By Andrew Staub | PA Independent
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s credit-card records show he usually doesn’t spend big on accommodations when official business takes him outside away from the state Capitol, but taxpayers will have to just assume he isn’t staying in luxury hotels on their dime.
That’s because the state redacted the name and locations of the hotels where Corbett stays while traveling on official business. Maria Finn, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania State Police, which provides Corbett’s executive protection, said it’s a safety precaution.
“There are only so many places the governor stays when on the road,” Finn said. “By providing access to the name and locations, we leave him open to potential danger.”
It’s not the first time this sort of argument has arisen when considering a governor’s travel records. Attorneys for Corbett’s campaign-trail pal, New Jersey Gov. Christie Christie, have fought to block the release of records that would identify where the possible presidential contender stays while on state business.
In one way, it smacks of a blow to transparency, especially considering Corbett is a public official whose office often announces publicly where he’ll be going, whether it’s meeting with taxpayers about public-pension reform or presenting an award at a school.
But Marc Bourne, vice president of the Know It All Intelligence Group, said it makes sense that Corbett’s travel records would be redacted. His firm provides executive security to private people and government officials, and Bourne said dignitaries will often use the same hotel when traveling.
That practice allows a security detail to become more familiar with the accommodations, the layouts and exit strategies, which can reduce the amount of scouting the security team must do, Bourne said.
Revealing information about the hotels that a dignitary uses could allow anyone wishing them harm an opportunity to do the same advance work, Bourne said.
“Generally, whenever you’re protecting a dignitary, you want the element of surprise,” Bourne said.
When asked about the difference between hotel stays and public events, Bourne said that security details will prepare differently for public events, which always have the possibility of including protesters, opposition or threats.
Jay Pagni, the governor’s press secretary, simply responded “would you want people to know where you’re staying?”
“The governor’s safety is paramount,” he said.
That focus was on display this past weekend, when a shooter ambushed state police troopers outside a barracks in Pike County. One trooper was killed and another injured.
While stated safety concerns blocked the names and locations of the hotels, the costs were not redacted, giving taxpayers a look at how much the governor spends on his hotel stays. And unless Corbett is traveling to events such as the National Governors Association meetings where the hotel is the site of the conference or nearby, the prices generally suggested that Corbett isn’t staying at glamorous hotels or at least took advantage of government rates.
On average, Corbett spent about $210 a night on hotel stays from 2011 through the end of February, according to credit-card records reviewed by the PA Independent. That number dips to $169.32 a night after excluding hotel costs for NGA events, which usually cost about $342 a night.
That’s more closely in line with the hotel costs that Corbett racks up while traveling to the Philadelphia area for Delaware River Port Authority meetings or around the state for his kayaking tours to promote recreation.
Pagni said Corbett tries to lead by example and “puts his fiscal policy into practice.” In April, Corbett announced the state had saved more than half a billion dollars since 2011 by reducing its vehicle fleet, using technology and eliminating some paper-filing requirements.
PA Independent reviewed Corbett’s credit-card records and accompanying expense reports after a similar examination of Treasurer Rob McCord’s credit-card records showed he often stayed at an expensive Pittsburgh hotel and sometimes flew there. He did not receive the government rate on at least 10 stays, driving costs to almost $400 a night on some occasions.
McCord also billed taxpayers for pricey hotels in New York City, Washington, D.C., and even just outside Harrisburg, with some stays exceeding $600 a night. Those costs usually came outside of trips to annual conferences where McCord might have been limited in his lodging choices.
While Corbett’s costs seemed more palatable for taxpayers, that’s not to say there weren’t times taxpayers paid for pricey hotels.
In addition to the NGA events, the governor once spent $594.26 on a Washington, D.C., hotel for a meeting with the state’s congressional delegation, and his expense records noted it was the only hotel available. Corbett also incurred a $379 hotel stay in Philadelphia on one occasion — a price that was welly beyond what he usually paid to stay in the area.
Corbett also has taken flack about his travel before.
In 2013, Democrats criticized him for using a state helicopter to fly to the Pocono Raceway. The governor also has faced scrutiny for accepting gifts and free travel, including a trip to Brazil for a trade mission.
Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at [email protected] Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.