Wagner a Walking, Talking Conflict of Interest
Scott Wagner is a phony who rails against the establishment while cannily manipulating the system for his own benefit.
With Donald Trump having just taken the oath of office, perhaps now is the time for someone to let our 45th president know he’s just a knock-off of Pennsylvania state Sen. Scott Wagner. At least, that’s what Wagner believes, since he recently proclaimed “Donald Trump is actually a mini-Scott Wagner.”
Obviously, Trump would take umbrage with being called a second-rate anything. However, possibly Wagner is on to something. Clearly, both are hard-charging, brash businessmen with a lack of filter who shocked the political chattering class with electoral victory. But it’s more than that.
Both Wagner’s and Trump’s every move is calculated with an eye toward how it helps them get ahead, further their ambition or make even more gobs of money. While claiming to be “outsiders,” the truth is each spent decades as part of the very political machine they purport to be against. When handing out high-dollar campaign donations, the only core conviction each exhibited was to amass more wealth and power. As such, they’ve bankrolled politicians on both sides of the aisle – acting as ATM machines by doling out dollars to Democrats and Republicans alike if they thought it would benefit their businesses.
Like Trump, Wagner is a consummate phony who rails against the establishment, all the while cannily manipulating the system for his own benefit. After pulling so many strings in the Senate and on the legislative campaign trail this past year, Wagner seemingly had his pick as to which Senate committee he could head. So his ascension to chair of the Senate Local Government Committee raises some grave concerns. This group presides over policies at the municipal and county levels and serves as a forum for local associations to testify before the Legislature.
I agree when Wagner says “our local governments are an integral part of our Commonwealth.” However, as owner of Penn Waste – a trash hauling company operating in over 60 towns across the state – these very same local governments are also an integral part of Wagner’s vast fortune. That’s precisely why there should be serious apprehension over whether Wagner can possibly be impartial as to which legislation gets considered. Last session, the committee he now leads passed a bill prohibiting members of municipal authorities from having conflicts of interest while awarding contracts. Yet, as chair, Wagner will be a walking, talking, gavel-holding conflict of interest, since his company’s bread and butter are municipal contracts. Furthermore, local governments throughout Pennsylvania constitute potential future clients.
Wagner boasts of his aggressive tactics and keen business acumen as selling points. But just scratch his finely manicured bio for the real record. Several times, Penn Waste stood accused of receiving municipal contracts unlawfully.
In 2015, a competitor protested a contract awarded by Susquehanna Township over potential violations of state small business requirements. In 2012, claims arose that Wagner breached York municipal bidding rules. And in 2007, yet another competitor alleged a Lemoyne waste collection contract was illegal due to breaking sunshine laws.
The manner in which Wagner runs his business also raises judgment questions. His companies have weathered their share of environmental, labor, health and safety violations. Penn Waste and other Wagner-owned ventures have received over 30 Department of Environmental Protection violations. Moreover, a 2008 U.S. Department of Labor inspection of Penn Waste resulted in violations for workplace safety and control of hazardous energy.
When Wagner says he’ll run government like he runs his business, take a step back to contemplate whether Keystone State families could survive his reckless disregard for workers and the environment.
Like Trump, Wagner also relishes suing people. In Cumberland, Dauphin and York counties alone, civil records show he’s brought lawsuits against many customers. Penn Waste also has a history of attempting to collect payment from vacant property owners when services were neither requested nor received. Wagner even sent county sheriffs to seize personal property to satisfy the smallest of debts. Worse, he tried convincing towns to give his company the power – which Wagner coined “the teeth” – to place municipal liens on customers’ homes, which would have led to sheriff sales of entire properties.
Wagner is a quintessential intimidator who sues those without the means or ability to fight back. For example, he took an 85-year-old woman to court over unpaid trash bills for services she didn’t use. This Springettsbury senior citizen rightfully called Wagner “a bully.”
Whether in business, campaigns or government, everything Scott Wagner undertakes is strategically designed to benefit Scott Wagner.
And he isn’t shy about throwing his money around. In fact, Wagner seems awfully proud of the largesse. It’s absolutely amazing how he recently actively emailed around an article to everyone on his distribution list titled: “Is Scott Wagner using his wallet to shape the Legislature?” – not once, but twice.
Anyone who believes in good government should rest uneasy that Wagner could use his new legislative power perch to further his business interests. Yet, I fear that – just like Augustus Gloop when he finally won that golden ticket into Willy Wonka’s factory – Wagner can’t help but dip his hands into that tempting chocolate river. As such, we at Pennsylvania Spotlight call for complete transparency in all his dealings on this important committee. And we’ll be watching to make sure Wagner’s actions as chair and throughout the Statehouse are all above-board.
Joshua Henne is an adviser to Pennsylvania Spotlight, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group dedicated to educating the public on issues that enhance the well-being of middle-class families and workers.