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HARRISBURG — For nearly two months, a team of advisors has been working to ensure a smooth transition for Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro from Attorney General to Mayor of the fifth most populous state in the United States.
Their mission is to review state agency operations and make recommendations to help guide Shapiro as it takes over a bureaucracy of approximately 80,000 employees that processes more than $100 billion in state and federal dollars annually. .
But the public may know nothing about the team’s work or who is funding it.
The reason is Over 300 members of the Democratic Transition I had to sign a three-page non-disclosure agreement that prohibited me from publicly sharing information about my activities. If they breach the contract, they can be sued and face heavy fines.
Also, because the team is organized under federal tax law as a so-called “dark money” group, it is not required to publicly disclose any private interests that may be undertaking its work. , which will cover the cost of his Vow Day event next week, is similarly organized and hides donor details as well.
A tight grip on information suggests that Shapiro is already running the administration differently than his more recent predecessors, at least in one way: transparency. There are also signs that he may maintain a level of ambiguity about the inner workings of his administration as he begins his first term next week.
For example, Shapiro did not say whether he would continue Wolfe’s practice of making his public schedule accessible online after taking office. Nor has he committed to adopting a ban on accepting Wolfe’s gifts. withdrew dollars to pay for a bottle of water given to him during a radio interview. That ban applies not only to Wolfe and his Enforcement Department staff, but to all Enforcement Agency employees.
Manuel Bonder, a spokesperson for Shapiro, said in an email that nondisclosure agreements are not only necessary, but are becoming commonplace, as migration teams typically deal with sensitive and privileged information.
“As with past transitions, we believe it is extremely important to protect the confidential information we receive (such as sensitive personal information) and the privacy of job applicants.”
Bonder did not respond to Spotlight PA’s question about whether Shapiro considered limiting non-disclosure agreements to certain aspects of the transition team’s work, such as sensitive law enforcement documents and personnel records. .
He also did not say whether such a confidentiality clause would carry over to Shapiro’s administration, and whether any of its senior officials would be asked to sign it.
Bonder said that after taking office, Shapiro will swiftly adopt ethical standards that “establish high standards of integrity and accountability among Commonwealth employees.” Without elaborating, transition officials said the standard addresses the question of whether government employees can receive gifts.
The use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in government matters has been widely criticized by First Amendment scholars who question the legal validity of forcing public officials to remain silent.
Most famously, when former President Donald Trump used an NDA in his presidential campaign, federal court ruled The contract was not enforceable due to its broad scope. Many First Amendment lawyers took this decision as an indication that courts would not enforce similar attempts by political campaigns to swear employee confidentiality.
Yet, according to interviews with lawyers and professors on government transparency, nondisclosure agreements are becoming more and more common in politics, especially in campaigns with enough money and enough lawyers.
Mark Fenster, professor of law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, said:
The Transition team holds a somewhat unique stat. They deal with public policy issues, but they are not government agencies. As a result, its members are not eligible for the same First Amendment rights as civil servants.
For example, Shapiro’s transition team is organized as a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization under federal tax law, transition officials said. These types of organizations are often referred to as “dark money” groups because they can accept personal donations in return for work, without the need to reveal the identity of the donor or the amount donated, but You can choose to do so.
David Hoffman, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey School of Law, said the NDA violation was granted by the court when it was found that the contract concealed illegal activity.
“Whether an NDA is enforceable is difficult to know before it is debated in court,” Hoffman said. He said courts may consider violations to be in the public interest if useful information is revealed, such as evidence of fraud or misconduct by the government.
While previous administrations have also restricted the release of transition-related information, the scope of Shapiro’s nondisclosure agreement is broader than the first paragraph. clause Not to disclose information used by outgoing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolfe.
Wolf asked the team to agree to its terms when they signed a broader code of ethical conduct ahead of the transition. The outgoing governor adopted the code from one of his predecessors, former Republican Governor Dick Thornburg, according to the governor’s office (Shapiro also has a code of ethical conduct for his transition team. but that is separate from the NDA.)
Shapiro’s non-disclosure agreement states that we are not permitted to share confidential or proprietary information, including strategies, political plans, or call recordings, without the written consent of the Shapiro team. It also states that unauthorized use or disclosure of voter or donor data will result in a $50,000 fine.
The NDA also raises the possibility of litigation. To recover all costs and expenses (including, but not limited to, reasonable attorneys’ fees) that may be incurred in connection with such action. ”
Several members of former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s transition team contacted by Spotlight PA said they don’t remember whether they had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
However, Wolfe and Corbett’s inaugural team have publicly released the names of the individual donors who funded the Inauguration Day planning and Oath Day activities.
Despite being asked multiple times, Shapiro’s founding committee refused to provide the same information.
Shapiro’s Inaugural Evening Bash is becoming a must-see event. Incoming Democratic lawmakers have chosen to host the event at The Rock and His Lititz, a state-of-the-art production facility where big-name artists rehearse before their concerts.Shapiro’s music line-up for the night includes legendary singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson and rapper-singer-songwriter Wiz Khalifa.
At his first inauguration, Wolfe raised nearly $3 million and made public the names of those who donated more than $500. Wolf also imposed his $50,000 cap on donations.
spent corbett Estimated $3.5 million at his inauguration. By swearing-in day, his inaugural committee had turned down requests to publicly identify donors, but their names were 150 a ticket at his inaugural evening at the Pennsylvania Farm Show at his bash. It was listed in the inaugural program that was handed out to participants in dollars. .
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https://www.spotlightpa.org/news/2023/01/pa-governor-josh-shapiro-transition-team-secrecy/ Next PA Governor Josh Shapiro asks team to sign NDA Spotlight PA