Shapiro keeps gift ban for employees stricter than law

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gov. Josh Shapiro said Friday that he will keep in place a ban on executive-branch employees receiving gifts of influence that is stricter than state law, but relax some provisions under his predecessor.

Under Shapiro’s new executive order, the roughly 80,000 executive-branch employees are banned from soliciting or accepting anything above minimal value from people seeking to influence them, such as lobbyists or government contractors.

But the order issued on Shapiro’s third full day in office allows employees to accept smaller items of hospitality or thanks without paying for it, such as an infrequent meal, bottle of water, cup of coffee, plaque or mug.

That relaxes a stricter ban put in place in 2015 by Shapiro’s predecessor, former Gov. Tom Wolf.

State law allows gifts of any value to public officials, including lawmakers, and requires disclosure only when the annual value reaches $250 for gifts or $650 for “free” travel, meals and lodging. Lawmakers have regularly rebuffed calls to make the law stricter.

Shapiro said his policy represents a “complete and total zero tolerance policy toward lobbyists. No one will be able to buy improper influence with any member of my administration.”

But, he raised the example of a secretary of education visiting a school but turning down the gift of a T-shirt given by the students.

“We have to talk again, we have to have meaningful dialogue again, we have to show up and have to be able to participate in the community again,” Shapiro said on a conference call with reporters.

Shapiro said the policy is modeled on the one he put in place for employees of the attorney general’s office, where he spent six years before being inaugurated as governor on Tuesday.

Eric Fillman, who served as chief integrity officer under Shapiro at the attorney general’s office, said the policy is similar to what former Gov. Dick Thornburgh put in place in 1980.

Fillman will lead a mandatory ethics training for all Cabinet members, staff in the governor’s office and senior managers in executive-branch agencies.

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