HARRISBURG, Pa.—(AP) Gov. Josh Shapiro’s refusal to divulge who paid for his lavish inaugural feast has revealed a loophole in Pennsylvania law that allows governors to avoid transparency.
Donors exceeding 0 to presidential inaugural committees must be disclosed by law.
Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia have such statutes, and city officials cap an individual donor’s inauguration donation.
Many states have no disclosure legislation, so donors who want special treatment under state regulations, have contracts with the government, or depend on state subsidies can give millions of dollars surreptitiously.
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According to Campaign Legal Center lawyer Aaron McKean, that presents major conflicts of interest problems.
McKean stated, “The whole purpose here is to prevent corruption, or even the appearance of corruption.
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That builds trust in our elected representatives and administration.”
he replied, “is donating for fun.”
Shapiro’s Lititz party last week drew hundreds, possibly thousands of people to drink, eat, and hear Smokey Robinson, Meek Mill, Wiz Khalifa, and Mt. Joy perform. Tickets were $50, and fundraisers sold sponsorship packages with VIP advantages.
Shapiro, a Democrat, declined to name the contributors at an unrelated news conference last week.
“We’ll follow all reporting and transparency laws,” Shapiro added.
No legislation demands disclosure. Shapiro differs from Pennsylvania predecessors by not identifying who paid for it.
In states without inaugural donation regulations, governor’s assistants, associates, or party organisations organise fundraising.
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Governors have identified inauguration contributors, sometimes reluctantly and after public pressure.
In Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won a second term, the Republican Party of Florida raised money for his inaugural party, including $1 million sponsorship packages, and filed a campaign finance report showing more than $10 million in donations in November and December.
The Texas Inaugural Committee releases donors, but the Texas Tribune sued and won to learn 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 didn’t answer why he didn’t reveal contributors.
Shapiro’s predecessor, Democrat Tom Wolf, limited inaugural gifts to $50,000 and disclosed donors of at least $500. Labor unions, energy industries, health insurance, lawyers, and developers donated in 2019.
Shapiro’s fundraising appeal to insiders solicited “premier sponsor” payments of up to $150,000 for a “limited edition commemorative” package “present, 10 VIP reception seats, “preferred” swearing-in tickets, and more.
No law requires 501c(4)s to spend leftover funds. Without openness, excess money might become a governor’s “slush fund,” McKean added.
Philadelphia has combated corruption with campaign financing regulations for 20 years. Donations to an inaugural committee must be disclosed under such city statutes.
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.
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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.
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“And we’d be back to the influence days of large donors that we had before the campaign finance law took effect,” Creamer said.