A complaint filed with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission alleges a senior aide to Governor Tom Wolf might have illegally blurred the lines between the public’s business and her own.
StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported a year ago that Wolf aide Yesenia Bane could be running afoul of state ethics law, when a review of her 2016 daily calendar showed she was regularly involved in meetings and travel related to her husband’s natural gas industry clients.
At the time her husband, John Bane, was a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Harrisburg. Among his clients were gas driller EQT, refiner Philadelphia Energy Solutions, and pipeline company Williams. He joined EQT full time as a senior government relations manager in late 2016.
The ethics complaint was filed last week by Caroline Hughes, a Chester County resident. Last spring Hughes got involved with Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, a coalition of concerned citizens groups in suburban Philadelphia. She just recently learned about Ms. Bane’s potential conflicts of interest and decided to file the complaint.
“The ethics law is very clear. I’ll let the commission make the conclusion, but there is a strong argument this is worthy of an investigation,” Hughes said. “As [Bane] has positioned herself in meetings regarding energy initiatives and projects her husband and his clients can benefit from, she then benefits from that.”
Ms. Bane is among Wolf’s highest paid aides, earning more than $115,000 a year as a deputy chief of staff.
“Yesenia Bane has a decade of experience working on diverse policy areas from education to economic development in multiple administrations and the legislature, and she did nothing wrong,” Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott wrote in an email.
Since StateImpact Pennsylvania’s story was published in 2016, Bane has been moved off of working on issues related to the state Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates gas drilling.
Pennsylvania’s ethics law prohibits public officials from using their office for private financial gain to benefit themselves, immediate family members, or businesses with which immediate family members are associated.
On at least one occasion, Ms. Bane spoke publicly about one of her husband’s clients.
At panel discussion during a natural gas industry conference in September 2016, Yesenia Bane told the audience Wolf was open to lobbying his counterpart, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, to push for regulatory approval of the Constitution Pipeline—a controversial project of her husband’s then-client, Williams.
A year earlier, she sent an email directing the removal of an anti-fracking activist from a state pipeline task force he’d been appointed to.
Robert Caruso, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, said the commission evaluates all the complaints that come in but wouldn’t comment further.