Published: March 10, 2015
If Berwick native Joe Torsella gets himself elected Treasurer of Pennsylvania, he’s going to need mops and tanker truck filled with Lysol to clean up the place.
However, judging by at least one of his camping proposals, he may be more than up to the task.
At the moment, Torsella is the only Democrat who has declared his intention to seek the office so recently trashed by Rob McCord.
If you can no longer follow the many names penciled onto your Harrisburg Scandal Scorecard, here’s a refresher: McCord recently pleaded guilty to two federal counts of attempted extortion. The now-disgraced ex-treasurer admitted using his position of public trust to strong-arm contractors into donating money to his failed 2014 gubernatorial campaign, Tom Beck of politicspa.com reports. When he appears for sentencing in June, he could get up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Extortion of contractors by government officials – often described by the light-hearted term “pay to play” – is probably the second-oldest profession, at least here in Pennsylvania. Just last year an entire platoon of turnpike officials, including the former CEO and his top deputy, were indicted for accepting hospitability from engineering firms, then trying to steer turnpike contracts to them.
McCord went that gang one worse: while competing against the deep-pocketed Tom Wolf last year for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, he tried to shake down businesses for campaign donations. In one conversation McCord bluntly warned that he could use his lofty state position to hurt the firm if someone in charge failed to write a significantly large check.
So it’s safe to say that whoever wins the Treasury post next year will inherit a department demoralized by scandal and tarnished in the eyes of the public.
Aware that he would have to restore integrity and trust, Torsella has proposed a thoroughly modern answer to the question: Which businesses get state contracts, and which of them have paid to play?
Torsella’s idea is to add vendors’ contributions to a computer database of state contracts already administered by the Treasury Department.
This would enable Pennsylvanians to find political contributions and state contracts on the same website, making connections more transparent and easier to find.
“Open and ethical government should have nothing to hide when it comes to the awarding of state contracts,” Torsella said in a campaign statement. “It’s an issue where the Commonwealth is falling short, and this common sense proposal would instead make us a leader on ethics and transparency.
By adding political contribution to the Treasury Department’s contract database and redesigning that tool to make it user-friendly, the next Treasurer can be a catalyst for open and transparent record keeping and full disclosure of all public information related to vendors’ campaign contributions,” added Torsella.
Of course, providing citizens with easily accessible information comes with no guarantee that they will actually use that information to demand more honest government. But knowing which state vendors contributed how much to whom just must be information powerful enough to shake a majority of Pennsylvanians out of their civic lethargy.
“My career has focused on making public institutions work better and more efficiently,” Torsella said in announcing his candidacy.
His resume includes much-praised service as CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. He followed that by accepting a posting as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for Management and Reform.
Because he has deep roots in Berwick – he’s the son of Pat and the late Atty. Joseph Torsella – we’re naturally inclined to root for his success in a statewide contest. But it helps that his first idea coming out of the chute is one that might stop, or at least slow, Harrisburg’s scandal merry-go-round.