Lt. Gov. Mike Stack is under fire again, this time for expensing nearly $20,000 in travel reimbursements over two years, just a week after allegations that he allegedly mistreated state employees. But financial statements obtained by City&State PA show Stack also sought (unsuccessfully) to write off attending an IndyCar race in the Poconos as a travel expense.
The Democrat submitted a $240 reimbursement request for two tickets to an August 2015 ABC Supply 500 race at the Pocono Speedway, in Long Pond.
On an expense form, Stack’s office justified the expense by stating the lieutenant governor would “represent the state of Pennsylvania” at the race – and, incidentally, get a joy ride from PA racing legend Mario Andretti. According to Stack’s office, the second ticket was for special assistant Dylan McGarry.
Spokesman Matt Franchak said Stack had been invited to attend by the raceway and described the trip as official business because the lieutenant governor was “promoting PA tourism” at the race.
“Stack is a big supporter of the Pocono Raceway. He’s developed a really nice relationship with the CEO there,” Franchak said. “There are three major races every year at Pocono Raceway and this is one of them…(Stack) is not going up there to drink some beers. He didn’t go up for entertainment purposes. He’s going up to promote an economic engine for that region.”
Franchak said Gov. Tom Wolf’s then-recent executive gift ban for the executive branch precluded Stack from accepting comped tickets and that an office administrator for Wolf advised them to expense the travel costs.
“We followed their advice. We followed the gift ban,” he said. “It’s kinda the same for him going to a ribbon-cutting for a factory. The difference is that Pocono charges an entrance fee.”
But the Governor's Office said (not in so many words) that staffers were having another "Stack moment." They said the administrator had only described the general process for reimbursing valid travel expenses – which the tickets were not – and denied ever advising Stack’s office about attending the event in an official capacity.
“The governor pays for everything personally,” said spokesman JJ Abbott. “That’s including his hotel stays, any meals and admissions to events.”
By all accounts, it was a hell of a race. After a strong mid-race showing by Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay surged to first place. A catastrophic crash late in the race injured two drivers, one fatally – although Stack’s office told City&State PA he didn’t stay for the finish.
A state payroll employee flagged the expense request about a month later.
“I have reviewed the above-referenced travel expense report submitted for Lieutenant Governor Stack for a $240 ticket[s] at Pocono Raceway,” wrote fiscal technician Mark Searer. “The costs of attending events are not reimbursable through a travel expense report.”
Searer suggests that he could attempt to expense the cost through the state’s HR department, but Franchak said Stack ultimately chose to eat the cost of the tickets.
Stack has generally defended his reimbursements and McGarry maintains that Stack attending the Speedway event as a state cheerleader did qualify as "official business." McGarry said that Stack’s presence at the race helped ensure nearly a thousand jobs stayed in Pennsylvania.
However, he said he did not believe that the lieutenant governor had attended any similar events in an official capacity.
The bulk of the $18,700 Stack logged in reimbursements, according to 132 pages of expense records released by the Office of Open Records, primarily covered overnight stays in his hometown of Philadelphia, even during the time when he still maintained a residence in the city.
He also billed meals to the state at downtown Philadelphia’s swanky Palm Restaurant, a popular haunt for politicos. In one such expense, Stack writes that he spent $90 on lunch with political consultant Jim Bloom and cargo terminal operator Rob Palaima to discuss “inports and exports. [sic].” In a separate instance, he submitted $89 in non-itemized charges from the restaurant, without a receipt. After pages of emails, the state eventually sent his office a copy of the Palm’s menu and asked him to circle the items he had ordered.
On another occasion, Stack’s office reported that part of a $199 tab at Da Nico’s restaurant in New York, purportedly while speaking with “emergency management liaisons” and discussing film tax credits. His office writes that a receipt from that meeting marked “Open Liquor” was not, in fact, for liquor. Alcohol is not expensable, per state codes.
“The drinks listed on the $199.65 meal receipt at Nico's under Open Liquor were not alcoholic beverages,” a note reads. “The beverages orders are filled at the bar but were not acholic, Arnold Palmer and Limonada. [sic]”