Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro is facing ethics questions over the acceptance of tickets to the Super Bowl from a non-profit organization that has millions of dollars in contracts with the state. The ban on such gifts was enacted by Gov. Shapiro’s own office in January, and some critics say the acceptance of tickets in this manner while others are banned from doing so is hypocritical at minimum.

The Philadelphia Eagles played in the Super Bowl this year, falling to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Manuel Bonder, governor’s press secretary, confirmed the trip was paid for in a partnership with the Team PA Foundation. Established in 1997, the nonprofit foundation promotes public-private partnerships for Pennsylvania’s economic growth.

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“The Governor was proud to attend the Super Bowl as an ambassador for all Pennsylvania has to offer and to cheer on the Eagles alongside several other governors,” said Bonder in a statement to the Capital-Star. “As has been the case in previous administrations, no taxpayer money was spent on the trip thanks to a partnership with the Team PA foundation.”

Bonder considered the ticket payments “completely incomparable to a private actor” while pointing out to the Team PA’s “decades-long history of collaborating with the state.”

Claire Finkelstein, faculty director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL), and Professor of Law and Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, did not agree with him, though.

“If the Pennsylvania government is paying them to do studies, I think that counts as a financial relationship. Whatever the practices are at that organization, that doesn’t change the fact that it is truly a gift to the governor and that none of the exceptions to the gift ban appear to apply to it,” she told Spotlight PA.

The gift ban policy prohibits the governor and executive branch staff from accepting “tickets to recreational events such as football games”. During his first week in office, Governor Josh Shapiro announced a comprehensive, three-part ethics package to ensure that the highest standards of integrity guide every action taken by commonwealth employees. According to the policy, these employees cannot accept such a gift from any “person or entity” that “has financial relations with the Commonwealth.”

Team PA’s June 2022 financial report lists $11.5 million in assets and more than $2.7 million in revenue including nearly $1.5 million in state Department of Community and Economic Development grants. The organization embodies business and state government leaders, with Shapiro serving as a co-chairperson along with McNees Wallace and Nurick Chairperson Brian Jackson.

According to the State Ethics Act, public officials are required to report gifts worth over $250 at the risk of criminal and civil penalties. advertisement