Group that does not disclose its donors paid $12,000 for Shapiro to attend Phillies games and other sporting events | Pennsylvania News

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HARRISBURG – A nonprofit organization that does not publicly identify its donors paid Gov. Josh Shapiro more than $12,000 to attend sporting events last year. The secrecy leaves taxpayers in the dark about who is endorsing the outings and what interests they may have in state government policies.

The money also raises renewed questions about whether the Democrat is violating his ban on accepting gifts.

Shapiro reported receiving $12,194.62 from Team PA for “transportation, lodging or hospitality” on his newly filed Statement of Financial Interest. The Harrisburg-based nonprofit bills itself as a public-private partnership to strengthen Pennsylvania’s economic development; According to an annual report, the “investors” include a cross-section of the state’s major industries.

On the form, Shapiro did not describe what Team PA paid for, writing only: “The Governor, in his official capacity, attended various events on behalf of the Commonwealth to advance Pennsylvania and its economic interests.”

In an email, Shapiro spokesman Manuel Bonder said Team PA paid for the Democratic governor to attend six sporting events: the 2023 Super Bowl in Arizona and games played by the Harrisburg Senators, Penn State’s football team, Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Union.

Bonder added that Shapiro was often invited by the teams to these games and used the time to greet fans, cheer on the teams and network with business or legislative leaders who were also in attendance.

The money for those tickets came from a little-known fund that Team PA manages called Pennsylvania Growth Partnership, which accepts donations exclusively to promote the governor — and by extension, the Commonwealth and its economic health — nationally and internationally.

It is not publicly known which individuals, groups or companies have donated to the Growth Partnership Fund. Nonprofit organizations are required to file detailed annual reports with the Internal Revenue Service, which include the totals of revenues and expenses. But they are not required to make public the names of their donors.

Bonder was transferred to Team PA, whose executive director, Abby Smith, declined to identify the fund’s donors.

Despite the IRS rules, a good government expert said it “would be very reasonable” to ask Team PA to disclose the Growth Partnership Fund’s donors, given its specialized purpose of paying for the governor’s travel .

“The nonprofit is merely serving as an intermediary,” Craig Holman, a government ethics expert at the Washington DC-based Public Citizen, told Spotlight PA, adding: “If these funds are specifically earmarked as gifts to the governor , then every donor must be made public.”

It’s also not clear who is raising money for the growth partnership fund, or who decides which events Shapiro attends at Team PA’s expense.

In a previous interview, Smith said that when the nonprofit receives requests to use money from the various funds Team PA manages, it approves them and issues a check.

When asked again this week to provide more details, Smith responded: “When an opportunity arises where the Governor’s presence will spotlight the Commonwealth and/or position the Governor as a leader in attracting and retaining business, the Governor’s Office is working with Team PA and the Pennsylvania Growth Partnership fund is being used to support the Governor’s presence.”

Bonder said the governor’s office “does not have exclusive authority over this funding” and that Team PA “must approve any funds disbursed from its account.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro attends Harrisburg senators

Governor Josh Shapiro attends the Harrisburg Senators’ House opening on April 11, 2023.

Shapiro’s gift ban

Pennsylvania law allows government officials to accept gifts, lodging, hospitality and transportation of any value. They must disclose gifts of more than $250 and lodging, hospitality and transportation worth more than $650 on their statements of financial interests, which are due by May 1 each year.

But like his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Shapiro decided to limit the types of gifts he and other government workers can accept.

Shortly after taking office last January, Shapiro signed an executive order banning government executives, employees and appointees from accepting cash or anything of cash value from people or entities that do or seek to do business with the state.

While the order was less restrictive than the one Wolf imposed, it included a wide range of gifts and other items that are prohibited. ‘Admission to a recreational event’ – which also includes a professional or semi-professional sporting event – ​​is one of them.

Holman, the ethics expert, said the sports tickets are “a downright gift to the governor.”

“There are no ifs, ands or buts around it,” he said.

From the beginning, Shapiro has faced questions about whether Team PA’s tickets to sporting events violate the ban.

The government previously argued that the gift ban was not intended to cover Team PA, which a spokesperson described as “completely incomparable to a private actor.” At the time, the government said it would continue to accept money from the organization, which was awarded nearly $1.8 million in state contracts last year.

“The precedent of Team Pennsylvania supporting the governor’s economic development work has been set by several previous administrations,” Bonder said this week.

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro and his family attend the Penn State-Michigan game

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro and his family attend the Penn State v. Michigan game on November 11, 2023 in State College.

Who pays the bill?

In a wide-ranging interview in February, Smith said Team PA has a long history of working with Pennsylvania governors to advance the state’s economy and business interests.

Founded in 1997 as the brainchild of former Republican Governor Tom Ridge, Team PA brings together leaders from government, higher education and business to identify or expand economic opportunities.

The organization, which is chaired by the current governor and a private sector representative, is organized as a nonprofit corporation under federal tax law and is funded by private donors whose names are not made public. Nonprofits are not required to disclose donor information, although they could do so in the name of transparency.

Previous governors have asked the organization for money over the years, including Republican Tom Corbett, who used Team PA to pay for trade missions to countries such as Brazil, Chile and Germany. (Ridge and former Ed Rendell, a Democrat, also led overseas trade missions, but paid for them with taxpayer money).

Over the past decade, financial ties between the government and Team PA have increased – partly, ironically, because of a strict gift ban imposed by Wolf.

Under that policy, government officials were not even allowed to accept a single-use bottle of water unless they planned to reimburse the cost.

Given these restrictions, several committees under the governor’s jurisdiction, such as the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Women, could no longer solicit or receive private donations to fund their activities. So they approached Team PA to act as a “fiscal agent” for their fundraising efforts, Smith said, “because we already had a precedent as a fiscal house” for groups tied to the Commonwealth.

At the time, Smith said, Team PA served as fiscal agent for a handful of funds tied to the governor’s office, including the bank account that financed renovations to the governor’s home.

Under Wolf and his strict gift ban, that list grew. The nonprofit is now the fiscal agent for eight funds funded by private donors — whose names are not being made public — that benefit the governor or committees associated with the administration, according to Team PA’s website.

But who exactly is raising money for those funds is a mystery.

Smith said the nonprofit is not responsible for raising funds for those pots of money, but she also did not respond to requests for information about who is.

Anne Wakabayashi chaired the Governor’s Advisory Committee on LGBTQ Affairs during Wolf’s tenure. The committee is one for which Team PA is the fiscal agent.

Wakabayashi told Spotlight PA that she never used the account.

“The process of fundraising into Team PA’s bank account for the committee was so opaque and never fully recorded that it was easier to pay for expenses, such as lunch or minor needs, out of pocket,” she told Spotlight PA.

Unlike donations to an elected official’s political action committee, donations to funds managed by a nonprofit like Team PA lack the kind of transparency that good government groups say is necessary for the public to understand who supports public policy – or tries to influence.

For example, campaign reports not only list a donor’s name, but also how much money he gave and when.

Asked whether a nonprofit’s opaque finances allow private interests to try to influence an official without worrying about transparency, Smith said: “They would be a lot more effective if they did that at the PAC .”

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