Steyer paid settlements to 5 former campaign staffers

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Theodoric Meyer
·3 min read
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Tom Steyer’s short-lived presidential campaign has made more than $24,000 in settlement payments to five former campaign staffers in recent months.

The payments, which haven’t been previously reported, came after two of the former campaign staffers sued Steyer’s campaign last year under a California law that allows workers to sue their employers over wage and labor violations.

The Steyer campaign also paid four of the five former staffers nearly $19,000 in what appear to be back wages, according to campaign finance records. The campaign also made a settlement payment of more than $40,000 to Shavitz Law Group, a Florida firm that specializes in recovering employees’ unpaid overtime wages.

The firm didn’t respond to a request for comment. A lawyer at another firm who filed the suit last year on behalf of the former staffers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Leah Haberman, a Steyer spokesperson, said that after Steyer exited the race last year, “a small number of employees, of the over 1,000 staff, lodged complaints months after, as is expected in any large employment network.” In an email to POLITICO, Haberman wrote: “We worked swiftly, directly, and generously to address their concerns.”

Steyer’s campaign, she added, provided “an extremely generous employment package with great benefits” as well as severance pay following Steyer’s decision to drop out following his third-place finish in the South Carolina primary.

The payments to former staffers, which were listed as legal settlements or settlement payments on the campaign finance filings, came after a campaign in which Steyer ran as an unabashed progressive. The wealthy hedge fund manager-turned-environmentalist, pledged to raise the minimum wage to $22 an hour, higher than any other Democratic presidential campaign proposed. He also reached a tentative deal with a union representing his campaign shortly before dropping out.

Steyer isn’t the only former Democratic presidential candidate who has continued to deal with complaints from former campaign staffers long after dropping out of the race. Former staffers on Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign sued him last year for failing to keep his promise to employ them through the general election and, in one case, for failing to pay overtime. Several of the cases are ongoing, according to Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer involved in one of them.

Such lawsuits against presidential campaigns are relatively rare, Romer-Friedman said — but so are presidential campaigns as massive and well-funded as Steyer and Bloomberg’s.

“I don’t think there have ever been such big targets for wage and hour litigation, at least in the primaries,” he said.

Shavitz Law Group has also been involved in one of the suits against Bloomberg’s campaign.

Two former Steyer aides, Alexa Kern and Mary Sweeney, filed a complaint against Steyer’s campaign in July under California’s Private Attorneys General Act, according to state records. Kern worked as a community organizer for Steyer’s campaign in California and Nevada, according to her LinkedIn page. Sweeney also worked for the campaign, according to campaign finance records.

Steyer’s campaign paid legal settlements to Kern, Sweeney and two other former campaign staffers, Zachary Haskins and Alec Litofsky, on Dec. 10, according to campaign finance records. The campaign paid a settlement to another former staffer, Isaiah Johnson, on Feb. 12.

None of the ex-Steyer staffers could be reached for comment.

Steyer, who was a prominent Democratic donor before deciding to run for president, hasn’t disappeared from politics since dropping out. While Steyer devoted much of energy to his own campaign last year, a Steyer super PAC, NextGen Climate Action Committee, shelled out millions of dollars on behalf of other Democrats, including more than $12 million on ads backing Joe Biden and Democratic Senate candidates. A second PAC spent millions more.

And as the effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom gained strength earlier this year, he commissioned a poll to test the popularity of several potential candidates — including himself.