Last week I recorded a debate among the candidate for Pennsylvania Auditor General. It broadcast on the PCN network and, as of this writing, is still available online. I took rough note while watching and am posting them. This is not intended to be a full transcript and I encourage interested voters to listen to the full debate and research the candidates on their own. As always I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions.
Candidates: State Rep. Eugene DePasquale (D-95), State Rep. John Maher (R-40), and Betsy Summers (L)
Introduction by Professor John Gedid, director of Widener University Law & Government Institute in Harrisburg
Gedid: This is an important election, especially for fiscal issues.
Brian Lockman, president of PCN, and moderator
Reporters, Brad Bumsted (Pittsburgh Tribune Review), Charlie Thompson (Harrisburg Patriot News), Eric Boehm (Pa Independent)
Sponsored by PCN, Widener University Law & Government Institute, and Pennsylvania Correspondents Association
BS: Thank PCN and Widener for including me. Auditor General is an overseer of state and federal tax dollars. Other candidates will say they are independent watchdogs. They aren’t and can’t be. I have no political ties as Libertarian, can represent taxpayer. Why is it that as soon as govt gets our tax dollars they act as if it is theirs to spend indiscriminately. I will ask you as taxpayer to get involved as I expose waste mismanagement and fraud, and ask you to contact your representatives and demand change. As a Libertarian it is always an uphill battle.
ED: Thanks everyone. State Rep. this is where I went to law school, night school. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, fell in love with Tracey in grad school. Moved to western Pennsylvania, York Co, where she is a teacher. I went to night law school. Served as Deputy Secretary at the state Department of Environmental Protection. In 2006 resigned and ran for pa legislator. When elected was first rep to post expenses on line, lowest expenses in state, bought district office furniture at yard sale. Need watchdog to make sure depts. are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Reverse cuts.
JM: Thanks to all. The informed voter is my friend. I’m an auditor. I’m running for auditor general. My opponents are good folks, mean well. But I’ve been auditing since [missed date -- 1980?], making sure organizations and government are doing better. Built a business from scratch. I came from the real world and never expected to be in government. Not even registered in political party. Then state rep in my district died and people asked me to run. I said no. Then realized that having written a textbook on government spending, I had something to offer. Elected. Ashamed that Pennsylvania did not have lobbying regulations. Now you can see more online.
Brad Bumsted of Pittsburgh Review: how can you really be state’s fiscal watchdog when auditor general can’t audit legislature, will you push for a law to allow this? Is general assembly’s self-audit okay?
ED: Yes, auditor general can’t audit legislature. I put my expenses online, made sure [missed this] online. A lot of reforms have happened. No more private car leases. We have made cutbacks. We do need to do more. Current audit in legislature not effective but do believe in separation of powers. Not sure Auditor General should audit legislature. I have led by example.
JM: Like Gene my expenses online. Did not take state car. Returned money to the state. Worked to have legislature’s surplus returned to taxpayers, Voted for it, ED did not. Yes, separation of powers. Greatest abuses we have seen are in legislature but that is a tiny portion of money spent by PA. So much more to be seen. Auditor general is the person to discover and expose waste.
BS: I would be an independent watchdog. As a libertarian I would asked Attorney General to allow Auditor general to audit general assembly. Current general assembly audit done by people picked by legislative leadership. I will ask the Attorney General to issue opinion that it is constitutional for auditor general to audit legislature. If the Attorney General won’t I will seek constitutional amendment. Legislature slush fund has millions, should go back to general fund.
ED: Suggested surplus go back to reverse cuts to adult basic.
JM: Gene, come one, you watched Ed Rendell take money from tobacco settlement .
ED: Under Rendell there significant growth to education
JM: In the past two years education spending grown half a billion dollars.
Charlie Thompson, Patriot-News, H’burg: Special performance audits? What areas?
JM: I would not only include performance audits but introduce system audits. Performance audits, like driving and how many times got home without running out of gas. Gas gauge is like system audit to detect when things not done right. That’s the kind of work a skilled auditor can do. It is altogether absent. Time for a change. First audit would be in Dept of Environmental Protection. Systems there are insufficient for boom in Marcellus Shale. Administration acknowledges system doesn’t work and need new one. Auditor General needs to set up systems audit.
