Katie McGinty Took Taxpayer-Funded Trip to Boston in Final Weeks at Gov’t Post

(UPDATED) Met with executive at company that has never done business with Pennsylvania

Katie McGinty
Katie McGinty / AP
September 21, 2016

Just weeks before Katie McGinty resigned from Pennsylvania’s top environmental post she took a taxpayer-funded trip to Boston to meet with an executive at a green energy firm that did no business in Pennsylvania.

Internal email records show that McGinty, who quickly entered the private sector and made millions after leaving government, spent her final months in office traveling for meetings that did little to help Pennsylvania but were still billed to the taxpayers.

The Washington Free Beacon reported last month that McGinty traveled to San Francisco on the public dime to meet with partners at the green energy venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins as well as three of its "portfolio companies." None of the companies she visited did any business in Pennsylvania, but McGinty expressed her hope that at least one would put her on its board of directors.

Newly discovered emails show that this was not McGinty’s only costly trip to a Kleiner Perkins company in her final days in government.

McGinty took a $1,063 flight from Philadelphia to Boston on June 25, 2008, just weeks before her July resignation, according to flight records kept in Pennsylvania’s state archive.

The sole meeting scheduled on her quick trip was in Cambridge, Massachusetts with Dan Goldman, president of GreatPoint Energy, another green energy company in the Kleiner Perkins portfolio that did no business in Pennsylvania.

McGinty’s official schedule shows that she held a meeting with staff to discuss "Dan G’s BD position" the morning after she returned from Boston.

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The briefing material prepared by McGinty’s staff for her meeting with Goldman included biographies of GreatPoint’s board members and information about the company’s technology.

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection told the Free Beacon that the agency has not done business with GreatPoint or any of the companies she met with in California.

"There currently are not and were not any contracts between DEP and the companies you asked about, going back to 2007," said Neil Shader, the agency's press secretary. "Questions about the meetings themselves would have to be directed to McGinty."

Goldman, who responded to a request for comment after this article was published, said that the meeting was to discuss whether it would be viable to build a coal gasification project in Pennsylvania.

"I believe Ms. McGinty’s trip was very much in the spirit of working to see if GreatPoint could invest in PA and also for her as the environmental chief to clearly understand our environmental profile and the benefits we provide compared to coal use for power generation," said Goldman in a Wednesday email.

Goldman says that nothing ever came of the project and that it would no longer be viable today because of the collapse of natural gas prices in the United States. He also said that he did not "recall any conversation about offering a BD position to Ms. McGinty or anyone in her office."

The McGinty campaign did not reference the possible project referenced by Goldman in its explanation for the purpose of the trip. It initially issued the same statement that it issued the last time McGinty’s use of taxpayer funds was questioned by the Free Beacon.

"As Environmental Secretary, Katie's job was to work with energy companies around the country to invest in Pennsylvania," McGinty spokesman Sean Coit said.

After being informed that DEP disclosed to the Free Beacon that it never did business with any of the companies McGinty met with, Coit said that not all of her meetings were successful.

"Katie worked to recruit dozens of energy companies to invest in Pennsylvania. Not every single company she met with ended up investing in Pennsylvania," Coit said. "Many did, bringing in $1 billion in investments and 3,000 jobs."

Nothing in Goldman’s bio indicated that he was eager to invest in Pennsylvania—he spent decades making energy partnerships in Asia, which was exactly where GreatPoint ended up investing. Just a few months after Goldman’s meeting with McGinty, GreatPoint announced the launch of a major coal gasification project in China that resulted in $1.25 billion worth of investment in the country.

McGinty was not shy about discussing her interest in a board position even when she held her post with the DEP.

In an email sent from her government account, McGinty told her former boss Al Gore, a senior partner at Kleiner Perkins, that she hoped her meeting with the CEO of California-based Ausra Energy would lead to a board appointment.

Barry Kauffman, executive director of the government accountability group Common Cause Pennsylvania, said it is not uncommon for government officials to use public funds to go job hunting, but that does not mean it is appropriate behavior.

"Pennsylvanians deserve to have confidence that their public officials are in fact working for their interests and not beginning to feather the beds for their next jobs," said Kauffman.

"If in fact this was just a schmoozing meeting, then it was inappropriate. If she was superficially doing state business but her real agenda was to find her next job—then it was clearly inappropriate," Kauffman said. "That’s an assessment the public has to make."

Kauffman took issue with the fact that McGinty spent over $1,000 on a meeting that likely could have been held over the phone.

"Public officials have an obligation to find the most cost beneficial way of conducting business—so if they could have that meeting on the telephone, then by all means that is the way to do it," Kauffman said.

Sen. Pat Toomey, McGinty’s Republican opponent, said examples of McGinty using taxpayer dollars inappropriately are becoming commonplace.

"Katie McGinty is notorious for using taxpayer dollars to further her own interests, and was even rebuked unanimously by the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission," Toomey spokesman Ted Kwong said. "The troubling examples of how she spent the taxpayers' money continue, and McGinty owes Pennsylvanians an explanation."

Update 1:25 P.M.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from Daniel Goldman.