Race to watch: Contested primary for Pa. auditor general

Incumbent Timothy DeFoor is alone in the Republican pool for auditor general. Democratic candidates Malcolm Kenyatta and Mark Pinsley are facing off to be the party’s nominee.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Timothy DeFoor

Pennsylvania Auditor General Timothy DeFoor arrives for Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro's Inauguration, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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Three state executive offices are up for election in 2024 — attorney general, auditor general and treasurer. In the race for auditor general, three candidates will be on the ballot during Pennsylvania’s upcoming primary election on April 23.

Republican Auditor General Timothy DeFoor, who is wrapping up his first term, is running for re-election. Without a Republican challenger, the incumbent is on the fast track to be on the November ballot. However, the Democratic primary is not a one-candidate race. Democratic voters in Pennsylvania will have two choices: state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia and Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley.

Since 1809, Pennsylvania’s auditor general has served as the “chief fiscal watchdog” of the Çommonwealth — ensuring state tax dollars are properly managed and spent. From performing audits to attestation engagements, the auditor general is central to holding the government accountable for taxpayer dollars.

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In recent years, the office has gained a knack for capturing headlines.

In 2017, former Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale found that Pennsylvania’s fuel tax meant for bridge repair got diverted to state police instead. In 2023, DeFoor accused a handful of Philadelphia-area school districts of a taxation “shell game”.

Republican incumbent Timothy DeFoor

DeFoor, the 50th auditor general of Pennsylvania, was first elected in 2020. He is the first Republican to hold the office in more than 20 years. Since being sworn in 2021, he has publicized the financial shortfalls facing the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Additionally, he has uncovered financial irregularities in volunteer firefighter relief associations. The Markle Volunteer Fire Department Relief Association, in particular, has drawn DeFoor’s attention. With neary $26,000 in funds missing, DeFoor referred the investigation to the Centre County District Attorney for a closer look.

DeFoor’s office has prioritized financial literacy as a public education tool, traveling to classrooms across the state as part of the Be Money Smart initiative.

In regards to his “shell game” allegations directed at suburban public schools, DeFoor received pushback from education leaders. Some went as far to call his report “clumsy.”

DeFoor’s decision to dissolve the office’s school audit bureau garnered criticism — he categorized the move as a way to maximize resources. His swearing-in ceremony was not without controversy, either. DeFoor refused to publicly affirm the results of the 2020 election with the exception of his own race.

Prior to serving as auditor general, DeFoor worked as a special investigator within the Pennsylvania Office of the Inspector General, a special agent with the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and a fraud investigator for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

In 2015, DeFoor was elected as the Dauphin County Controller where he established its first audit division and released its first retirement fund report. Because of his work, the county won its first award for financial reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association in 2017.

The Harrisburg native is running a re-election campaign focused on addressing “wasteful” government spending and ending the “honor system” loophole to increase transparency. DeFoor has the official backing of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

“My first four years were about transformation and improvement; the next four years will be about ensuring the job gets done,” DeFoor said on his campaign site. “Pennsylvania taxpayers deserve more and they can trust me to continue to deliver. Let’s get back to work.”

Democratic challenger Malcolm Kenyatta

Kenyatta was elected to the state house in 2018 as the first openly LGBTQ person to serve in either chamber of the state General Assembly. The Temple University alumnus also became one of the youngest voices in the state house.

He currently chairs the elections subcommittee of the State Government Committee and serves on the Commerce and Finance committees.

President Joe Biden selected Kenyatta to be among the 17 speakers delivering a keynote address during the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Kenyatta is widely seen as a rising name in state and federal politics.

In 2023, Kenyatta launched an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. Biden appointed Kenyatta as a chair member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans.

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The North Philadelphia native received endorsement from the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

Kenyatta, the grandson of civil rights leader Muhammad Kenyatta, officially entered politics as a political consultant, campaign manager and board member for numerous Philadelphia nonprofits. Before taking office, he was a community organizer with a particular focus on addressing poverty and improving his neighborhood.

He views the role of the auditor general to be that of a leader and project manager. Kenyatta has centered his auditor general campaign on rebuilding the school audit bureau, creating the state’s first Bureau of Labor and Worker Protections and increasing transparency on how hospital nonprofits and long-term care providers use tax dollars.

Since launching his campaign, Kenyatta has clashed with Pinsley, saying his challenger doesn’t “like Black people” in a video captured on a Ring camera. Pinlsey refuted the claims, while Kenyatta categorized the release of the video as “dirty political tricks.”

“Folks in every corner of Pennsylvania have welcomed me into their neighborhoods, their homes and their faith communities. They’ve told me their stories and I’ve shared my own,” Kenyatta said on his campaign site. “In those conversations we’ve talked about Pennsylvania’s problems, but also its promise. Young people born today will live into the next century. What we do now and how we do it will determine the inheritance we leave.”

Democratic challenger Mark Pinsley

Pinsley, an army reserve veteran and owner of Media-based DermaMed Solutions, has served as the Lehigh County Controller since 2020.

In this role, Pinsley identified $1.4 million in county savings related to prescription drug costs, called Lehigh County officials to establish a criminal justice reform committee and released a report calling out the “overdiagnosis” of medical child abuse.

In 2022, Pinsley referred to a proposed senate map which would combine Bethlehem and Allentown districts as a GOP-created “ghetto.” His comments received backlash from state house Democrats, Lehigh officials and Allentown officials.

Prior to his stint as the county controller, Pinsley served on the South Whitehall Board of Commissioners.

The Kutztown University alumnus has been at the helm of numerous local businesses since 1994, when he started Dunbarton Business Software fresh out of college. Pinsley touts the fact that he’s the only candidate with an MBA.

Pinsley’s auditor general petitioning process received scrutiny after several allegations emerged of forged signatures. Pinsely denied any knowledge of the potentially fraudulent signatures and called for “swift and decisive” action.

If elected state auditor general, Pinsley is promising to address “dark money” politics and exposing the political contribution tactics “destroying our democracy.”

His plans include conducting an audit on the costs of underfunded public schools, evaluating how the state supports county election offices, examining Pennsylvania’s workforce development programs and looking into state health care spending.

“It’s more than just watching the dollars. It’s making sure your money is being spent the way it’s supposed to,” Pinsley said on his campaign site. “It’s about righting wrongs, helping people with problems and making sure Pennsylvania does what it promises. It’s eliminating waste and enforcing policy. It’s fighting to make sure money is spent fairly.”

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