The race for Pennsylvania Treasurer has become a political campaign pitting experience in the private money management sector against experience managing taxpayer funds.
State Treasurer Rob McCord, a Democrat, is seeking reelection in the November 6th election. A former investment banker with a background in venture capital, McCord points to his business credentials and his track record in office as reasons voters should grant him a second term.
"I've been able to bring Wall Street skills to defend Main Street in a particularly challenging time, and the numbers now show the importance of that work." McCord said. "We've had record breaking returns since I came into office, with reduced risks. We've also had record breaking improvements in efficiency, and positive cash flow for the state."
Diana Irey Vaughan is challenging McCord from the GOP ticket. Irey Vaughan said her five terms as a Washington County commissioner, during which she balanced seven consecutive budgets without raising taxes, prepared her for the job of treasurer.
"Washington County has one of the lowest tax rates in the region and in the state. We are third in economic job growth," Irey Vaughan said. She credits those results to the conservative fiscal policies she's championed while on the commission. "Being fiscally conservative has served Washington County well. It serves us well in our homes. It would serve all of our governments well.
McCord promotes himself as an independent advocate for taxpayers, opposing wasteful spending proposals from both parties during his first term, while improving efficiency and maximizing revenues. He earned the Philadelphia Inquirer's endorsement for his role in reducing the amount of a 2010 bond issuance to $650 million. McCord said that happened only after he stood up to then-Governor Ed Rendell, who had initially wanted $1 billion.
His opponent is unimpressed, and maintains that McCord could have done better by insisting the proceeds from the bond issuance be put toward projects that would deliver economic returns.
"To say 'I only gave a smaller amount than what was asked for' for a bond issuance, when you're approving projects such as the Arlen Specter Library and the Jack Murtha Policy Center… well, I think you're being a little tricky with the public," Irey Vaughan said. "Those are projects that, while they may be good projects, it didn't make sense to do a borrowing when Pennsylvania taxpayers couldn't afford it."
Irey Vaughan also faulted the incumbent for failing to address the commonwealth's pension funding crisis -- an area where both candidates say a lack of political leadership is largely to blame -- and for risky taxpayer dollars in dubious investment strategies including hedge funds and real estate. Irey-Vaughan would not say whether she would avoid those types of investments altogether or simply work to limit the state's exposure if elected.
But McCord insists the Treasury Department has both lowered investor risks and delivered bigger returns under his tenure, and moreover that the challenger lacks the skills and experience needed to achieve similar results.
"At its best, this is a job interview," he said. "I think people would look and say, 'this is one job where we're better off having somebody with substantial business and financial experience,' as opposed to somebody who is primarily a career politician."
Campaign finance reports suggest the Treasurer has also been successful in his own political endeavors. McCord's campaign has been buoyed by a nearly two-million-dollar cash advantage, and has put that war chest to work in television advertising on a race that's normally low-profile.