Wolf wants lobbyist legislation tied to campaign finance reform |

Wolf wants lobbyist legislation tied to campaign finance reform

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf idea would raise $153 million in new revenue by removing the sales and use tax exemption for public warehousing and commercial storage businesses in Pennsylvania.

HARRISBURG — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will support legislation to prevent lobbyists from running campaigns, provided it’s part of a broader reform package sought by the governor and House and Senate Democrats, his press spokesman said Thursday.

Wolf wants ethics measures to be passed that include a statewide gift ban, disclosure of public officials’ outside income, more audits of lobbyists’ reports, and campaign finance reform, said Press Secretary Jeffrey Sheridan.

The bill to ban campaign activity by lobbyists is sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Altoona, and pushed as part of a GOP package by Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County, a Wolf critic.

An FBI investigation into lobbying in Harrisburg has given new impetus to efforts to tighten rules governing the $500 million-a-year industry. The FBI investigation has ensnared one prominent lobbyist, former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s onetime aide, John Estey, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud May 10. The FBI says its probe continues.

Relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers have gotten so cozy, some former aides of top-ranking lawmakers lobby their ex-bosses on behalf of private clients while at the same time running their political campaigns, a Tribune-Review investigation published Sunday found.

Critics say it’s a conflict of interest for Long Nyquist, a firm hired by the FBI in its investigation that has strong ties to Senate Republicans, to run campaigns.

Republican Ray Zaborney owns Red Maverick Media, a campaign firm, and Maverick Strategies, a lobbying firm. An affiliate company run by Zaborney’s wife, Jennifer, raises campaign money for GOP candidates.

“There are two firms that do this (lobbying and campaign management). From the governor’s perspective, they are Republican firms,” said Eichelberger. “We want to stop this. Many lobbyists have said to me, ‘You have to get this done.’ ”

The firms deny a conflict.

“The manner in which we run our business is appropriate,” Zaborney said. “It’s not prohibited by any legislation. It’s something that happens all the time in other states and in Washington, D.C. I think it’s totally appropriate to do it in the right way.”

The right way, Zaborney said, is to maintain “strong separation between” lobbying and campaign operations.

“It’s legal, but it’s unethical,” Rocco Pugliese, who owns a lobbying firm, Pugliese Associates, said of the practice.

Politics and lobbying will always be closely tied, but when the same people are involved in both sides, “it creates the appearance of impropriety and the appearance of conflict,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.

“I think it’s dangerous, in many respects,” Costa said. “We don’t have the public’s trust in what we do right now.”

Costa said he supports the Eichelberger bill.

House and Senate Republican leaders had little to say other than Senate hearings are likely.

Jason High, a spokesman for Senator Wagner, called it “encouraging that Governor Wolf would support Senator Eichelberger’s bill.”

But High added that “it is unfortunate that he is making his support conditional on the passage of legislation that has been historically impossible for the Legislature to pass.”

Campaign finance reform has floundered for decades, especially when the issue turns to limits on what state lawmakers can raise and spend in campaigns. Pennsylvania allows unlimited individual contributions.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale told the Tribune-Review that increased audits of lobbyists’ reports filed with the Department of State “are on our radar” and more audits are likely to be announced within months.

Currently, the Department of State randomly selects 3 percent of all lobbyists’ registration and expense reports for audits by independent auditors the department hires.

Editor’s Note: This is one of an occasional series examining lobbying in Harrisburg.

Brad Bumsted and Mike Wereschagin are Tribune-Review staff writers. Contact Bumsted at 717-787-1405 or [email protected]. Contact Wereschagin at 412-320-7900 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.