Ask anyone in the Pinellas County Democratic Party and they'll tell you about chairman Mark Hanisee's fundraising prowess.
Voted party chair in 2010, he's been credited with an uptick in contributions as well as strengthened ties with unions that have become reliable donors. In years past, this effort would be rewarded with a pat on the back, but for the first time, the party has decided to pay Hanisee for his fundraising work, turning the chairman's typically volunteer position into a kind of part-time employment.
In the past six months, Hanisee has raised roughly $30,000 for the party — a respectable sum for the Democrats when compared with previous years, and in a year with no presidential or gubernatorial election. Almost 25 percent of it, or $7,450, has gone to paying Hanisee. The rest has been directed to other expenses, like the party's inauguration ball, campaign contributions, and printing costs.
The decision to pay Hanisee was voted on in the spring, said former party chairman Ramsay McLauchlan, to "take care of the time and effort he's putting into fundraising."
"He's quite frankly been the first chair maybe ever — but certainly since I've been aware — that spent significant time fundraising," he said.
Modeling themselves after the Pinellas Republicans, who gave their last chairman an $800 monthly stipend to cover travel and other expenses, the Democrats began giving Hanisee a $500 monthly allowance last year. They later increased it to about $725, financial records show.
In April, the party added another $750 to Hanisee's stipend to compensate for the hours he spends raising money, bringing his monthly income from the party up to $1,500 a month. There is a threshold he has to meet — if the party has less than $4,500 in the bank, he doesn't get paid, vice chair Susan McGrath said. The board also agreed to revisit the payments in September.
Hanisee could not be reached for comment.
"Mark has raised some pretty good money, he has a gift for that. He's not afraid to ask," said former party chairwoman Toni Molinaro, who led the organization from 2006 to 2008 when Hanisee was treasurer.
Like her successor, McLauchlan, Molinaro wasn't paid for her work. The party reimbursed her when she had to buy staples like toilet paper, she said, but she recalled paying for trips to Tallahassee on her own.
"I understand the logic," she said of the decision to give the chair a stipend, yet "$1,500 seems a little high."
In the professional world of politics, fundraisers are paid for the money they bring in to fuel campaigns and advocacy groups. That's less common for local party chairs. They are usually reimbursed for the chicken dinners they attend, the friendly drinks they buy potential donors and the miles they put on their cars as they crisscross their territory.
It can be a thankless, expensive job, and it's one Hanisee has devoted himself to, McGrath said. The chairman spends the majority of his time working for the party, she said.
All those hours paid off last year, when the Democrats raised just over $137,000 — an amount the Republicans doubled but an achievement for a party that has struggled to bring in contributions.
Under new chairman Michael Guju, the Republicans have stopped the monthly payments in favor of line-item reimbursements.
"I would rather keep it plain and obvious to our members so they see exactly what we're spending on," Guju said.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.