Gov. Tom Wolf campaigned on a promise he’d be a “different kind of governor,” but his most recent nomination raised concerns that political patronage is afoot.
Wolf late Friday afternoon announced he had nominated Michael Newsome, a former employee and campaign contributor, to fill a vacancy on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which oversees state-run wine and liquor sales. Newsome — who, like Wolf, hails from York County — most recently served as chief financial officer of Wolf’s family kitchen cabinet company and donated $6,300 to his gubernatorial campaign.
Newsome’s professional and personal relationship with Wolf clearly gave him an inside track to the nomination, said Eric Epstein, coordinator of Rock the Capital, a government-reform group.
“The timing of the nomination, Mr. Newsome’s past business relationship with the Wolf organization, and his political contributions to the Wolf campaign contribute to the perception of political patronage,” Epstein said.
Wolf’s office dismissed the idea. The governor’s press secretary, Jeffrey Sheridan, called it “absolutely ridiculous” to construe Newsome’s nomination as an example of cronyism. Wolf knew Newsome well before he became governor, Sheridan said.
“He has a very diverse business background,” Sheridan said. “He’s someone that the governor knows very well and trusts, and he was nominated to the Liquor Control Board because of those things.”
The state Senate must confirm Newsome. Board members make $74,494 annually, while the chairman makes $77,548. Terms last four years.
Wolf lit the Capitol Christmas tree around lunchtime Monday. He answered reporters’ questions about the state budget for about three minutes before Sheridan ushered him away. When a PA Independent reporter tried to stop the departing governor for a question about Newsome, Sheridan forged ahead with Wolf.
“Not right now. He’s done,” Sheridan said.
Newsome, who could not be reached for comment, made a $5,000 campaign contribution to Wolf in December 2013. He followed that up with donations of $1,000, $200 and $100 in 2014, according to campaign finance records.
Speaking through a news release issued at 4:33 p.m. Friday, Wolf cited Newsome’s 37 years of business experience as the reason to nominate him to the three-person PLCB. Through now retired, he had most recently worked as executive vice president and chief financial officer of The Wolf Organization, a supplier of kitchen cabinets. Wolf sold his stake in the company earlier this year, and put his assets in a blind trust.
Newsome also served as controller of the York Daily Record from 1992 until 2004.
“Michael Newsome has the perfect mix of business experience to serve on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board,” Wolf said a written statement. “Michael has served in a large variety of roles across the private sector in Pennsylvania and has led the sale and transition of two major Central Pennsylvania businesses. His business background and private-sector expertise will be an asset as the LCB works to maximize revenue and consumer convenience.”
Before nominating Newsome to the Liquor Control Board, Wolf had also tapped him to serve as part of budget deficit and fiscal stabilization task force formed before the governor took office in January.