This story has been updated with a comment from Governor Tom Wolf's campaign.
In 2014, state Sen. Scott Wagner called Long-Nyquist, a powerful lobbying firm with a campaign consulting arm catering to a largely Republican clientele, “the biggest cancer” in the state capitol.
In several public tirades, Wagner said it was unethical for the firm to lobby the same individuals it helped elect, never mind that Long-Nyquist had run his primary opponent's campaign. In 2016, Wagner even backed a slate of lobbying reforms that included provisions prohibiting lobbyists from conducting campaign work.
“I think it's a danger. It is a conflict of interest...I don't care how you shake or bake it,” he said of firms’ dueling interests last year.
But today, with the governor’s mansion in his crosshairs, Wagner seems to have suddenly buried these concerns. He recently retained Red Mavericks – yet another powerful GOP-leaning firm with both a lobbying and campaign arm – to handle his campaign.
“We’re putting together the best team to enable us to win,” said Wagner spokesperson Jason High of hiring the firm, run by longtime Harrisburg consultant Ray Zaborney.
Adding that Wagner had also slammed Long-Nyquist over the firm’s penchant for taking on Democratically aligned clients like labor unions, High quickly explained away any notion of hypocrisy.
“Ray’s business model is a little different than the others. He doesn’t lobby us.” he said. “Wagner has been one of the biggest change agents in Harrisburg, so I don’t think it's fair to say he’s a hypocrite just over this one issue.”
Zaborney also downplayed his firm’s campaign and lobbying work.
“We have two different firms and two different sets of employees. I’m the only one who does both lobbying and politics,” he said. “What I’m doing is consistent with what’s allowed. We do it the right way.”
But veteran political analyst G. Terry Madonna said that Wagner’s change of heart was more likely the result of a “change agent” getting a “dose of reality.”
“Many reformers come into Harrisburg with one set of ideas and soon learn the system and practices are more complicated,” he said. “It's a common practice, and it's not illegal.”
Governor Tom Wolf's campaign, which has been savaged by Wagner, was less sparing about the state senator's change of heart.
"Scott Wagner is the ultimate Harrisburg insider, and even worse, he's a blithering hypocrite who games the system for his own benefit at the expense of hardworking Pennsylvanians," said Beth Melena, communications director for the PA Democratic Party.
Long-Nyquist declined to comment for this story.