Penn State's Appropriations Use Needs Careful Review, GOP Auditor-General Candidates Say
ALTOONA -- Penn State's use of state appropriations should be reviewed carefully, particularly in light of the ongoing sexual-abuse scandal, Republican auditor-general candidates said Thursday night.
"I think Penn State really needs to be scrutinized very carefully from the top down," said Ann Duke, one of three state auditor-general candidates at a GOP forum in the Jaffa Shrine.
If she wins the office, Duke said, she would help make sure that taxpayer dollars do not help cover up university leadership that "potentially dropped the ball very, very egregiously."
"I think Penn State needs ... to have a careful eye on them for a long, long time," Duke said. She also is the Chester County treasurer.
State Rep. John Maher, a Pittsburgh-area Republican and another auditor-general candidate, voiced a similar sentiment. He said he would "absolutely" pursue audits of state money that goes to Penn State -- and state grant money that has gone to The Second Mile, the youth-service charity founded by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
The university receives more than $250 million a year in state support.
Under his watch, Maher said, audits of state monies at Penn State would be more aggressive than those conducted under Democratic auditor generals. Pennsylvania has seen one Republican auditor general -- Barbara Hafer -- in the past 50 years, candidates noted.
"If you look at the auditor-general reports (on Penn State) over the years, they're not very interesting reading," Maher said. He suggested employees under the auditor general have spent hours "hanging around and drinking coffee" with those they're supposed to be reviewing.
"I know how to audit -- not just know how, but I love it," said Maher, who is an auditor by training.
A third candidate, Frank Pinto, a Dauphin County Republican and retired entrepreneur, said he, too, would "like to get in to see Penn State" and its finances. The same goes for lawmakers' pet projects, he said.
"The auditor general has the bully pulpit," Pinto said. "He or she can make a difference. ... Bad government is all our problem, but we're all the solution."
The candidates' remarks came during a first-of-its-kind forum led by the Blair County Republican Committee. It was supported by peer GOP organizations in Bedford, Centre and Huntingdon counties. Several dozen people -- about 100 at least -- attended. (Photos from the forum are available in the gallery above; click on the large image to open the gallery.)
Other candidates at the forum included Republican contenders for state attorney general and the U.S. Senate seat now held by Bob Casey Jr.
But the auditor-general candidates, who spoke first, were the only ones to approach the Penn State-scandal subject, prompted by voter questions. The auditor-general office, now led by Jack Wagner, is charged with ensuring that state monies are effectively and efficiently spent.
Wagner is term-limited, with his tenure set to expire at the end of 2012. In addition to those who spoke Thursday in Altoona, candidates pursuing the office include Republican Joe Watkins and Democrat Eugene DePasquale.
Among other highlights of the Thursday candidates' forum:
- GOP attorney-general candidates John Rafferty, a state senator from southeastern Pennsylvania, and David Freed, the Cumberland County district attorney, addressed the assembled. Rafferty noted, among other points, that he's known as a law-enforcement senator; has served on transportation and appropriations committees; and supported balanced-budget efforts. Freed underscored the protection of rights and said he would put an emphasis on elder protection and drug-law enforcement. Both men said they put a high priority on the protection of children.
Sitting Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly's term will expire at the end of 2012.
- The U.S. Senate candidates who appeared are Tim Burns, Steve Welch, Tom Smith, Sam Rohrer and Marc Scaringi. The Republican nominee for the seat is likely to face Casey, who has indicated he will seek reelection this year.
All four Republican senatorial candidates present Thursday touted their experience outside government. They also said that they would advocate for smaller, less-expensive, less-intrusive federal government.
Burns said he has proven that he can raise money and has name recognition in western Pennsylvania. He would adhere carefully to the U.S. Constitution, he indicated.
"Not only is this the greatest country on Earth; it's the greatest country in all of mankind," Burns said. And that, he went on, is because of the U.S. Constitution.
Welch called for the easing of federal regulations on business, saying that will help encourage innovation and economic vitality. Current federal policies are "pricing us out of the global marketplace," he said.
Welch also took particular aim at Casey and his family's political background, saying that Casey "won the gene pool." But Pennsylvania needs "someone who can go out and work hard to get done what they need to achieve in life," Welch said.
Smith said the government needs to bring its debt under control. He also called the Marcellus Shale "a huge, huge godsend." Casey has been wrong to seek tightened regulation of its development, Smith said.
"We can turn this economy around, and the Marcellus Shale is going to be one big key," Smith said. He said he dreams of a day when the U.S. stops importing energy -- and becomes much more of an energy exporter. The country should explore additional drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, he said.
Rohrer said Washington, D.C., needs more people who won't sell out their principles and who will refuse to sell their votes. "When you sell compromise a principle and sell out a principle, you are no longer serving the people," Rohrer said.
He follows the U.S. Constitution strictly, he said, soon injecting some faith references into his remarks. Rohrer said the federal government needs leaders who bring a commitment to "people, the truth and God himself. Without his help, folks, we're not going to get out of the trouble we're in."
Scaringi, for his part, said he was motivated to run in part by President Barack Obama. Obama and Casey have used the country's fiscal crisis to push an intrusive expansion of government, including through "Obamacare," Scaringi said.
He said he wants to replace the "Obama-Casey agenda" ... "with freedom.
"I want to restore freedom to America because, at the end of the day, isn't that what America is all about? Freedom? Freedom works," Scaringi said.
The forum ran more than two hours. Closing the event, Blair County GOP Chairman A.C. Stickel voiced optimism not only for a Casey ouster, but also for an end to the Obama administration.
Republicans will "send him back to Hawaii or Kenya or wherever it is he came from," Stickel said.
Results of a straw poll taken after the forum are available via PoliticsPA.