Katie McGinty Helped Campaign Donor Obtain State Approval for Power Plant

Pennsylvania Democrat helped campaign donor get approval to build massive power plant

Katie McGinty
Katie McGinty / AP
November 4, 2016

Pennsylvania Democrat Katie McGinty used her position in the governor's office to help secure a $1.2 billion natural gas power plant for a campaign donor, according to email records from McGinty's time in Gov. Tom Wolf's administration.

Last month a Pennsylvania court ordered Wolf's office to release McGinty's emails, which were requested by state Republicans over a year ago. Now, with less than a week to go before the election, Pennsylvania voters are getting a first look at McGinty's activities during the six months she spent as Wolf's chief of staff in 2015 before launching her campaign for the U.S. Senate.

One string of emails shows that McGinty was asked by a donor to help him obtain "public support" from the governor's office for a project and that she was able to come through for him. Michael Polsky, who is CEO of Invenergy, emailed McGinty on April 18, 2015, to thank her for exhibiting a "willingness to help" on a major project he was hoping to build in Jessup, Pennsylvania.

"Thank you again for your time last night at the end of a busy day and for your willingness to help on the Lackawanna project," Polsky wrote to McGinty. He went on to tell her that "any public support the governor's office can show would go a long way."

State records show that Polsky, an Illinois resident, had contributed $2,500 to McGinty's unsuccessful 2014 gubernatorial campaign.

McGinty immediately forwarded Polsky's email to Gov. Wolf, alerting him that this was a project she was taking on.

"Just to let you know I have staff looking into this. Thx," McGinty wrote to Wolf. She also forwarded the email to Yesenia Bane, one of Wolf's special assistants.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell, a close friend of McGinty and her current campaign chairman, was also meeting with Wolf to discuss Polsk's project. McGinty told Wolf to let her know if he had "any other feedback" after his discussion with Rendell.

McGinty remained in close contact with Polsky. Emails show that McGinty scheduled a phone call with Polsky the next day to discuss "some additional information."

Within days, Wolf paid a visit to Jessup and was met with town residents concerned about the potential Invenergy power plant. Wolf told them that he didn't "know enough" about the plant to offer an opinion but said that he was "in support of good jobs."

Earlier that month, tempers flared as members of the community voiced their concerns about having the power plant built in their small town.

"You build this monstrosity, who is going to come into this town, to build to live, who would want to live here?" said one concerned resident.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club also voiced its opposition to the plant, writing in a press release that "support for and continued reliance on dirty fossil fuels, such as fracked gas, is inconsistent with climate goals for Pennsylvania."

Members of Citizens for a Healthy Jessup, the community group that opposed the project, were invited to the governor's office two months later to discuss their concerns with Wolf. McGinty sat in on Wolf's meeting with the group.

Less than a year after McGinty's initial meeting with Polski, the project was given full approval by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP—an agency that McGinty used to head.

McGinty had already left the administration by the time Invenergy's Lackawanna Energy Center was approved, but Polski continued to donate to her political campaign.

This year, Polski contributed the maximum allowed $5,400 to McGinty's Senate campaign. The only other candidate he has donated to this cycle has been Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat running for Senate in his home state, who received half of what McGinty did.

Within two weeks of Polski's contributions, McGinty's Senate campaign also received contributions from five other Invenergy executives, including its vice president, for a total of $2,750. The Invenergy PAC has given an additional $5,400 to McGinty, more than it has awarded to any other federal candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

When asked on Thursday night for comment on the emails with Invenergy, a spokesman for the McGinty campaign told the Washington Free Beacon to "Have a good weekend!"

Asked whether Polski's donations had anything to do with McGinty's assistance on the project, the spokesman said "no."

The Department of Environmental Protection said it approves permits based on their quality and works with companies and other stakeholders throughout the process.

"DEP permit approvals are based on the quality and content of the application," a spokesman told the Free Beacon. "DEP works with companies throughout the application process, including pre-application meetings and addressing technical deficiencies with applications. DEP also meets with stakeholders, both in favor and against, and solicits public feedback on proposed projects through public hearings and comment periods."

"Ultimately, the decision to approve a permit is based on the permit application itself," the DEP official added.

Polski and Invenergy did not respond to requests for comment.

McGinty's opponent in the Senate race said the emails show another example of her using her public office for personal gain.

"It's no wonder Katie McGinty tried to delay the court-ordered release of her emails until after Election Day, so that voters couldn't see even more examples of her using public office for personal gain," said Ted Kwong, a spokesperson for Pat Toomey's campaign. "McGinty became a millionaire through self-dealing on the taxpayers' dime and it would only get worse if she went to Washington."

The McGinty campaign has been put on the defensive when it comes to her use of public office to benefit companies that later would hire her to lucrative positions.

During her time as head of Pennsylvania's DEP, for example, she directed millions worth of subsidies towards Spanish wind company Iberdrola and held meetings with company executives. Within months of leaving the agency, she was given a seat on the company's board of directors. This week it was reported that McGinty directed subsidies to Thar Energy and also found herself on the board of directors there.

Executives from both Iberdrola and Thar Energy also contributed to McGinty's gubernatorial campaign, according to the report.

The emails regarding McGinty's work with Invenergy were released by the Wolf administration after a 15-month fight that ultimately had to be settled by a Pennsylvania court.

The Wolf administration was ordered to release all of McGinty's emails within 30 days starting in mid-October, but the Republicans have thus far received only some of them.

"The Republican Party of Pennsylvania has received emails responsive to 34 search terms out of the 109 that the Commonwealth Court ordered Wolf and McGinty to release," state Republicans wrote in a press release. "McGinty and Wolf were given 30 days from October 14th to complete release of the emails, which means voters may not see the full extent of her activities until just days after Election Day."