Absentee on the Ballot: Fetterman Skipped Committee Meetings For Media Interviews and Vacation

John Fetterman takes a selfie. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
October 21, 2022

John Fetterman has few official duties as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor. Still, the Senate hopeful has failed to show up for nearly every meeting for two economic development committees on which he serves, skipping the sessions to conduct media interviews, go on vacation, or do nothing at all.

Since 2019, Fetterman missed 11 out of 13 meetings for the Pennsylvania Military Community Enhancement Commission and Local Government Advisory Committee, according to meeting records and calendars obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. He missed several meetings in October 2020 on days he gave interviews to MSNBC, Australia’s Sky News, and the progressive "Pod Save America" podcast, the records show. He missed a military commission session in October 2019 to travel to his hometown for "family stuff" the following day. He skipped a local government advisory committee meeting in June while on vacation on the Jersey Shore. On some days he skipped committee meetings, Fetterman’s calendars are blank.

It’s the latest example of Fetterman’s truancy in public office. As mayor of Braddock, a town of less than 2,000, Fetterman missed more than one-third of city council meetings, the Free Beacon reported. As lieutenant governor, Fetterman failed to show up to one-third of Senate sessions. His absenteeism has drawn scrutiny from Republicans and Democrats alike. State Senator Tony Williams, the Democratic whip, told Politico that Fetterman often failed to show up to preside over the Senate, hampering his ability to develop relationships with state lawmakers. Jesse Brown, a former Braddock borough council president, said in 2015 that Fetterman "should have been at all council meetings," but stopped showing up after several confrontations over his duties as mayor.

Fetterman has only four official duties as lieutenant governor, a job with "limited responsibilities" for which he is paid around $180,000 a year. In addition to the military commission and local government committee, which he chairs, he is chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons and oversees the Senate when it is in session. Fetterman has attended all of the Board of Pardons meetings, where he has cast numerous votes to free first-degree murderers.

Fetterman has missed five out of six meetings for the Military Community Enhancement Commission, which seeks increased federal support for military installations to protect jobs in Pennsylvania. Fetterman has missed six out of seven meetings for the Local Government Advisory Committee, which coordinates with local leaders, businesses, and other stakeholders to assess the "needs and challenges facing local governments."

According to meeting summaries obtained through public records requests, the meetings are usually attended by around a dozen commissioners and other state officials. Fetterman attended the first meeting for both committees after he took office in 2019, but has failed to attend any meetings since then. He is marked "excused" for meetings he missed for the Military Commission. Notes from the Local Government Advisory Committee meetings show Fetterman was unable to attend most of the sessions. He had staffers attend several of the meetings or phone in to them on his behalf.

A review of Fetterman’s work calendars sheds light on what else he was up to while truant from his official duties. In a couple of cases, Fetterman was tied up with other government business. A meeting for the Military Commission on March 25, 2020, coincided with a COVID-19 workgroup meeting Fetterman attended. Fetterman was unable to attend a June 17, 2020, meeting for the Local Government Advisory Committee because he was in a cabinet meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf (D.).

But more often, Fetterman missed meetings for other events not involving his official duties as lieutenant governor. He skipped a Military Enhancement Commission meeting on Oct. 24, 2019, to travel to his hometown of Braddock for "family stuff," his calendars show. Fetterman avoided an Oct. 15, 2020, meeting for the military commission, but gave interviews both before and after the event to Australia’s Sky News and the progressive Pod Save America podcast to discuss the 2020 presidential election. Nothing else was on Fetterman’s calendar when he missed the Commission’s April 22, 2021, session. He skipped an Oct. 28, 2021, meeting but attended a parole board merit review hearing held hours later.

Fetterman missed the Local Government Advisory Committee’s meeting on Oct. 20, 2020, but gave an interview to MSNBC. He missed meetings on March 31, 2021, and Nov. 16, 2021, though his calendar does not show any personal or business commitment for those days. He was on vacation at the Jersey Shore during the committee’s most recent meeting on June 21, 2022. Fetterman was accompanied on that trip by a Pennsylvania state police security detail, which billed taxpayers $1,200 for hotels, meals, and rental cars, according to government records.

Both the Pennsylvania Military Community Enhancement Commission and Local Government Advisory Committee oversee local economic development issues that Fetterman touted as mayor of Braddock and on the campaign trail. He released a campaign ad entitled "Forgotten Places," a homage to "towns in Pennsylvania that feel like their communities’ best days were a generation ago."

At meetings Fetterman missed, the Military Commission discussed grants for military installations in Pennsylvania, potential closures of military medical clinics, and infrastructure investments to support the state’s military outposts. At Local Government Advisory Committee meetings, attendees discussed the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, police reform, and federal funding through the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan, two Democrat-backed bills. At the June 21, 2022, meeting that Fetterman skipped in lieu of vacation, the committee discussed housing assistance, another issue Fetterman has claimed to support as a public official.

Fetterman campaign spokesman Joe Calvello called the allegations that Fetterman shirked his duties on the committees a "ridiculous lie from Dr. Oz and his allies." He said Fetterman was "represented by senior staff in meetings he was unable to attend" for the Local Government Advisory Committee. While Fetterman remains on the Military Enhancement Commission, Calvello said that he transferred his chairmanship position to a former state senator in 2019 in order to allow experts on veterans affairs to have "more direct oversight" of the commission. Calvello also noted that Fetterman transferred $145,000 of the lieutenant governor's office budget to the organization's mission.