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GOP auditor gen. race: Accountant turned state Rep. vs. small business owner

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Apr 17 2012 04:25:25 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 20 2012 02:59:43 PM CDT

In the Republican primary race for auditor general, both candidates agree qualifications are important. However, they disagree dramatically about what those qualifications should be.

The party-endorsed candidate, John Maher, 53, has been a state representative from Allegheny County since 1997. He says an accounting background is paramount.

The underdog challenger, Frank Pinto, 67, is a small business owner from Dauphin County and retired president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers. He says leadership is most essential.

The duties of the auditor general include checking up on the financial dealings of school districts, counties, state agencies, and the office issues about 6,000 reports annually.

Here's a look at how each candidate sees the job.

JOHN MAHER

Maher points proudly to his educational background, which includes an accounting degree from Duke University, and his work in the private sector. He has said auditing "is a bit like CSI. ... Where there's trouble, you've gotta have an eye for it, what could go wrong, how to prevent things from going wrong, and how to detect them when they do."

Maher says his record as a legislator is an indication of how he would function as "the watchdog of the people's money." He points out he helped pass an open records law in 2002 and a bill that required lobbyists to register in 2006. "Once the sunlight has been cast, the shadows cannot come back," Maher has said.

Maher says as auditor general, he will focus on making the annual audit reports sent to school districts and health-care providers more than just a document that just ends up "in some dark filing cabinet."

He wants the reports to contain information that will help officials "to see into the future" and avoid financial "cataclysms." He wants the reports to say to officials "here's something you might want to think about."

FRANK PINTO

Pinto sees the auditor general's office as "the bully pulpit of efficient and accountable government," and needs a leader who can mold and define efficiency and accountability. "A bean counter doesn't necessarily bring about the accountability we want as taxpayers," Pinto has said.

He also points out that the state Constitution does not require the auditor general to be a CPA, unlike the attorney general, who is required to be a lawyer.

Pinto says his 26 years of leading the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers shows how he will transform an office that is "the Rodney Dangerfield of politics." He calls himself "a Main Street advocate," and says he's always tried to work for government that is accountable, less intrusive and balances its budget.

Pinto says his main goal as auditor general would be to "create the mindset to use business skills and business accountability techniques." He says after he is elected, he will ask education experts to evaluate employees so he can "put people where their expertise is." He would also institute "a competitive analysis" that would try to assess why some school districts are better than others.

CHALLENGING EACH OTHER

Maher derides Pinto's experience as president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers, and calls Pinto "a lobbyist."

Pinto has raised questions about how independent Maher could be, given that Governor Tom Corbett made a $25,000 contribution to his campaign.
Maher says his biggest campaign contributor is himself, that he's spending eight times that much of his own money "because of my determination to remain independent."