Pittsburgh mayor, official spar over 'Undercover Boss' fund

AP News
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Posted: Jan 23, 2015 6:29 PM

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The county controller said Friday she's withholding money from a Pittsburgh tourism agency until it details contributions linked to the mayor's appearance on "Undercover Boss," a move the mayor is calling a "cheap political stunt."

Mayor Bill Peduto appeared on the CBS show last month and pledged $155,000 to help four needy city workers. Peduto has stressed that tax revenue wouldn't be used and that corporate and institutional donors — including VisitPittsburgh — had pledged to pay for it.

But Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said VisitPittsburgh gets most of its $11 million budget from county tax money. She wants the agency to account for $25,000 it donated to the "Undercover Boss" fund, plus another $25,000 it still plans to donate, before she hands over $682,000 in funding.

"I remain concerned regarding the representation that no public money would be used," Wagner said in a statement. "VisitPittsburgh runs on public money. Moreover, there remains a lack of transparency regarding VisitPittsburgh's commitment of these funds."

The agency's chief executive officer, Craig Davis, said he's confident the agency was right to donate the money. The agency receives a cut of the county's hotel tax revenue, but also raises money from private sources.

Peduto argued that the "Undercover Boss" money he's raising from various sources is bringing in exponential positive exposure for the city.

"In most cities elected officials would rally together in celebration of this opportunity," Peduto said in a statement. "Here, one rogue politician would rather try to use it as an opportunity to pull a cheap political stunt."

Peduto notes VisitPittsburgh has promoted the city and county for 80 years and noted his appearance on the show drew nearly 9 million viewers.

"A 60-second Sunday night advertisement on network television costs $200,000," Peduto said. "This show was in effect a 60-minute ad on prime-time television promoting Pittsburgh for an investment by VisitPittsburgh of only $25,000."

Peduto said Wagner doesn't have the legal power to withhold the tax money, and that the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority was tasked with overseeing how the "Undercover Boss" revenues were to be spent.