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Gov. candidate Wolf admits part of ‘Fresh Start’ campaign plan plagiarized

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Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf seeks support from Mon Valley and South Hills officials for his 'fresh start for Pennsylvania' campaign with a Saturday morning visit to Di's Kornerstone Diner. He is joined at the podium by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, state Sen. James R. Brewster and McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Democratic candidate for governor greets supporters at the opening of her Pittsburgh Office in Shadyside, Tuesday.

Two Democratic gubernatorial candidates on Thursday chastised businessman Tom Wolf’s campaign for plagiarizing a section of his “Fresh Start” campaign platform.

Wolf acknowledged the mistake hours after U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a rival in the primary race, pointed out the plagiarism in a news release.

“I have directed the staff to make sure nothing like this ever happens again and have asked for a new process to be put in place to ensure it does not,” said Wolf in a statement.

Spokesman Mark Nicastre said the campaign terminated the person responsible and would make “appropriate changes” to the plan.

Four paragraphs from the platform include sentences that are identical to sections of two papers published by Johnson Controls, an international energy equipment distributor. The company is not cited on Wolf’s website, where the “Fresh Start” plan appears prominently.

“Tom Wolf claims to be a different type of candidate,” said Mark Bergman, spokesman for the Schwartz campaign. “He says he will take us in a new direction with a ‘Fresh Start’ policy, yet the words aren’t even his own.”

Schwartz and Wolf are in a four-way primary race with former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty and state Treasurer Rob McCord. The McGinty campaign declined to comment.

“It’s not surprising that Tom Wolf is stealing his policy ideas from corporations,” said Cameron Kline, McCord’s spokesman. “After all, his natural gas policy leaves hundreds of millions of dollars in the drilling companies’ pockets — almost like it was their idea.”

Wolf has advocated imposing a 5 percent gas extraction tax. McCord wants a 10 percent tax.

Christopher Borick, political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said the issue is embarrassing but unlikely to cripple Wolf’s campaign.

In 1988, Vice President Joe Biden withdrew from running for president when it was revealed that portions of his stump speech used lines from British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. The lines referred to his childhood. This information, Borick said, has less impact.

“This is a problem for the Wolf team but not one that, by itself, is a gigantic hurdle for them,” Borick said.

The Wolf campaign said the 46-page plan collected ideas from the public and private sectors and nonprofits.

“It was important to us to give credit where credit was due,” Nicastre said. “The language that has been pointed out should never have appeared in the manner in which it did. We are putting processes in place to make sure this does not happen again. This was a mistake, and we regret it.”

The phrases appear in the natural resources chapter of the plan under the heading, “Accelerating Potential Job Growth and Investments in Energy Efficiency.”

That section lifts nearly a dozen sentences about energy and related financing from papers authored by Johnson Control researchers.

A company spokesman declined to comment.

“Energy efficiency has been called the ‘fifth fuel’ — a new source of energy that can be tapped to drive economic growth,” says one line.

Wolf’s campaign has quoted liberally from the plan on the campaign trail. It outlines his opinions on education, jobs, infrastructure and government reform.

He has led the Democratic primary throughout 2014, according to polls. Schwartz trails as a distant second, per the latest poll from the Center for Public Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College.

The primary is on May 20. The winner likely will face Gov. Tom Corbett, a first-term Republican.

Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or [email protected].

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