Will Gov. Wolf Stay True to “Openness” in Government?

Gov. Tom Wolf’s first week in office included several moves to paint a picture of ethics and transparency in state government.

First Wolf issued executive orders banning executive staff from accepting gifts, and forbidding no-bid legal contracts. Barry Kauffman, Pennsylvania head of the liberal group Common Cause says this is about ending conflict of interest:

“So, you give a $50,000 campaign contribution and you get a $2 million reward through a no-bid contract … That’s a heck of a return on the investment.”

Then, in a controversial move to terminate a Corbett appointee, Wolf defends his action on grounds of openness and transparency

“We need to be as ethical as we can and be as transparent as we can. To me the way this process was done was anything but open and politicized. What I’m concerned with is a less than open process.” …

“We ought to do this right and find the best possible person for this job and not make this a backroom deal that so often erodes trust in government.”

But as I noted in a recent op-ed, Gov. Wolf will soon be facing his own potential conflict of interest, when he negotiates contracts with government union leaders.

These contracts, which include salary and benefit provisions, cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Moreover, they can include provisions where the state, at taxpayer expense, will collect the political money that is given to candidates—like Governor Wolf himself.

During the 2014 election, government unions contributed $3.4 million to the Wolf campaign—far more than the paltry contributions Barry Kauffman is concerned about—and spent millions more on independent expenditures through Super-PACs.

By no means should any politician be able to negotiate over the collection of his own campaign contributions.

We hope Governor Wolf will stick to his pledge of transparency and make these contract negotiations open to the public rather than a backroom deal. And we look forward to working with Gov. Wolf and advocates like Barry Kauffman toward reforms that reduce the conflict of interest when negotiating contracts with political donors.