McCord to plead guilty to federal charges from campaign fundraising
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord on Friday acknowledged that he “stepped over the line” when raising campaign money for his failed gubernatorial bid, and his lawyers said he intends to plead guilty to federal charges for strong-arming two unnamed state contractors.
“I owe an apology to the people of Pennsylvania,” McCord said.
Addressing the public, his staff and family, McCord said: “I am sorry I let all of you down.”
His resignation took effect immediately.
In the Democratic primary, McCord, 55, of Bryn Mawr warned the potential donors that if they did not donate, they risked “making an enemy of the state treasurer,” implying a possible loss of state business, he said in a video released by attorneys Robert Welsh and Catherine Recker of Welsh & Recker in Philadelphia.
“I stepped over the line by trying to take advantage of the fact that two potential contributors hoped to continue to do business with the commonwealth — and by reminding them that I could make things difficult for them,” McCord said.
“Clearly that was wrong,” McCord said. “It was wrong. It was a serious mistake, and I stand ready to pay the price for that mistake. I have always believed in accountability. Now I have to live it.”
McCord finished third in the Democratic primary behind Tom Wolf and former U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz.
McCord received almost $2.5 million from hundreds of donors who made more than 560 contributions in 2014, according to campaign finance records. Since he took office in 2009, the Treasury Department signed nearly 900 contracts with about 190 contractors, according to the department's data.
“Immediately upon being contacted by federal agents about these matters, Mr. McCord acknowledged that he had overstepped the line of legitimate political fundraising,” Welsh said.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Peter Smith in Harrisburg declined to comment. The docket in the Middle District of Pennsylvania reflected no charges late Friday afternoon, though McCord's attorneys said he would enter his plea in Harrisburg.
Gov. Wolf said he will move quickly to nominate McCord's replacement.
“As elected leaders we should be stewards of democracy and we should act to protect hardworking taxpayers, not take advantage of them,” Wolf said in a statement. “This type of behavior leads to the erosion of the public's trust – it is simply unacceptable.”
McCord told Wolf in a letter Thursday that he would resign in two weeks to return to the private sector. But the federal investigation was widely reported by the news media after he sent the letter, and McCord said he decided he would leave immediately so his staff could “continue to serve the public.”
McCord said he hopes people will eventually judge him by the work he did as treasurer, but he acknowledged, “I know my improper efforts to raise campaign money will forever be a stain on my reputation.”
Welsh noted that McCord made $2.1 million in personal loans to his campaign.
McCord began 2014 with $6 million in his campaign account. He raised nearly $2.2 million before the primary and ended up with just over $31,000 in the bank after the primary. Still on the books is $2.2 million in debt, all but $25,000 of which he owes himself, campaign finance records show.
Christopher Craig, the office's chief counsel, becomes acting treasurer. Wolf's nominee to finish McCord's term will require confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Voters will elect a treasurer in 2016. McCord's salary was $156,264.
McCord “insisted that he make a public statement on this matter because he feels he owes that to the people of Pennsylvania,” his lawyers said.
They noted they could not permit McCord to engage in “a question-and-answer session with the press because it would be legally inappropriate to do so.”
McCord, a former venture capitalist, had given no explanation for his sudden departure, telling Wolf simply that he had accomplished his goals in office and “it is time for me to return to the private sector.” He was elected to his second four-year term in 2012.
Wolf's spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan, said the governor's office had not known McCord was under federal investigation.
It's not clear when the charges will be filed. McCord's lawyers said they expect that to happen in the “near future.”
“The mistake and fault here is mine and mine alone,” McCord said.
Treasury oversees the funds of virtually all state agencies.
McCord's departure occurred just eight days after the 28th anniversary of former Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer's public suicide in his office in the Capitol complex. Dwyer shot himself in the head on Jan. 22, 1987, with a .357 Magnum pistol during a televised news conference at which reporters expected him to announce his resignation. It was the day before Dwyer was to be sentenced in federal court on bribery charges.