BS: I would make sure that no only systems audits but also forensic audits, go back and go after the people who have stolen the taxpayer dollar and misused it and prosecute them. We had back 6 years ago, there was in the DCED money was disbursed to increase jobs in PA. No one went back to check and see if anyone created those jobs. FIAT spent 109K to send people to Hershey Park for the day. That gentleman lost his job but we should have prosecuted him. We have to stop this bleeding from Ds and Rs.
ED: Yes I will conduct performance audits. Auditor General Casey did performance audit of nursing homes. I would do performance audits of all water treatment plants to make sure Marcellus done right. Water protection is sacrosanct. Make sure we have enough people to check wells.
Eric Boehm: Both opponents have drawn some criticism for running for auditor general while also running for reelection, and eligible for per diems and salary.
BS: Survey, 86% of Pennsylvanians think that you should leave office or finish term before running for another office. If either of opponents elected we will have to spend money for special elections.
ED: When I made this decision I talked with constituents and colleagues. They asked me to run for both. This is a tough race and they don’t want to lose me. When I started I didn’t have a statewide name. Now is more likely. If have to resign to run more costly. If both of us resigned to run then would have to have two special elections. If one of us win then just have special at primary.
JM: Gene and I agree on this. We agree on many things. I talked about running so if anyone else was interested they could step forward. In that sense 60,000 people made that decision when no one else ran. Look at 2008 presidential election, both candidates in senate. Hard to come up with someone who had been in public services who hasn’t run for one office while in another. As long as transparent let public made decision.
Brad Bumsted: Historically audits don’t name any names of people involved. Largely talk about depts. And agencies, would you name names?
ED: Primary goal is to find waste fraud and abuse and fix it. I have a track record of that. At DEP came in under budget. As far as naming names, if I found any criminal activity would turn over to DA or AG. My goal is not to scapegoat people but to fix problem.
JM: I’ve done forensic audits in private sector that have resulted in public officials being successfully prosecuted. I like auditing. I’m good at it. Many Auditor General reports you read them and say “so what?” There ought to be an ability to ask questions and get answers. I co-authored a text on government accounting, ask questions that make a difference.
BS: I can understand why we might want to hold names back and turn things over to AG. As auditor general I would make sure all records open and available to citizens of PA. Rs and Ds have been representatives for awhile. Do you think they’re going to do something that will harm their party? No they won’t. Those items will not be audited. I will audit everyone, no distinctions. You can count on me to be totally independent. So many issues of waste and mismanagement.
ED: If I’m auditor general I don’t care who the governor is. If I find something wrong and we uncover it I will do something about it. In 2008 I called for Bill DeWeese to step down.
JM: Independence of mind is essential in an auditor general. Those who paid attention to my efforts on open records issue remember it was opposed by parties. I got it done.
Ask q of other candidates.
JM asks ED : I have 30 years of auditing experience. Who will do the auditing if you win.
ED: I will be the auditor general. In City of York, DEP and legislature I have brought down costs. As for performance audits I know what those depts are supposed to be doing.
ED asks JM: Previous 3 auditor generals, none of them auditors, what did they do wrong if they weren’t CPAS. (lists their accomplishments).
JM: Each of them brought an interested dimension to office. But I think auditor general should be an auditor. They did good work but it was only a small part of their time in office. There’s more to be discovered.
BS to JM: In your term in state house you voted yourself a 50% pension increase and a midnight pay increase. You take per diems with no receipts. Will you supply details on actual expense incurred.
JM: I’ve got 10 years of my expense reports up on the web. I have led by example. I have paid expenses out of pocket. Refused pay raise and voted ot repeal it.
Charlie Thompson. Patriot News. Our last three Audit Generals have run for governor while in office. Would you commit to not seeking another office while in this seat.
JM: No difficulty making that commitment. This is the culmination for me, as an auditor, been an auditor since [1980?] I’m sure when I’m done no one in either party will want to elect me for anything again.
BS: No plans to run for governor. This is hard enough. I did want to mention Rep Maher voted to repeal pay raise because of public uproar. Been advocate for taxpayer for many years in community of Wilkes-Barre. It’s important that people speak up.
ED: If the people elect me as Auditor General I’ll be there as long as they want me there. I think this is a critical job. It is a grunt job. If you do the job right it makes it very hard to get elected for anything else.
Eric Boehm: Two major scandals – ’05 pay raise, the bonusgate scandal. Both of you have some ties to that.
