Lawyers for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who campaigned for competitive bidding and lower fees in state legal contracts, told one of the state’s biggest employers last month to hire three Philadelphia law firms - not just the one it wanted - as a condition for routine state and federal tax breaks.

Back in March, the University of Pennsylvania Health System wanted to borrow up to $400 million to expand its West Philadelphia trauma center, Chester County Hospital and Radnor outpatient offices and demolish the old Penn Tower Hotel, among other projects. Penn Health brought its plan to the Pennsylvania Higher Educational Facilities Authority, one of several state-backed agencies that help issue income-tax-exempt bonds.

Penn Health asked to hire well-connected Ballard Spahr LLP as its bond lawyer. The authority’s board, with representatives from state agencies, legislators and the elected auditor general and treasurer, approved Penn’s plan unanimously March 10.

But when the Penn Health bond prospectus was made available to would-be investors by Merrill Lynch, JPMorgan and Penn Health’s other Wall Street underwriters on April 16, Ballard was listed as just one of four firms Penn Health listed as "Bond Co-Counsel." The others: Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, Ahmad Zaffarese LLC, and Turner Law PC. The Obermayer and Ahmad firms were added by Wolf’s Office of General Counsel, which reviewed lawyer hiring using a new process, the board was told in an April 21 memo from Wolf’s Office of General Counsel.

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