By Ryan Deto
PITTSBURGH — Pennsylvania state Treasurer Joe Torsella has a pitch for the Keystone State. Well, two pitches. The Democratic incumbent treasurer from Montgomery County is running for re-election this year, so he obviously is asking Pennsylvanians for their vote. But he also understands how dysfunctional Congress has been, and how that is mirrored on the state level in Harrisburg.
With that in mind, Torsella’s other pitch is simple: pay attention to the state row offices like treasurer, attorney general, and auditor general, and not just during election years. They can accomplish a lot for Pennsylvanians.
“I’m trying to make an argument as dysfunctional as Washington is, and even the dysfunction that state capitals have, you can still get a lot more done,” Torsella said.
Last year, Torsella’s office sued several large financial firms for allegedly inflating bonds prices, and the companies settled with a payment of nearly $400 million to Pennsylvania. He also celebrated the creation of a statewide baby bond program, which he championed.
Beyond state reforms, Torsella has also taken to using the state shares he manages to pressure large pharmaceutical companies to lower their COVID-treatment drug prices, and led a group of state treasurers in calling for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to resign as board chair of the tech giant.
All of these initiatives trace back to Torsella’s belief in the positive power of government. In an era where most politicians campaign on just how anti-politician, anti-establishment they are, Torsella is trying to instead restore trust in large, government-run institutions that are often the only things that can effectively fight corporations, combat economic inequality, and root out complex corruption.
“That is part of the reason the integrity issue is important to me,” Torsella said. “That is only something that large institutions can do.”
When Torsella was first running for state treasurer in 2016, he knew the office had a lot of power, but was mostly focused on bringing back some normalcy. Since the 1980s, three state treasurers have faced criminal indictments involving bribes and/or illegal campaign contributions.
“It can have a powerful purpose if someone has the right lens,” he said. “You are the guardian of the literal two-word common wealth of the one-word commonwealth. But, I did not think about this when I was running. At some point along the way, I thought, ‘I can use their wealth to protect their interests,’ and I got more assertive about that.”