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Wolf calls for new good-government changes

HARRISBURG - Gov. Wolf is calling on the legislature to champion good government and curb the influence of special interests.

HARRISBURG - Gov. Wolf is calling on the legislature to champion good government and curb the influence of special interests.

At a news conference Thursday in Pittsburgh, Wolf said banning gifts, imposing limits on campaign contributions, and requiring public officials to disclose in more detail their outside income are among measures he believes would strengthen public trust in the government.

"Pennsylvanians need to have confidence in the decisions made by their government - that those decisions are the product of a robust competition of ideas - not rewards to special interests with the deepest pockets," the governor said.

The steps mirror changes the Democrat imposed on his staff after taking office.

But expanding them to lawmakers would require approval by the GOP-led legislature, which for years has resisted similar attempts.

"It's hard to get people to change the culture when they are the beneficiaries of that culture," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a longtime advocate for campaign finance changes and other government reform.

Still, Kauffman said, having the governor use his "bully pulpit" could help give at least some of those initiatives real political traction, even if they have only received tepid lip service in the past.

Wolf wants the legislature to tackle five specific changes: ban officials from accepting gifts; require them to detail all sources of outside income, including how much they earn; place limits, for the first time, on individual and PAC contributions to campaigns; require applicants for state contracts to disclose all political contributions; and beef up State Department staffing to oversee compliance with campaign finance and lobbying rules.

Agreeing on the most far-reaching proposals - Pennsylvania is one of the few states that has no caps on the size of political donations - at a time when Wolf and the legislature remain locked in a historic budget impasse seems unlikely.

But some steps are not beyond reach in Harrisburg. A bipartisan "Government Reform Caucus," which includes members from both chambers, has already supported a gift ban.

One of its members, Sen. Rob Teplitz (D., Dauphin) acknowledged Thursday the difficulty in trying to persuade legislators to do away with the long-standing perks of the job. Still, he said, a growing number believe it's in their interest to begin changing the culture inside the Capitol.

"Good government is good politics as well," said Teplitz.