Refusal to release inaugural donors exposes gap in Pa. law

Jan 22, 2023, 10:24 PM | Updated: Jan 23, 2023, 12:35 pm
Smokey Robinson performs during the inaugural celebration for Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro at Roc...

Smokey Robinson performs during the inaugural celebration for Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro at Rock Lititz in Lititz, Pa., on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (Sean Simmers/The Patriot-News via AP)

(Sean Simmers/The Patriot-News via AP)

              The crowd dances to Whiz Khalifa during Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro's inaugural celebration at Rock Lititz in Lititz, Pa., on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (Sean Simmers/The Patriot-News via AP)
            
              Meek Mill greets Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro during Shapiro's inaugural celebration at Rock Lititz in Lititz, Pa., on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (Sean Simmers/The Patriot-News via AP)
            
              Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and his family enjoy the sounds of Smokey Robinson during his inaugural celebration at Rock Lititz in Lititz, Pa., on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (Sean Simmers/The Patriot-News via AP)
            
              Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and his family enjoy the sounds of Smokey Robinson during his inaugural celebration at Rock Lititz in Lititz, Pa., on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (Sean Simmers/The Patriot-News via AP)
            
              Smokey Robinson performs during the inaugural celebration for Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro at Rock Lititz in Lititz, Pa., on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (Sean Simmers/The Patriot-News via AP)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The refusal thus far of Gov. Josh Shapiro to disclose who paid for his glitzy inaugural bash has exposed the gap in state law that lets governors in Pennsylvania escape the kind of transparency that is sometimes required elsewhere.

Presidential inaugural committees are required by federal law to disclose donors who give over $200 to inaugural celebrations. States like Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey have such laws, as do cities including New York and Philadelphia, where city officials also cap the amount that an individual donor can give to an inauguration.

Many other states have no such disclosure laws, and millions of dollars can be given secretly by donors who seek favorable treatment under state regulations, have contracts before state government or who rely on state government for subsidies.

That raises serious concerns about conflicts of interest, said Aaron McKean, a lawyer for the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, a non-profit good government group.

“The whole goal here is to prevent corruption, or even the appearance of corruption,” McKean said. “That’s how we build confidence in our elected officials and our government.”

Nobody, he said, “is giving this money just for fun.”

Shapiro’s bash in Lititz last week — tickets were $50 apiece, while fundraisers sold sponsorship packages with VIP perks — attracted hundreds, perhaps thousands of people to drink, eat and watch top-notch music entertainment, including Smokey Robinson, Meek Mill, Wiz Khalifa and Mt. Joy.

Asked about the donors at an unrelated news conference last week, Shapiro, a Democrat, made no commitment to identify them.

“We’re going to follow all of the laws required with reporting and disclosure and that’s the approach we’re going to take,” Shapiro said.

No law requires such disclosure. But not disclosing who paid for it sets Shapiro apart from predecessors in Pennsylvania.

In states that do not regulate inaugural celebration donations, fundraising is typically set up and run by a governor’s aides, allies or a party organization.

Governors have, in some cases, disclosed inaugural donors, although sometimes they do it grudgingly and only after sustaining public criticism.

In Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won a second term, the Republican Party of Florida raised money for his inaugural party — with sponsorship packages topping out at $1 million — and filed a campaign finance report disclosing more than $10 million in donations in November and December.

In Texas, the Texas Inaugural Committee releases donors, but the Texas Tribune sued — successfully — to get details on how $5.3 million was spent on the 2019 event.

In Shapiro’s case, he named top campaign aides to run his inaugural committee and organized it as a nonprofit 501c(4) organization under federal tax laws that do not require the disclosure of donors or limit who can give or donation amounts.

Shapiro’s aides did not respond to questions asking why he chose not to disclose the identities of donors.

Shapiro’s predecessor, Democrat Tom Wolf, capped donations to his inaugural festivities at $50,000 per donor and disclosed those who contributed at least $500. In 2019, donors included labor unions, energy companies, health insurers, law firms and developers.

In Shapiro’s fundraising pitch to insiders, fundraisers sought “premier sponsor” donations of up to $150,000 for a package including a “limited edition commemorative” gift, 10 tickets to a VIP reception, “preferred” tickets to the swearing-in ceremony and other perks.

Money is often left over in a 501c(4)’s bank accounts and there is no law that dictates how the money must be spent. McKean said that, without transparency, such leftover money can turn into a “slush fund” for a governor.

Over the past two decades, Philadelphia has rolled out campaign finance reforms to fight corruption. Those city laws treat donations to an inaugural committee the same as donations to a campaign committee, requiring the disclosure of who gave and how much they gave.

It caps donations — currently $3,100 for individuals and $12,600 for businesses and organizations — and it dictates how left over money must be handled.

City Council members who approved the law understood that unregulated donations to inaugural committees could circumvent the purpose of the limits in the campaign finance law, said J. Shane Creamer, executive director of the city’s Board of Ethics, which enforces the law.

“And we’d be back to the influence days of large donors that we had before the campaign finance law took effect,” Creamer said.

___

Follow Marc Levy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/timelywriter

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

TV anchors T.J. Holmes, Amy Robach leave ABC amid romance

NEW YORK (AP) — T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach, anchors at the afternoon extension of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” are leaving the network after their romance was reported in November. The pair were taken off the air and placed on temporary hiatus after photos surfaced of them holding hands and spending time together. Both were […]
1 day ago
From left, Sweden's Defense Minister Pal Jonson, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Foreign Ministe...
Associated Press

Finnish, Swedish FMs: NATO membership process hasn’t stopped

HELSINKI (AP) — The foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland reiterated in separate interviews published Saturday that the process for the two Nordic nations to join NATO is continuing despite Turkey’s president saying Sweden shouldn’t expect his country to approve its membership. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström acknowledged in an interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Gregory Allen Howard who wrote ‘Remember the Titans’ dies

NEW YORK (AP) — Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, who skillfully adapted stories of historical Black figures in “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington, “Ali” with Will Smith and “Harriet” with Cynthia Erivo, has died. He was 70. Howard died Friday at his home in Miami after a brief illness, according to a statement from publicist […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Delaware Gov. John Carney tests positive for COVID-19

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Delaware Gov. John Carney has tested positive for COVID-19, the governor’s office announced on Saturday. Carney tested positive late Friday using an at-home antigen test after experiencing mild symptoms, according to a news release. Carney, 66, said he’s “feeling fine” and is isolating himself — following U.S. Centers for Disease Control […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Man accused in substation vandalism is released from custody

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — One of the two men charged with vandalizing electrical substations in Washington state over the holidays to cover a burglary was ordered released from federal custody Friday to seek substance abuse help. A federal judge issued the order for Matthew Greenwood, 32, after renewed efforts by his attorney to get Greenwood […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Dismissal of lawsuit over Columbus Day name change upheld

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit alleging that the mayor of Philadelphia discriminated against Italian Americans in renaming the city’s Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. A U.S. District judge ruled a year ago that the plaintiffs, a council member and three Italian American […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Refusal to release inaugural donors exposes gap in Pa. law