By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
Since at least January 2017, Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Daryl Metcalfe has paid more than $15,000 for a district office that does not appear to exist.
According to Metcalfe’s Pa. House expense records, He has made payments of $475 dollars per month to The Johnson House Inc. for a “district office lease “ The Johnston House is an events venue and a tea room in Mars Pa.. However, Metcalfe also pays $873 per month for a district office at the Cranberry Municipal Center on Rochester Rd.
On Metcalfe’s website, as well as any other public search, the controversial far-right-wing legislator lists an office in Harrisburg and the one at the Cranberry Municipal Center. The Municipal Center and the Johnston House are about 5.1 miles away from each other. Typically, elected officials with more than one district office usually have those offices spread across the district.
The Current visited the exterior of the Johnston House this morning and there is no signage indicating that Metcalfe has an office there. A woman answering the phone at the location this morning told the Current, “Oh, I think you’re going to have to talk to the owner about that.” So far, the call has not been returned.
Earlier today, the Current reached out to Metcalfe, a spokesperson for the House GOP and Speaker of the House Brian Cutler. So far, those messages were not returned. Metcalfe is known for flagrant obstructionist behavior, homophobic comments, the belief that crisis actors helped fabricate the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
But one of his biggest claims is that he is a good steward of taxpayer money, as he points out in his mailers:
The Current specifically asked the following questions:
- Despite appearances to the contrary, do you have an office at the Johnston House or some other property owned by Johnston House LLC.?
- If the answer is yes, why isn’t this office listed on any government or public listing as a taxpayer-funded district office? If yes, When is the office open? If yes, How many staff members are in this office? If yes, what is the square footage and nature of the rental space?
- If you do not have a public office at this location, why have you been paying $475 per month for at least the past three years to the Johnston House Inc.? What is this money paying for?
- With all due respect, It does not appear that you have an office at this location. Please explain the expenditure in detail.
- If this expenditure is not for an office, how do you think that lines up with your claims that you are a watchdog for the taxpayers?
In two weeks, Metcalfe will face off in the General Election against Democratic challenger Dan Smith and a write-in challenge from Republican Scott Timko. Metcalfe beat Timko in the primary.
When contacted Monday afternoon Smith told the Current: “For someone that claims to ‘Protect the Taxpayer’ for the past 22 years, as a taxpayer myself, I am rather shocked after learning more of my opponent’s rather creative bookkeeping. Working in the financial sector for 25 years, this kind of spending would not be tolerated and be unquestionable grounds for termination. This is exactly the kind of behavior we have grown to expect from a career politician and, regardless of your political party, all voters should be just as upset as I am.”
While still not returning the Current’s calls for comment, Metcalfe made some statements on a critic’s Facebook page, calling the story, “lies.”
“I have had office space there for years that is used for legislative work,” Metcalfe wrote. “They have office space in the lower level of the building, which is leased. The office space was needed and is used for legislative work due to limited space being available in the township building where my main district office is located. The office at the Johnston House is not open for walk-in constituent service which saves the cost of staffing and signage.”
However, Metcalfe’s explanation comes hours after the initial inquiry by the Pittsburgh Current to both his office and the Johnston House. Also, several calls to his municipal center office and his Harrisburg Office continually went to straight to voicemail.
Pennsylvanians deserve elected officials who are good stewards of our taxpayer dollars. We also deserve real transparency: we shouldn’t have to wonder how or why our taxpayer dollars are being spent.
Suzanne Almeida, interim Executive Director of the government watchdog group, Common Cause Pennsylvania, says Metcalfe owes it to taxpayers and constituents to fully explain this office that they knew nothing about.
“Constituent services are an important part of legislators’ jobs, and district offices are part of the infrastructure to provide those services. However, rental agreements for those district offices should be made at arms-length and at market rates – so there is no question of improper benefit on either side,” Almeida said. “Anytime there is the appearance of impropriety in spending taxpayer funds, especially on something like constituent services, legislators must answer to their voters.”
Update, Oct. 22, 2020: Metcalfe tells KDKA-TV that the lease for his office at the Johnston House expires in November and he does not plan to renew it. However, the station apparently didn’t ask whether that decision is due to the recent discovery of the office by the Pittsburgh Current.
Smith says the timing of Metcalfe’s decision not to renew seems suspect.
“We only pulled the report for the past 3 years … how long had this really been happening and, if he’s canceling the lease, how is it he’s able to get the storage room he needs in a few weeks?” Smith said this morning. “It’s really odd he’s canceling this lease just as this story broke. I firmly believe he’s scared; because his hypocrisy was uncovered, his fleecing of the taxpayers of our district is being exposed and he has no other recourse but to deny and run. We’ve heard of “ghost employees” in politics, but this is a first for a ‘ghost office!”