The genial tone of the Democratic primary campaign for governor of Pennsylvania has changed recently, as two candidates have taken sharp aim at front runner Tom Wolf.
This was probably inevitable once Wolf, a York businessman, starting spending his millions on TV ads and took a commanding lead.
Democratic candidates in a field that was once as large as eight have struggled to distinguish themselves from the pack from the beginning. Now two have apparently decided they’ll have to take Wolf down a peg to make the race competitive.
Starting Wednesday, state Treasurer Rob McCord went up with a new TV ad (above) which contrasted Wolf’s proposal for a 5 percent tax on gas extraction with McCord’s proposal for a 10 percent levy.
“We’ll use that money to protect our environment and fully fund our schools,” McCord says into the camera in the ad. “Tom Wolf and the others would leave hundreds of millions of dollars in the drillers’ pockets. That’s a bad deal for Pennsylvania.”
Hmmm. By McCord’s logic, if Wolf now decided to propose a 15 percent tax, he could do an ad claiming McCord is leaving hundreds of millions uncollected. What really counts is what’s realistic, and Wolf’s campaign says the 5 percent levy is achievable, given Republican control of the Legislature, and a move that will provide critical school funding.
McCord’s campaign says a governor shouldn’t start with a position that gives up so much, and that 10 percent is reasonable and not out of line with other states.
From a political point of view, McCord’s shot is relatively mild when compared with many campaign attack ads. It focuses on a policy difference, rather than savaging his opponent’s character with grainy black and white images.
Schwartz probes Wolf loan
For weeks, McCord and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz have complained in interviews about the fact that Wolf has put $10 million of his own money into the race. Schwartz escalated the criticism recently after it emerged in a Philadelphia Inquirer piece that more than $4 million of that cash had come from a bank loan Wolf took out to finance his campaign contribution.
“We don’t really have full transparency on the loan,” Schwartz said to Wolf at a candidates’ forum in Harrisburg. “The loans to me are somewhat a new thing. I mean it’s one thing to have a self-funder like yourself, a multimillionaire able to use your resources. It’s half the money you’ve put in potentially, and we don’t really know where it comes from or who you have to pay it back to, and what effect that might have on your future.”
Wolf has responded by releasing a memo summarizing the terms of the loan: $4.45 million from M&T Bank, at a rate of 3 percent over the LIBOR rate, to be retired by December 2016 with quarterly payments of $150,000. The campaign is also showing the bank loan documents to reporters who ask to see them, but is not releasing them publicly. Wolf says it’s a straightforward loan, like somebody taking a mortgage.
But Mark Bergman of the Schwartz campaign raised another issue: The personal assets Wolf pledged as collateral for the loan are shares in his company, the York cabinet design and distribution firm that Wolf is proud to say he rescued from ruin five years ago. He also frequently mentions that it shares its profits with the workers whose jobs were saved.
If Wolf defaults on the loan, Schwartz’s campaign says, a big chunk of the company goes from its benevolent owner to a bank focused on the bottom line. Wolf spokesman Mark Nicastre said Wolf has the income and assets to make the payments, and that the stock at issue in any case amounts to a minority stake in the firm.
The fourth candidate in the race, Katie McGinty, has largely stayed out of the fray, but could benefit if the attacks drive voters away from Wolf. The latest Franklin & Marshall poll showed nearly half of registered Democrats undecided.