UPDATE: As of 6:26 PM EST on January 18, following the original publishing of this piece, Xochitl Hinojosa, Communications Director for the Democratic Party has provided an updated roster of the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee. She has also confirmed that, despite the Democrats not releasing a statement or press release, upon his resignation, Stephen Bittel was no longer a DNC member, resulting in his removal from the Committee. It is unclear why Bittel is still listed on the Democrats website.
UPDATE: As of 4:55 PM EST on January 18, an updated roster released by Walker Bragman seemed to show that Bittel had been removed from the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee effective when he resigned as State Chair. On the official DNC website, the roster with Bittel’s name is still present. Progressive Army is attempting to verify whether the roster is outdated and Bittel has, in fact, been removed.
It has been two months since Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel resigned over alleged sexual misconduct. Back in November, six women came forward, alleging that Bittel had behaved inappropriately in the workplace. In a Politico article, one source said, “The biggest thing I will say is that it became a policy that women, especially junior staff, were never to be left alone with him in his office, plane or house.” Additionally, he was accused of leering and possessing a boob-shaped stress squeeze-ball, which he kept on his desk. The allegations were taken so seriously that Bittel resigned without much of a fight, and even apologized to those he may have offended.
Meanwhile in October, Tom Perez, as acting DNC Chair, named Bittel, the then-acting Florida Chair to the Democratic Rules & Bylaws Committee. This act angered progressives, because to do so, Perez had to remove other officials from their posts. It just so happens the ones he removed to make room for Bittel were aligned with Senator Bernie Sanders and/or Keith Ellison, who ran for DNC Chair against Perez and lost. This was another instance of the Democratic establishment siding with donors over more progressive figures in the party. Bittel had already had a tumultuous run as Florida’s chair, why would Perez place him in such an important position?
Money in Politics
Bittel, a long time donor to the Democratic Party, its candidates, and its causes, had already worked with Perez in the past. The two teamed up to bring Perez and Bernie Sanders to Miami on their “unity tour” back in 2017. Perez was not the only establishment figure that Bittel has been aligned with. For years, he worked with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, donating to her House of Representatives re-election campaign and throwing fundraisers in her honor. He also threw a party for her the day she resigned as chair of the Democratic Party. Additionally, Bittel has also donated to Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Chuck Schumer & Tim Kaine, showing that he aligns most closely with establishment figures.
It is also important to note that during the 2016 election cycle, Bittel donated $5,400 to Hillary for America, $32,400 to the DCCC, $32,400 to the DSCC, $131,400 to the Democratic National Committee, and $125,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund. He also donated thousands of dollars to multiple State Democratic Party funds, perhaps finding a loophole around the capped $2,700 limit on donations to Hillary Clinton. According to a Politico report, The Hillary Victory Fund, which was a joint fundraising committee between the Clinton campaign and the DNC, was siphoning money from state parties, with less than one percent of the $61 million raised by that effort staying in state parties’ coffers.
Bittel was the center of a controversial race for Florida’s Democratic Chair in January of 2017. To become eligible, he participated in what was seen by many as a backdoor deal to gain access to the ballot. The questionable way in which he became qualified enraged many left-leaning Democrats in the party, who protested his eligibility. He would go on to beat Dwight Bullard in that race, who had mostly grassroots support, whereas Bittel had the backing of state elected officials, such as Bill Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. People were so enraged that a lawsuit was filed contesting Bittel’s eligibility, yet Bittel persisted.
Throughout his abbreviated time as chair, Bittel often found himself in trouble. In June, he was accused by an African American lawmaker of making racially insensitive remarks at a Democratic Party fundraising gala. Some party officials wanted his resignation. But, after an apology, he remained on as chair. Then he hired Sally Boynton Brown as executive director. Not only was she from out of state, which worried some within the party, but during a speech to the Progressive caucus, she claimed “poor voters” made uneducated voting decisions based on emotions. Those comments called into question Bittel’s decision-making skills in selecting Brown for such an important post.
Then, in November, allegations surfaced that Bittel had been behaving inappropriately with younger female staffers. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Bittel resigned quickly, apologized, and then disappeared from the limelight in Florida. Conversely, he has remained on the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee.
As of today, Tom Perez has made no comments on Stephen Bittel’s resignation or behavior. The DNC chair has yet to remove him from his position of authority, even during the climate of the #MeToo movement, where other major Democratic figures have resigned larger positions for similar indiscretions.
It begs the question, why is Tom Perez remaining silent? Why is Stephen Bittel still sitting on such an important board? Does the party care more about big-spending donors than its own ethics code?
It’s time for Tom Perez to take action. It’s time to put people over donors. It’s time for the Democratic Party to take a stand.
Tom Perez and Stephen Bittel did not respond to requests for comment.