A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Club Flub in PA Senate Race


An ad attacking the Democrats’ nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania claims she “gave millions in grants to her husband’s company” while working for the state, and that the couple “pocketed thousands.” That twists the facts.

The grants went to a public charity, which her husband didn’t control. That nonprofit paid him less than $4,000 for work on a project to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

The misleading ad from Club for Growth Action attacks Katie McGinty, winner of the April 26 Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania. In the general election, she is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, a freshman senator and former president of Club for Growth. The race is rated a toss-up by the Cook Political Report.

‘Millions in Grants’

The ad’s claim refers to grants made by McGinty’s office when she served as Pennsylvania’s secretary of environmental protection from 2003 to 2008. But the “millions in grants” didn’t go to any “company” owned or controlled by McGinty’s husband, Karl Hausker, as the ad claims. Rather, they went to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, which is a nonprofit public charity.

PEC had received more than $4 million in grants under two previous administrations, both Republican. And it received $2,661,701 from McGinty’s office.

The grants that were approved included a $291,102 award in 2003 for watershed improvement, of which $3,700 went to Hausker, an environmental expert, for consulting work.

McGinty’s office also rejected other grant applications from PEC totaling more than $4.9 million. Nevertheless, the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission later ruled that Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, should appoint somebody from outside McGinty’s office to oversee any future grant applications from which her husband might receive subcontracting work, to avoid running afoul of the state’s strict conflict of interest laws.

‘Lobbyist’

The ad also claims that McGinty worked as a “lobbyist” after leaving government, which she and her former employer deny.

The ad shows an actress portraying McGinty whirling about in a revolving door, while the narrator says, “After leaving government, McGinty becomes a lobbyist. Then, back to the government again.”

It’s true that after leaving the Clinton White House in 1998, where she served as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, McGinty worked for the law firm of Troutman Sanders for four months in 2000.

During that time, the firm briefly registered her as one of four lobbyists for a pharmaceutical client, Glaxo Wellcome Inc., on issues of environmental quality and regulatory compliance. That was June 28, 2000. However, on Aug. 14, 2000, less than two months later, the law firm filed another report stating that McGinty was “no longer expected to act as a lobbyist.” That report covered the period ending June 30, so technically she was registered to lobby for only three days.

Both McGinty and her former boss at the law firm now deny that McGinty actually did any lobbying. Thomas Jensen, a former managing director at Troutman, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he hired McGinty to be a policy adviser, not a lobbyist. He said she joined the firm on the condition that she would not be required to lobby.

“She was consistent and unequivocal that she would not lobby; she would not work as a lobbyist; she would not be seen to be a lobbyist. … She never wavered. She never bargained around the margins,” the Post-Gazette quoted Jensen as saying. “She clearly had no interest in being a lobbyist. She didn’t want to do it.”

Jensen said the lobby registration had been filed out of “an abundance of caution,” and that he believes it was the result of a paperwork error. The Post-Gazette concluded that there is “no evidence” that McGinty did any lobbying, and rated her denial “mostly true.”

At the end of the ad, the actress portraying McGinty is shown wearing a fur coat and clutching an envelope stuffed with cash. “Katie McGinty has no shame,” the narrator says. We might say the same about those who produce such distorted accusations. Club for Growth Action has flubbed this one.

Correction, May 5: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referenced  the time period McGinty was employed by the law firm of Troutman Sanders. She was employed there from March to July of 2000.

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