Bernie Delegates Claim They Made $5,000 Selling DNC Credentials
I would have thought that I was walking into a swingers party. A cheap motel near the Philadelphia airport. A bunch of people crammed into two rooms smoking copious amounts of weed and drinking beer and shots of tequila. But it wasn’t a swingers party that I was invited to. It was a party for Democratic National Convention delegates, some of whom were selling their prized credentials — the security passes that allowed them past the DNC fence and into the main hall at the Wells Fargo Center.
“We made like $5,000 since Wednesday,” bragged one Ohio delegate (pictured, left) while standing in Room 224 of the Philadelphia Airport Econo Lodge in Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania on Thursday. (The delegate to his right confirmed that he had sold his pass as well.) At least six Ohio delegates at the party told me that they and some other members of the state delegation had been selling their DNC security credentials to anyone who wanted to buy them, and Philadelphia magazine was able to independently verify that many people at the party were, in fact, delegates.
The crew partying at the motel had all been ardent supporters of Bernie Sanders. In fact, some of them made the national news on Tuesday after staging a walkout from the convention floor.
“I’m the one screaming really loud in the videos,” one told me, pulling me into a quiet corner of the room to gleefully show me a video of him screaming. Once the walkout was done, the floor of the DNC was the last place these delegates wanted to be, and someone in the group came up with the idea of selling their DNC credentials for cold, hard cash.
The party at the Econo Lodge — or Berncono Lodge, as the delegates dubbed it — began several hours before Hillary Clinton went on to deliver her speech at the Democratic National Convention, thought to be extremely locked-down and secure.
After all, an armada of Philadelphia police officers, United States Secret Service agents and Homeland Security details were all on hand to make sure that no unauthorized person breached the eight-foot-high DNC fence. Several protesters now face federal charges for doing just that.
But it turns out that anyone could have walked past that fence and onto the DNC floor on Thursday night — well, anyone who had $750 in their pocket to pay a delegate willing to sell off their credentials. Granted, all attendees had to walk through metal detectors and clear the equivalent of airport security, but it was still a shock for me to learn that DNC floor access was so easy to get.
It was Wednesday night when I first heard a rumor that Ohio delegates were trying to unload their DNC credentials. A pair of Bernie supporters who drove straight through from Olympia, Washington were hanging out at Philadelphia bar Bob & Barbara’s on Wednesday when they met members of the disgruntled Ohio delegation. The couple was invited to a party at Berncono Lodge on Thursday, and they were told that there were DNC credentials for sale.
Coincidentally, I had befriended the couple on Monday night when they wandered into a different bar and sat two stools away from me. After we watched the convention on TV, they wound up crashing on the floor of my house. They had nowhere else to sleep.
Two days later, when they told me what was said at Bob & Barbara’s, it didn’t make sense at first. After being screened by Secret Service, we at Philadelphia magazine were issued DNC credentials, and our photos are prominently displayed on them. So what would be the point of selling a DNC credential that would prove to be worthless once the buyer showed up at the security gate, unless the buyer happened to bear a striking resemblance to the seller?
But then I learned that delegate credentials apparently do not include a photo. In addition to observing multiple delegate credentials for myself, I spoke with two Pennsylvania delegates who confirmed that their credentials have no photos on them. Neither the DNC nor the Secret Service responded by deadline to repeated requests for comment.
Well, surely they still have to show a photo ID before getting past security at the DNC, right? Nope, the Pennsylvania delegates told me. Several of the Ohio delegates confirmed the same.
Scratching my head over this seemingly gaping hole in DNC security, I asked once more if the delegates are able to travel from their hotels in Center City to the DNC without showing anything with their photo on it.
“Correct, correct,” replied one of the delegates, this one from Philadelphia. “You don’t need ID for anything.”
On Thursday afternoon, the couple from Olympia invited me to the party at Berncono Lodge, and I accepted. We stopped off at the motel’s combo Chinese restaurant-cocktail lounge, picking up two six-packs of beer for the party.
Room 224 was where most of the action was — or at least that’s where there were two large coolers overflowing with beer and a wide array of booze bottles on the dresser. The crowd of 30 or so people rotated between watching convention coverage in the rooms, passing joints, standing on the balcony pontificating about the future of America, and talking about how much money they made by selling the credentials.
The delegate seen here, who told me he too was selling passes, said that most of the money raised was going straight into a new political action committee that the group was setting up to “support truly progressive causes,” in his words. Another said that some of the funds were being used to cover the cost of their trip. Another described it as “pizza and beer” money.
As TV news commentators teased the upcoming DNC performance of Katy Perry, I sat on a bed in Room 224 talking to two delegates about their creative fundraising.
“Fuck them,” said one Ohio woman of the DNC before reminiscing about how good Lorenzo’s Pizza is. (She’s originally from the Bella Vista neighborhood of Philadelphia.) “This election has been bought and sold, so why shouldn’t we sell them?”
The other, a middle-aged man, explained that they were originally trying to sell the credentials by word-of-mouth. As the week wore on, they put up since-deleted Craigslist ads. “We were getting some calls from reporters,” he told me. “So we took them down.”
His desire for discretion was understandable. Beyond being ethically questionable and certainly displeasing to the people who gave them the credentials, there’s also the possibility of it becoming a criminal matter, assuming the case could be made that the delegate pass constituted a ticket to an event.
Pennsylvania law prohibits anyone without a special state license from reselling tickets — there are loopholes that allow for sites like StubHub — although ticket scalping is understandably not typically a high-priority for law enforcement.
It’s so low-priority that a spokesperson for the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office (the hotel is actually located in that jurisdiction) told me she didn’t even realize it was an illegal practice. But Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams confirmed that scalping is illegal after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia complained that people were selling tickets to see Pope Francis speak — tickets they got for free.
It is unclear whether selling the credentials violated DNC rules or presented other legal issues; the DNC and Secret Service did not respond to questions on that topic. They also did not reply to an inquiry about whether they were aware of anyone getting into the DNC using scalped credentials.
Eventually, two of the Ohio delegates told me outside on the balcony, they enlisted the help of one former and one current Ohio state legislator in finding buyers. “At that point, we had to start calling it a donation to the cause,” one of the Ohio delegates said, referring, it seemed, to the unnamed PAC others at the party had mentioned as one of the beneficiaries of the sales.
Realizing that I would probably have just enough time to get from Berncono Lodge to the DNC in time for the big speech, I went back into room 224 and sat across from the middle-aged man again. It was time for me to try to make a purchase.
“So,” I began. “Do you have any left to sell?”
“You could just make it,” he replied, looking at the TV. “But it all depends on if you have $1,000 on you right now.”
The price, apparently, went up as the excitement in the city built.
“Let’s make it $250 and call it a day,” I bargained.
“I can’t do it for less than $500,” he insisted. “That’s just the minimum that we all agreed to.”
“Well, I guess I’ll just be watching it on TV like you guys,” I said. And then I reached into the cooler and grabbed another beer.
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