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A Conversation With Erin McClelland, Candidate for State Treasurer

Erin McClelland

Recently, PoliticsPA sat down for conversations with the candidates for Pennsylvania State Treasurer – incumbent Republican Stacy Garrity and Democratic challenger Erin McClelland.

McClelland, a native of western Pennsylvania, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and received her master’s in industrial/organizational psychology from Chatham University.

She spent 15 years as a substance abuse and mental health counselor and served as a program manager and director in treatment systems in multiple western PA counties. In 2006, she designed, successfully state-licensed, and operated the first and only orthomolecular recovery program for addiction in Pennsylvania.

McClelland ran for the Congress in PA-12 in 2014 and 2016. She defeated Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie), 54-46%, in the 2024 primary for State Treasurer.

She spoke to PoliticsPA about her background, her ‘upset’ victory in the primary, and what she hopes to do in the position.

Responses may be shortened due to length and for clarity.

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Alle-Kiski Valley and live in Natrona Heights, so it’s a very working-class background. Four generations of organized labor behind me. I have a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology and spent 18 years working in mental health and substance abuse treatment. I spent a year with the Institute of Research, Education and Training in Addictions and got to train under former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. It was right after he left the Treasury and he brought that experience with him to the Pittsburgh regional healthcare initiative.

What inspired you to run for State Treasurer?

Mr. O’Neill talked a lot about the job and a lot about economics and sort of an old world view of policy and being an honest broker. You know, he had worked for Kennedy and Nixon and Bush, so he was on both sides of the aisle and had a very pragmatic view of problem solving in government. So I learned a lot about how we used to solve problems in a very pragmatic way.

I love this position because we tend to ‘dance with the devil’ on neoliberal, privatization and deregulation every 20 years or so. We did it back in the early 2000s both sides of the aisle. We’re doing it again, and I am very much against that. I see a great deal to be alarmed about in what we’re doing. We just found out that the FDIC increased the list of banks that are in jeopardy today. So we’re seeing the aftermath of that kind of behavior, and I think that the Treasury is a great place to address that issue.

What kind of things do you find alarming and what kind of changes would you like to make?

We always have this issue with Wall Street taking financial products that were created with the best of intentions, you know, aka the credit default swap. That was like the greatest thing, and the derivatives market was the greatest thing. And then, 2008 comes and it says, ‘Oops, that didn’t go so well.’ We continue to do that. The credit default swap still exists.

The collateralized debt obligation still exists, but now we don’t call it a collateralized debt obligation. We call it a bespoke tranche opportunity. It’s the exact same thing. So you see them constantly reinventing the products that they’re using. Eventually they get sort of bastardized and manipulated and become a cesspool of loss and depravity, and we’re seeing, for instance, in the Keystone Saves program. There’s a self-directed IRA in there.

I’m sure that product was created with the best of intentions, but in February of 2023 the Securities and Exchange Commission put out an alert, saying, highly susceptible to fraud. So it sort of spun out of control on us. So I don’t think that that product should be implemented or mandated, and certainly not pushed on bartenders and baristas and frontline workers. So that was really one of the financial interests that grabbed me at the beginning of this race. Here we go again.

So, the State Treasurer is the check and balance in case the governor wants to do something that necessarily hasn’t met with approval?

I go back to Grace Sloan, the first female treasurer, and (she) made a real ruckus not refusing to write checks that were unconstitutional in regards to legislation that was not properly done, that was not legal, didn’t follow federal rules. Whatever her concerns were with the legislation that catalyzed the check, she would refuse and say, ‘No, you didn’t do it right.’ And she constantly went to war in the courts with (former Gov.) Milton Shapp, and she often won. So when I started looking at the sort of watchdog aspect of this position, I think it’s essential.

Now I think that we’re doing a lot with monetary policy. We’re doing a lot with supply chain policy, with the Inflation Reduction Act money and the infrastructure money that was pouring in, but we’re not following standards. We’re not following procurement requirements for buying overseas, not buying into slave labor. So I think it’s the treasurer’s job to be a watchdog. Over the years, the position has sort of evolved into more of a lap dog.

I’m being criticized heavily by my opponent for taking the stance that, for instance, on school vouchers, I have concerns about the constitutionality of the legislation that exists and the legality of it. So that is something that I will evaluate, and if it’s problematic, then we will put it to the courts. My opponent is highly criticizing saying that I’m vetoing it. No, I’m not taking veto power. I’m using the oversight power of the Treasury to write or not write the check and allow to be challenged in the courts. That is traditionally what the job was. Now it’s transformed into a lap dog for the legislature or the governor. The working people of Pennsylvania deserve every penny to be accounted for and put forward in a way that is legal and constitutional.

What plans would you have for investing Commonwealth funds?

We’ve seen a lot of really, really risky, and I would say, not prudent investments. At one point, the state was being investigated for putting money in trailer parks and, you know, really, really risky real estate deals and things like that. So I want to be more hands on.

I tend to look being in a psychology field of complex adaptive systems, where are the weaknesses and where are the checks and balances that are actually working? The ratings agencies have gotten better. The SEC has gotten better. I don’t think they’re where we would like them to be as true watchdogs, but that’s how I look at investment.

