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Harrisburg lobbying firm reps both sides in liquor privatization fight

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Thursday, May 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

A Harrisburg lobbying firm representing the state liquor store clerks earned more than $1 million last year for campaign work on behalf of Republicans, who are pushing privatization of liquor sales.

The arrangement of Long Nyquist and Associates with the United Food and Commercial Workers, a longtime foe of privatization, has angered some critics. The GOP push to privatize began in the 1980s under then-Gov. Dick Thornburgh.

“It's sheer hypocrisy that a group of lifelong ‘Republican' political hacks who always scolded others in the past for not being loyal Republicans are doing the bidding for one of the most radical Democrat interest groups in (an) attempt to defeat a universally popular Republican measure,” said Ryan Shafik, a conservative consultant who does work for the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, a privatization proponent.

Long Nyquist has strong ties to Senate Republicans, who control that chamber. A House-passed privatization bill is pending in the Senate.

Mike Long, a partner in the lobbying firm, was a top aide to Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, R-Blair County, for 23 years. Long declined to comment for this article.

He formed Long Nyquist and Associates with Todd Nyquist in November 2009, two years after leaving the Senate.

“That question (about the firm's influence with Republicans) has come up before,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, after an appearance this week at the Pennsylvania Press Club in Harrisburg. “I don't think they have any undue influence.”

Scarnati said he ended Long Nyquist's contract with the Senate Republican Campaign Committee several years ago because he thought it was a problem to lobby and hold that contract with the caucus.

Gerald Shuster, a University of Pittsburgh professor of political communications, said he doesn't think Long Nyquist has an unfair advantage or has done anything unethical in taking the union as a client.

“Certainly, I think the union probably did a lot of homework on this and decided, ‘Hey, why not go after the organization that knows the Republican philosophy and who the people are who are most likely to support the cause and who might be riding the fence?' ”

Wendell W. Young IV, the union's chairman, said Long Nyquist is among a small group of “full-service firms” that can take on a decades-long fight as big as privatization.

“They understand how some people think better than I do,” Young said.

Campaign expense reports show at least seven Senate Republicans, three House Republicans and the Republican State Committee paid LN Consulting, an outfit registered at the same address as Long Nyquist, more than $1 million for consulting, campaign literature, surveys, research and fundraising in 2012.

The Republican State Committee paid more than $500,000 for campaign literature. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, spent more than $110,000 for consulting, printing and campaign information cards.

As majority leader, Pileggi's office decides which bill to bring to a vote on the Senate floor. He is not a member of the committee considering privatization plans.

“It has no impact on his position on this or any other issue that the (firm) lobbies for or against on behalf of their clients,” said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Pileggi.

G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and political scientist with Franklin & Marshall College, said the connection doesn't “unduly” concern him.

“That's the nature of the world of lobbying,” Madonna said. “Republicans in the Senate have already questioned the wisdom of this before Mike Long was ever involved. They had already talked about modernization (over privatization).”

Campaign records show at least two members of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which is considering the privatization bill, used Long Nyquist for campaign consulting in 2012.

Sen. Rich Alloway, R-Franklin County, spent more than $103,000. Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery County, paid more than $17,000.

Alloway said people are in his office every day arguing for or against privatization and that the Long Nyquist connection didn't provide any extra sway on behalf of the union. He said he isn't wedded to any plan but would like to get one to Corbett's desk.

Rafferty introduced a bill in 2010 to allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer.

Long Nyquist is not alone in this kind of work.

Harrisburg-based Greenlee Partners represents the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a national trade association, Brewers of Pennsylvania and Wal-Mart Stores. The lobbying firm's campaign arm, Keystone Strategies, was paid more than $69,000 by state lawmakers of both parties for campaign work in 2012, financial reports show.

The campaign of Sen. Ted Erickson, R-Delaware County, a member of the Law and Justice Committee, paid about $11,000 to Keystone Strategies for consulting last year.

Erickson said the connection doesn't buy those groups any extra access. He said he's heard from “a plethora of different kinds of interests,” including big-box stores, convenience stores and the state store union.

“We'll talk to anyone who wants to talk about this issue,” he said. “And they all are coming in.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 orkandren@tribweb.com.

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