BS: Out of all 3 candidates, you the taxpayer were severely affected by bonusgate. State workers were paid to throw 3rd paper candidates off the ballot. Your choices were removed because of bonusgate. They’re taking your choices away. [mentions DePasquale hired someone associated with bonusgate]
ED: People make mistakes in life. A lot of people have paid a significant price for bonusgate and rightfully go. After that they have a right to earn a living. So, yes I have hired the WS group (Sidella). Part of this if from my father served 8.5 years of a 10 year prison sentence. Once debt is paid they have the right to make a living and follow the rules. My dad now fixes up homes in Pittsburgh. If you’ve paid your debt and are willing to work hard I’m willing to give them second chance.
JM: I have never allowed a legislative employee to work on campaigns. Having the bright line is the easiest way to prevent someone on state payroll to do campaign work. Gets back to being auditor. If you do things in a systematic fashion there’s less chance of things going wrong. For the payraise vote before it was even cast I put in writing that I refused it for then and forever. When I took office I took a pay cut. I wasn’t coming for money but for duty. But the amount at stake for others, like judges, prevented good people from serving.
Brad Bumsted: Do you believe pay to play exists on state contracts. If so what would you do about it?
ED: We don’t know. You have to do audits of state contracts to find out. To make those judgments in advance would impugn people without cause. Our campaign financing system in PA is a disgrace. That is a mistake. I’m not saying Corbett or Rendell did anything wrong taking that money but it needs to be fixed.
JM: We really don’t know and we really should. Over the years I’ve taught how to do forensic audits. It may not show up on campaign reports. Could be sacks of money. Have taught at Cambridge U on how to discover these things.
BS: It also has a big impact. I Live in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne Co. We had cash for kids. We now have judges in prison. [something about Wilkes-Barre and the Taxpayers Association]. We are sure pay for play is going on. Difficult to expose. If people say “we don’t have any records” the state will say “they don’t have any records so go away.” I know about corruption. Seen it happen.
Charlie T: Of modern Auditors general whose work have you admired most and why?
JM: Not thought in those terms. Not a pantheon hall of auditors. Each brought life experience to job. I think it’s time to bring an auditor to the job. I have a passion for auditing.
BS: I could not say that any of them have inspired me. I have read so much about people finding something out but guy doesn’t go to prison. I would be hard-hearted and heavy-handed. We have this massive pension mess, welfare spending. We are in deep trouble. We need to stop waste and mismanagement. Put stops on spending. Voting libertarian will do that.
ED: The last three had guts, integrity and leadership. Those are the most important characteristics you can bring as auditor general. Keep asking tough questions. Never quitting. This comes from a personal passion. My kids are in public schools. If they don’t spend money well it affects me and people all over the state. Same with drinking water.
JM: Had 5 seconds to think about this. Barbara Hafer. She hired me.
Eric Boehm: Audit General Jack Wagner recommended consolidate state pension plans. Should auditor general make recommendations?
BS: In Wilkes-Barre part-timers have voted themselves a pension. Makes me nervous thinking oversight of that would go to state level. Want to keep it local. State officials should not get a pension. Ds and Rs have voted themselves a pension, gave themselves a 50% raise but only 24% to state employees.
ED: Very important for Auditor General to make recommendations. Auditor General cannot compel any elected body to do anything but can help guide decisions. When Jack Wagner found mistakes at PHEAA it helped correct those. PA has more pensions that any other state combined. Administrative costs alone burdensome. Some municipalities with 3 or 4 employees have own pension plans. We have to figure out a comprehensive solution to legacy pension costs.
JM: Interesting when put globally. But look locally. PA has too many pension plans. Some municipalities have behaved responsibly. Others did not pay as they went and now have legacy costs. If solution for those who did poorly is to consolidate with those who did well punishes those who did well. Look at PSERS. I have audited pension plans I know how to do it.
JM: We have talked a lot about what auditor general ought to be doing. I have a real passion for auditing and over 30 years’ experience in auditing. If you were going to a doctor would you pick the one with training or the one with a nice smile? I want the real doctor reading my test results.
ED: I’ve talked about it before and will continue. I was the first to post expenses online and lowest costs of any rep in the state. Same approach to all departments and agencies across state. I want to make sure the environment is protected and job protection programs working for middle class Pennsylvanians, schools working for kids.
BS: I have a passion for being a watchdog for taxpayer. Voteforbetsy.com, [this link doesn't work, I think she meant www.betseysummers.com] lppa.com. Most important aspect is independence. I’m the only candidate who can claim real independence. Most representatives represent parties not people. We can send a clear message to Harrisburg [the recording ended].