Your thoughts on Pennsylvania investing in Israel?

I think that any direct investment in any foreign country has to be evaluated on the whole economic picture. We shouldn’t really be doing that with state money. We will have foreign investments tranched into the funds that we have and the securities that we have. So anybody that says we’re going to completely divest in anything is not telling the truth, because that means you would have to needle down into one security that probably has 1000s of different aspects to it, mortgages and bonds and all these things.

This is not about Israel or Palestine. This is about is it a good idea to to reengage George Bush’s cowboy diplomacy and transfer it into our investment strategy. And that’s really what it is. It’s a yippee-ki-yay, go America, let’s dump large amounts of money into a foreign entities war. That is for your member of Congress, that is for your US Senator, that is for your president. Talk to them. They have the federal coffer with the money, they have the Department of Defense, and they have national security information coming in that we at the state level don’t.

Looking back on your primary victory, you knew early on as the election results began to trickle in that it was going to be a win for you.

Because we can do math, and the math basically turns into an Allegheny County number. I do take a lot of pride being from Allegheny County. We are a turnout monster in any race, but in a Democratic primary, when a lot of the other counties see a suppressed turnout, we usually explode in that, and we usually have very hot, contested primaries.

In this case, we had the congressional 12th District, which was Rep. Summer Lee, who had a primary, (and) knew that was going to drive turnout. There was also a Senate and a House race in that district. Then there’s the area surrounding Allegheny County, which Allegheny County candidates tend to do very, very well in all those collar counties that helps drive it. You can see in the map that bleed actually did a lot better than we even predicted. A lot of that also has to do with being a woman on the ballot. 60 percent of that turnout was predicted to be women. And what we know is that since 2016 women have started voting for women, and since the Dobbs decision, now even men are voting for women.

What do you see as the biggest difference between you and your opponent?

I would say the biggest difference is my opponent wants to talk about politics. I want to talk about policy. She came out of the gate denying the 2020 election, saying Trump really won, which is really fascinating, because she won on that ballot too. So apparently all the election workers that she’s basically accused of being fraudulent, which I take personally because I was an Allegheny County worker for nine years, got it right on her race, but wrong on President Trump’s.

The second was these calls to catalyze the insurrection. That’s all politics. Even the statement that she’s made about Israeli bonds, it was real cowboy investment strategy. You know, go America. I’m trying to make a policy argument, and I’m also making a policy argument for not explosive and bombastic approach, but a very protectionist approach, where she is making these comments about Israel.

When a war and a terrorist attack happens, my response would have been, what are we going to do about national security of our municipalities? Look at the attacks we’ve had on municipalities since that. You have Aliquippa’s Water Authority was hacked by Iran. The Washington County infrastructure. I was just there yesterday at a picnic  and their entire government was shut down due to a ransomware attack that cost them $349,000.

My approach is to come in and protect all of you. Her approach is to put you at risk and put a target on your back.

Can you comment on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article that mentioned Allegheny County officials and issues with the FEC over campaign finance?

The Post-Gazette is a striking news outlet. Their workers have been on strike for close to two years now. So no democrat in Allegheny County will speak to the Post-Gazette. They have become the most morally bankrupt journalistic institution in the state, and they will print absolutely anything because none of us can defend ourselves.

There were three committee people that basically took an event where we were filing a finance report. In that finance report, I put $100,000 into my race and raised $400 and the software system crashed when we were submitting it. So we emailed the department and say, Hey, this crash. We don’t know what went in or what happened. They said, no problem. If there was an issue, just submit an amendment, and it’s fine.

We were never in bad standing. We saw there were contributions, were all listed, but the names of the contributors were missing of the $400 that I received. So we amended that report, changed those, it was fine. The people that were supporting my opponent decided to make a complete train wreck of it and sent it to the Allegheny County district attorney, the attorney general, the FEC, the state, I mean, any law enforcement agency they could find.

Yes, the Attorney General looked at it. We gave them all the information and like, yeah, I gave myself 100 grand. I raised $400 and I gave money to the committees and bought lit that was literally the summary of everything we did. And they they did inform us that they closed the case.

And why didn’t you close the committee?

There was a tiny little bit of money left in there. But somebody had filed a frivolous lawsuit that went on for four years, and they did not respond to it. It just kind of sat there, which meant that I had to pay to open up the data that reports to the federal campaign finance because they won’t accept paper reports. So every three months, I had to pay $300 open up that database and file a report that said no money was brought in and no money went out. And I did that for four years. After four years, the bank closed the account, the bank account for inactivity, and sent the money to unclaimed properties in the State Treasurer’s Office.

2 Responses

  1. Completely unqualified. I will be looking for 3rd party in this race or just skipping it. If Garrity weren’t an election denier I would vote for her.

    1. How so? Garrity’s office recently passed the buck due to a financial concern I had. Erin ran a small business. Garrity was just in the Military and drives most of the State’s funds to oil and gas, big deal. When are you going to learn the Republican Party doesn’t care about the little guy?

      Vote Erin McClelland.


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