Editor's Notes

Spotlight PA wins national award for investigation into the Pennsylvania legislature’s hidden spending

by Christopher Baxter |

About $20 million went into Pennsylvania lawmakers’ pockets over four years in the form of reimbursements for meals, mileage subsidies, per diems, and other expenses.
Leise Hook / For Spotlight PA

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Spotlight PA — a nonpartisan, reader-funded newsroom dedicated to covering Pennsylvania state government and urgent statewide issues — has been awarded a special national prize for its collaborative investigation into the Pennsylvania legislature’s hidden spending of taxpayer dollars.

In many cases, lawmakers are able to use this money to benefit personally, whether through per diem payments or access to private lawyers.

The annual FOI Award is given by Investigative Reporters & Editors, a leading national journalism nonprofit dedicated to advancing investigative journalism in the United States. The award honors outstanding work in advancing an open and transparent government. Recent past winners include The Washington Post and California’s Center for Investigative Reporting.

For the series, Spotlight PA and The Caucus filed more than two dozen public records requests and created a first-of-its-kind database of nearly 400,000 expenses over a four-year period for Pennsylvania’s 253-member legislature.

The data showed that the legislature spent $203 million from 2017 through 2020 just to feed, house, transport, and provide rental offices and other perks for lawmakers and their staff. One in every 10 of those dollars went directly into lawmakers’ pockets in the form of reimbursements for meals, mileage subsidies, per diems, and other expenses.

That’s in addition to some of the highest salaries in the nation.

The investigation also showed several lawmakers continued to cash in on special travel-related reimbursements even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, as large swaths of Pennsylvania’s economy shut down, and the legislature put in place special rules to allow the majority of its members to work and vote remotely.

The series had a meaningful impact.

Following publication, legislative leaders in both chambers said they would move to make public detailed spending records for the state legislature. A few months later, the Pa. Senate — for the first time — began posting all senators’ expenses online and will continue to do so on a monthly basis.

And a bill recently introduced in the House would require legislators and staff in both the state House and Senate to post their expenses online on a quarterly basis.

This is the kind of impactful, high-quality reporting Spotlight PA delivers to thousands of people across Pennsylvania every day. And it’s made possible by individuals and foundations across the state that support our work. Join them now and make a gift to ensure Spotlight PA’s work can continue.

Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Help raise $125,000 in support of Spotlight PA's vital investigative journalism for Pennsylvania as part of our end-of-year fundraising campaign.