close
close

How Josh Shapiro is preparing to become PA’s next governor Spotlight PA

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom operated by The Philadelphia Inquirer in association with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletter.

HARRISBURG — Governor-elect Josh Shapiro is preparing for his inauguration and making important decisions about his administration surrounded by some of the well-heeled donors who helped make his campaign the wealthiest in Pennsylvania history.

In total, the 37 recently announced members of Shapiro’s transition team and the 23 members of his inauguration team personally donated more than $815,000 to his campaign during the undisputed Democratic primary and barely competitive general election.

Member businesses and affiliated political action committees also donated nearly $750,000.

That’s a fraction of the more than $65 million the campaign has raised overall, and Shapiro isn’t the only future governor to have given plum posts to donors ahead of his inauguration.

But Harrisburg observers said there were some clear preferences in the appointment of Shapiro’s transition team, and not everyone was happy with what they saw: “a bunch of lobbyists,” as good government advocate Michael Pollack put it.

Pollack, a rabbi who runs the March on Harrisburg group and often pushes for gift bans and other changes to campaign finance rules, said this type of transition team “is not at all unique to Shapiro,” but added that he thinks so that it “shows the problem of buying money for access to politics” and that it shouldn’t be so normal for key positions to go to politically networked insiders.

“We want him to turn our system upside down,” Pollack said of Shapiro. “It’s not a good start, but it’s not too disappointing because it’s totally expected.”

The transition leadership committee is chaired by Bill Sasso, a longtime GOP power player who also led former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s transition team. Jim Schultz, a former aide to Corbett and former President Donald Trump, is also a member of the transition’s human resources team, which is led by Democratic-elect Lt. gov. Austin Davis chairs.

The announced team also includes current and former executives from Independence Blue Cross, several major law firms, Comcast and Giant Eagle.

It has some organized labor representatives, including Ryan Boyer of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council and Angela Ferritto, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. There are also some members who currently work outside of the government, legal and corporate worlds, including Norman Bristol Colón, a former State Department executive director for community and economic development who now chairs the Pennsylvania Latino Convention.

According to a press release, the campaign plans to make additional announcements for transition teams this week, including “advisory committees composed of political and professional experts, community advocates, and business, industry and labor leaders.”

The founding team is more diverse, and includes high school and college students who led pro-Shapiro groups, a small business owner, and a founder of QBurgh, an LGBTQ news and community group in Pittsburgh.

Mustafa Rashed, a Philadelphia-based lobbyist and political adviser, said he thinks Shapiro’s transition team is novel compared to previous efforts. Past governors have formed a dozen separate committees to focus on a specific department or policy area; sometimes the leader of the team ended up as cabinet secretary.

However, Shapiro’s transition has so far announced a leadership committee and a human resources committee to “recruit, screen and recommend top talent” who will “be ready from day one to deliver results for Pennsylvanians,” according to a press release.

As such, it’s unclear how influential these individual committee members could be in any given area, Rashed added.

“We don’t know what is being asked of people there,” he said.

Notable big donors on the transition and inaugural teams include billionaire Thomas Hagen, a former Secretary of Commerce who now chairs the board of the Erie Indemnity Company and has donated $500,000; former Aramark CEO Joseph Neubauer, who donated $50,000; and Darren Check, a partner at the law firm Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check, who donated nearly $70,000.

Transition and founding teams are generally expansive, consisting of local executives and other public officials, prominent attorneys, and the heads of well-known companies from different sectors and regions of the state.

The inauguration team helps plan events around the inauguration of the new governor, while the transition group advises the new governor on hiring administrative staff, reviews the work of the current administration, and identifies pre-inauguration issues and priorities. They will do this work until Shapiro is sworn in on Jan. 17, although some executives are serving as senior cabinet officials on transition teams in the previous administration.

Members are not chosen solely for their leadership. Larry Ceisler, a public affairs executive, said many of the appointments in past transitions have been “window dressing.”

There’s a lot of “inclusion and gratitude in a transition,” he said. “But most people know that the real work and the really hard work will be done by a chosen few who will really rule.”

But Ceisler added that this team seems remarkable for the number of people expecting to do follow-up work. His impression from speaking with members of the transition team is that Shapiro and his staff largely sought out the people they wanted, rather than just appointing those who championed positions or donated. Team members “expect their work and contributions to be taken seriously,” he said.

It’s something of a tradition that these “thank yous” go to some donors. Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, for example, enlisted a multimillionaire donor as well as two people associated with the major Philadelphia law firm Ballard Spahr, which had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Rendell’s campaign, to lead the transition.

His successor, Corbett, was criticized for appointing a transition team composed of individuals who had personally donated or whose companies, employees, and affiliated political action committees had donated a total of $4.6 million — 19% of the campaign’s total spending. on Corbett’s campaign.

Outgoing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf struggled early in his tenure to set other priorities. He imposed ethics rules on the team that required members to disclose conflicts of interest and prohibited them from accepting gifts. He also began his tenure with an early commitment to no longer hire private law firms to conduct state business.

In an emailed statement, Shapiro Transition spokesman Manuel Bonder said the governor-elect “believes that trust in government and accountability to officials are vital to the foundation of our democracy.” Noting that Shapiro had enacted a gift ban as Attorney General, Bonder said that as governor, Shapiro “would sign legislation to implement a comprehensive gift ban on Pennsylvania officials and employees.”

The inclusion of Republican leaders and former corporate leaders in the transition team at the expense of more faces from organized labor, public education and environmental defense worried left-leaning observers.

Those who raised concerns – most of whom asked to speak anonymously for fear of upsetting Shapiro – added that the team was temporary and reflected Shapiro’s moderate and consensus-oriented campaign. What really matters, they said, is who becomes Shapiro’s cabinet secretaries and top staff for the next four years.

“Yes, we have concerns about some people on the list,” said Katie Blume, legislative and policy director for the environmental group Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, “but we appreciate it.” [Shapiro’s] promise to bring everyone around the table and look forward to seeing how this all unfolds.”

One political observer joked that critics might keep concerns to themselves because Shapiro “would make Jeff Yass education secretary if teacher unions try to embarrass him.” Yass, a billionaire who primarily advocates policies that would put more students and government money in private schools, often funds like-minded politicians.

Charlie Gerow, a longtime GOP staffer who also ran for governor as a Republican, noted that governors often add people from the opposing party to their transition teams to demonstrate their unity.

“I can’t think of a team that didn’t do that,” he said.

WHILE YOU ARE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pass it on and become a member Spotlight PA so that someone else can contact in the future spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you committed to responsible journalism that gets results.

Source