Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

A dark money mystery in Pennsylvania

The Investigator

Your guide to the Capitol & stories holding the powerful to account

August 20, 2020 | spotlightpa.org
When Spotlight PA launched last year, we promised to follow the money in Harrisburg. And our new investigation out today, "A Dark Money Mystery," does just that, revealing the tangled web of money and influence in our politics.

In early March, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman was the special guest at a posh fundraiser near Palm Springs for a dark money nonprofit whose donors — and agenda — are largely a secret. The event coincided with a major fundraiser Corman held for his own political committee.

Together with The Caucus, our team of reporters spent weeks poring over campaign finance reports, business filings, and tax documents to learn more about this group. The man who launched it, Ray Zaborney, is not only a Harrisburg lobbyist but also a political strategist who runs Corman’s campaigns.

All sides deny any coordination between the nonprofit and Corman's campaign, which would be in violation of federal law. The events, however, demonstrate how operatives can move seamlessly and simultaneously between campaigns, dark money groups, and lobbying in Pennsylvania.

This is the kind of classic, hard-nosed investigative reporting needed to keep Harrisburg honest. And we need your help to do it. Please, take just a moment of your day and make a donation today to show your support our work.

Sarah Anne Hughes

"They are the ideal cloak and dagger cover when no one knows where the money is coming from or where it is going."

— Craig Holman, an expert on campaign finance reform, on dark money groups and their inherent lack of transparency
» We want to see your best shots of Pennsylvania. Send us a photo of your favorite spot to relax, unwind, or have a good time, and we'll pick one each week to feature here and on our social media pages.

Latest on COVID-19

All eyes are on colleges and universities as some are welcoming throngs of students back to campus. The data shows things are relatively steady at the moment, and the percent of tests coming back positive continues to decline of late, a good sign. Get the latest updates with our coronavirus tracker and sign up for weekly alerts with data for your county

More from Spotlight PA

» Decades-old law shielding Wolf administration from scrutiny of its coronavirus response
» Could ‘guidance’ for schools open the door to COVID-19 lawsuits?
» Spotlight PA joins forces with PA Post to create Pa.'s largest statewide newsroom

After Spotlight PA report on campus racism, lawmaker tells state system to take action

As the fall semester begins, universities across the state and country are focused on keeping students safe from the coronavirus and providing effective online and in-person classes.

But amidst those concerns, one lawmaker is calling on Pennsylvania’s 14 public universities not to forget another critical issue: racial equity.

“We have a responsibility to discuss this and address this [now],” Sen. Judith Schwank (D., Berks) said at a board of governors meeting last week for the public university system, known as PASSHE.

At the Aug. 13 meeting, Schwank raised Spotlight PA’s in-depth report from earlier this month which chronicled the mental and academic toll of long-standing racial inequities on students of color and the lack of meaningful response from universities.

And she called on the system to take immediate action.

Schwank asked the board to add racial equity to every meeting agenda moving forward and to make it a key part of the system’s redesign — a multi-year effort to reimagine public higher education and address falling enrollment and financial woes. 

“This is exactly the time to have this discussion,” Schwank told Spotlight PA. “Who are we designing the system to serve and what will that student body look like?” A spokesperson for PASSHE said the system can’t anticipate what will be on the agenda for every meeting moving forward, but leaders are incorporating racial equity into all their work.

Earlier this month, the system hired Denise Pearson as a new vice-chancellor focused on coordinating diversity and inclusion efforts across all 14 universities. Pearson told Spotlight PA she is working with the board to develop a diversity and equity committee.

The committee, which still needs to be discussed and approved by the board of governors, would consist of students, faculty and staff, administrators, and board members, who would advise Pearson’s office and set accountability measures for its work.

“When I heard Sen. Schwank talk so directly and passionately about the importance of racial equity, I thought, ‘I'm at the right place at the right time,’” Pearson said in an interview. “My processes will be transparent and I expect to be held accountable.”

Aneri Pattani

From across the state

» The U.S. Postal Service is warning Pennsylvania that its deadline to return mail-in ballots is too tight for its “delivery standards,” The Inquirer reports. Democrats are now asking the state Supreme Court to extend the deadline to count ballots mailed to county election offices. Keep up with all the election news with The Inquirer's new 2020 Pennsylvania weekly newsletter.

» Nearly 200 people are waiting for Gov. Tom Wolf to consider their pardon, according to The Appeal. A spokesperson for Wolf said the governor must ensure a thorough review of every recommendation.

» Tenants rights advocates are bracing themselves for a possible wave of evictions when the state’s moratorium expires at the end of the month. LNP reports that a $150 million rental assistance program is so far failing to reach many people. 

More good reads

» POLITICO: Wolf rakes in money for Biden at DNC fundraiser

» CHALKBEAT: Top Philadelphia academic official found to also work for Ohio district

» INQUIRER: Penn State students party outside freshman dorms, flout virus safety rules

» CAPITAL-STAR: Demand for hazard pay grants greatly outstrips $50 million available

» GO ERIE: Erie loses mail-sorting machines as part of Postal Service purge 

» TRIBLIVE: Pa. senators call on U.S. health secretary to protect nursing home residents

» PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE: Racial disparities prevalent in city job opportunities

» PUBLICSOURCE: Pittsburgh's $1 million instructional packets called a 'complete mess'

Yaasmeen Piper

Send your answers to newsletters@spotlightpa.org.

Mountain Trivia (Case No. 52): Before Mt. Everest was discovered, what was the highest mountain on Earth (as measured from sea level)?
Stumped? Get a hintFeeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: The bus driver's name is your name — you were the driver.

Congrats to Dennis F., who will receive Spotlight PA swag (when we reopen our office!). Others who answered correctly: Donald H., Lois P., Rick S., Joan C., Lou R., Nathan B., Edward N., Carl B., Kathy W., Michael H., Maria Z., Marlin E., Judy A., Pat M., Jaymes D., Dave D., Kenneth J., Sandy O., Michele M., Ron R., Melissa J., Heather D., Philip C., Anna-Marie S., Linda F., Steve B., Karen K., George S., Gerry W., Mary B., Lisa M., Beverly M., Drew C., Sandy W., John N., Annette I., Jon N., and William D.
» This week's Riddler hint: I'm no good at trivia but I knew this answer.

Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, Triblive/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

Copyright © Spotlight PA / The Philadelphia Inquirer, All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
225 Market St., Suite 502A
Harrisburg, PA 17101

You're receiving this email because you signed up for updates about Spotlight PA's journalism. 
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.