2011; overall, he sunk $60,718 into the DNC’s coffers during Wasserman Schultz’s reign from 2011 through her resignation on the eve of the DNC Convention in July 2016. His support for Wasserman Schultz dates back to the time before she was a Congresswoman, donating $1,000 to her in December 2003 when she was a Florida state senator.
Of course, Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign as DNC Chairwoman after WikiLeaks emails revealed the DNC, under Wasserman Schultz’s leadership, had actively propped up Hillary Clinton’s campaign while attempting to sabotage Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. As DNC Chairwoman, Wasserman Schultz appeared far from neutral during the primary; in one of the highest-profile instances, she appeared on national television and accused Sanders supporters of allegedly stoking violence and throwing chairs at the Nevada Democratic Convention, a narrative that was repeated across major national media outlets—but was clearly false.
Korge’s support for Hillary and Bill Clinton has been even more pronounced: he’s raised millions for both, dating back to the 90s as one of their top bundlers. Since 2005, he’s donated $21,700 directly to Clinton’s campaign committees. In 2016, Korge gave $41,000 to two joint fundraising committees between the Clinton campaign and the DNC: $25,000 to the Hillary Action Fund and $16,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund, a controversial joint fundraising committee between the Clinton campaign, the DNC, and state Democratic Parties that Politico reported was akin to “money laundering.”
He’s also donated between $100,000 and $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to the Washington Post. Overall, Korge has offered Hillary Clinton the most Florida sunshine, or as the Tampa Bay Times put it, “no one is closer to the Clintons in Florida and almost nobody in America has raised more money for Hillary Clinton.”
In the political circle of life, Korge’s support for Wasserman Schultz makes sense; she’s a powerful Florida Congresswoman who’s known to have a transactional relationship with big Democratic donors. She’s also a longtime ally of Hillary Clinton, having served as co-chair for her 2008 presidential campaign. Wasserman Schultz’s previous entrenchment in Clintonworld would’ve endeared her to Korge, who described his relationship with the former Secretary of State as going beyond writing checks.
“She was almost like a big sister, really caring. She would offer advice,” Korge told the Miami Herald in 2016 about the support and advice Clinton offered while he was going through the divorce process from his wife.
And Korge went to bat for his big sister in 2016 —and clearly has held a grudge against Bernie Sanders since. As HuffPost reported, in December 2018, Korge retweeted a tweet calling Bernie Sanders “dangerous to the future of the Democratic Party.” During the 2016 campaign, Korge tweeted out: “There is no choice! The only Bern the middle class will feel from Bernie is the pain from all the tax increases.” Both have since been deleted.
In response to Korge’s previous financial and political support for Wasserman Schultz and Clinton, DNC executive committee member James Zogby, who supports Bernie Sanders, expressed serious concern regarding his appointment as finance chair, telling Status Coup it signifies that “apparently, nothing has changed” since a 2016 Democratic Primary that former DNC Chair Donna Brazile admitted “wasn’t a fair fight.”
Zogby said Chairman Perez’s appointment of Korge continues a disturbing trend of “the lack of accountability, transparency, and democracy” coming from the DNC.
“Appointments get made and we have no idea until they’re done deals. It would have taken nothing, especially given what happened in the last election, it would have taken nothing for Perez to have given us advance notice and even talked to the Bernie people on the DNC, but to come out with this and then after a couple of articles and say ‘oh no, no, he’s pledged neutrality’..is nonsense. It’s a backhanded way of dealing with a problem that needs to be addressed straight out front, and that is—is the party going to put its thumb on the scale, is the party going to be accountable or are we going to have to wait for the next Donna Brazile book to get written before we know what goes on? And the answer is, apparently nothing has changed and that’s troubling,”
Zogby concluded that Korge’s appointment creates a situation where you “have to be a naysayer,” ultimately making this an “unacceptable way to run a political party.”
Korge also donated to and bundled at least $500,000 for former President Obama; according to the Miami New Times. In 2012, he hosted a fundraiser for Obama at his home seven-bedroom, eight-bathroom home in Pinecrest Florida (Wasserman Schultz attended). He also raised $7 million for former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretary of State John Kerry.
Korge’s financial support for Wall Street and business-friendly candidates continued as recently as months ago; in January, he donated the maximum allowed of $2,700 to California Senator Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign, whom Bloomberg reported recently held a fundraiser at CitiGroup Managing Director Yann Coatanlem’s Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City. Harris’ campaign is staffed by many former staffers of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and has enjoyed financial support from many veteran donors of Clinton’s two presidential campaigns.
Korge’s January donation to Harris came a month after he retweeted the anti-Bernie Sanders tweet.
But his donation to Harris came with a caveat: if former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who has been infamously tied to Bill and Hillary Clinton financially and politically for three decades, jumped into the fray, Korge’s money would go to him.
“I did give a contribution to Kamala Harris, but when I gave it to her, I told her, ‘If McAuliffe jumps in, I am supporting him,'” Korge told CNN in March. “I have made it clear to her, as well as every other person who has approached me, including five or six of them running, that if McAuliffe runs, I am supporting him.”
McAuliffe ultimately decided against running. The admiration seems mutual; in response to Korge’s appointment as DNC finance chair, McCauliffe told The Hill: “Democrats on all levels across the country will benefit from his leadership.”
While donating to Harris’ 2020 campaign, Korge has also given to Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden during his time in the Senate, donating $4,000 in the 2000s. It’s unknown whether Korge has donated since Biden announced his 2020 campaign (Biden’s campaign donor information isn’t available since he announced his candidacy after candidates filed their first-quarter financial disclosures with the FEC).
Neither the DNC nor Korge responded to Status Coup’s request for comment regarding whether Korge has donated to or raised money for Biden since he announced his candidacy in April.
Despite his history—and a clear disdain for Sanders—Korge vowed to abide by the DNC’s neutrality policy.
“I have worked tirelessly to help the Democratic Party, and have been proud to support a wide array of Democratic candidates,” Korge said in a statement, according to HuffPost. “I’m fully committed to the DNC’s neutrality policy and I look forward to raising the funds necessary to help whoever our Democratic nominee is.”
The DNC offered that same statement to Status Coup’s request for comment. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign did not respond to Status Coup’s request for comment for this story.
Currently, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders sit as the top Democratic candidates. A recent Iowa Caucus poll has the two tied at the top at 24 percent. Most national polls have Biden in the lead by a large margin, however as Status Coup has reported, the majority of them have oversampled voters above age 50, who are traditionally reliable voters for a more establishment candidate like Biden—and undersampled voters under 50, whom Bernie Sanders did very well among during the 2016 campaign. This polling trend was recently pointed out by Bernie Sanders himself.
The first Democratic presidential primary debates will be held in Miami, Florida on June 26th and 27th.
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