Mayor Ravenstahl's travel not all city-paid
Outside organizations paid $146,267 for Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to visit places such as China, Korea and Erlanger, Ky., from 2007 through 2011, according to financial disclosure statements that public officials must file yearly.
Ravenstahl has a city-issued credit card to pay expenses when out of town on official business. Yet the Tribune-Review, in a review of his receipts, found no record of the city's paying some expenses, including hotel stays, travel costs and meals for trips he took during the past six years.
The gaps mean organizations picked up the tab after inviting him to speaking engagements and other business-related trips, Ravenstahl said.
“If it wasn't paid for by my city account, more than likely the organizations paid for the travel,” the mayor said, but he could not be specific without reviewing his expenses.
State ethics law considers that type of financial support a “gift,” as does city code. Public officials and candidates must disclose the name, address and amount that contributors give on their financial disclosure statements.
City officials must file them by May 1 each year with the City Council clerk.
Ravenstahl's campaign committee picked up $129,157 of his travel expenses from 2007, his first full year in office, through 2011, the most recent year available. He has not filed his statement for 2012.
The remaining $17,110 came from other organizations, including the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, VisitPittsburgh and Legacy, an organization for young professionals in the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area.
Gerald Shuster, a political communication professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said the amount organizations picked up does not appear particularly high, considering it's spread over five years.
Ravenstahl likely used campaign money for much of his travel to avoid accusations that he campaigned on public money, Shuster said. A campaign account can be a way for the mayor to travel without people inspecting what he does, he said.
“You could hide anything in there,” Shuster said.
Ravenstahl is reluctant to discuss his comings and goings. His office refused to release his daily schedule.
The mayor tapped his war chest for trips ranging from Paris to New York, Boston and Fort Worth, according to annual campaign finance reports.
Spokeswoman Marissa Doyle said she had no involvement in the mayor's campaign finances and could not comment.
Ravenstahl, who will not run for re-election, has not disbanded his campaign staff. The account has about $900,000 in the bank.
“I know that he did travel on city business, but I'm not aware of what those numbers you provided are responsible for,” Doyle said.
Campaign spokesman Matt Harringer said Ravenstahl's travel is outlined in financial reports, and he traveled for legitimate business or politics.
“They're completely legal and typical of any campaign,” Harringer said. “You'll see similar expenditures for other candidates.”
The Allegheny Conference and the Regional Alliance paid the mayor's way from Oct. 6-15, 2010, to attend a business leaders conference in Shanghai, China, and to meet with leaders in Seoul, where he discussed the Group of 20 financial summit with world leaders that Pittsburgh hosted in 2009. The organizations paid $10,788 for Ravenstahl's travel expenses, disclosure statements show.
Catherine DeLoughry, the Allegheny Conference's vice president of communications, could not confirm the bill was for the Shanghai trip, but she said the two organizations often pay travel expenses for public officials.
“The typical purpose of these trips is to promote the region,” DeLoughry said. “It's very important and valued, particularly in Asian cultures, if you have the top elected official with you.”
In 2009, Duke University invited Ravenstahl to speak and paid $469 toward his travel. That year, Time Inc. paid $669 for Ravenstahl to help pick the annual Person of the Year.
Legacy, the organization based in Erlanger, paid $919 for a mayoral visit in 2008.
Bob Bauder is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.