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Lobbying reform, but first a ritzy fundraiser

The Investigator

May 6, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Lobbying reform, burden of proof, awards season, rule change, diversity 101, behind the investigation, life sentences, voter fraud, and alleged QAnon ties.

Top leaders in Pennsylvania's legislature are throwing their weight behind efforts to limit the influence of lobbyists who moonlight as political consultants, blurring the lines between politics and policy in the Capitol, Angela CouloumbisBrad Bumsted, and Sam Janesch report.

House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) plan to unveil a proposed ban on the practice as part of a lobbying reform package meant to restore public faith in government.

But with details of the plan still being finalized, Corman is jetting off to a ritzy Arizona fundraiser organized by a company that has cornered the market on the very practice his reform legislation aims to stop

Also this week, Marie Albiges explains how gerrymandering is often used to describe any number of abuses that occur when political maps are redrawn. Proving it can be difficult in a legal sense, she reports, especially since there's no one standard to determine whether a map has been gerrymandered, and mapmakers rarely admit to doing it.

But courts have found it has happened in a handful of states, including Pennsylvania, with the help of mathematical tests. Experts and analysts will apply those same measures to evaluate partisan asymmetries in new Pennsylvania maps being created this year.

And below, we have a Q&A with the reporters behind last week's investigation into the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. Ed Mahon has a new update on the push to regulate addiction recovery homes, and he'll have more follow-up reporting in the weeks to come. 

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

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"It’s sort of like a Goldilocks situation. If you do too much or you do too little, it actually will end up with the same result."

—William Stauffer, of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance, on the need for balance in the push to regulate Pa.'s addiction recovery homes

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, find where to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and sign up for alerts for your county

» PRIMARY GUIDES: Everyone — regardless of political affiliation — can vote May 18 on four ballot questions. Here's a breakdown of each one. Plus, WHYY has a great primer on the appellate court judge candidates.

» Spotlight PA wins 11 statewide journalism awards

» How we investigated Pennsylvania’s addiction treatment industry

» Pennsylvania will lift most COVID-19 restrictions on Memorial Day

» Pa.’s state university system adopts strategy to address campus racism

Meet the reporters who uncovered flaws in Pa.’s addiction treatment oversight

Last week, Spotlight PA and KHN published a year-long investigation into Pennsylvania’s addiction treatment facilities and the state agency tasked with overseeing them. What did reporters Aneri Pattani and Ed Mahon find? The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs has allowed providers to continue operating despite repeated violations and harm to clients. Below is a Q&A with Pattani and Mahon, who joined the project after Pattani left Spotlight PA for KHN. Sarah Anne Hughes, Spotlight PA

Aneri, you first started working on this investigation in fall 2019. Can you tell us about how you got the idea?

Pattani: At the time, the General Assembly was considering a bill that would have required doctors who wanted to prescribe certain medications for opioid use disorder to register with the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. There was a lot of debate over how much oversight these doctors needed. The bill didn’t end up passing, but it raised a lot of questions for me about what the department’s role in overseeing addiction treatment is and how far people think that role should go.

What were some of the greatest challenges you faced reporting this story?

Pattani: Throughout the reporting process, I weighed what happens if the state allows a problematic provider to continue operating versus what happens if it forces a provider to close. People told me there can be serious consequences to both: Patients can be harmed by bad treatment, but also by a lack of access to treatment. So one of the challenges for me was to be mindful that there’s not one right answer to this problem and to represent that nuance in the story. 

Mahon: There were moments when we waited to hear back from people we really wanted to talk to. Some moments lasted seconds or minutes — as a phone rang or I kept checking Facebook Messenger. Other times, the wait lasted weeks. Those moments are stressful! Always! But all that outreach was crucial. It helped give readers on-the-ground examples of the problems that can happen when oversight falls short.

What advice would you give other reporters who want to cover the addiction treatment industry?

Pattani: Talk to as many people with firsthand experience of treatment facilities as you can. They will be able to give you the most detailed picture of what happens inside a center. And once you’ve spoken to enough people, you’ll start seeing common patterns and system-wide issues.

Mahon: Team up with Aneri! She’s great. I’d also be happy to team up — shoot me an email at emahon@spotlightpa.org, if you’re interested. My other advice: There are a lot of records available that can help you better understand how big the need is for addiction treatment in an area and whether there are conflicts happening that deserve greater attention.

You can file a Right-to-Know request with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to find out how much Medicaid money a provider received in a given year. State inspection reports can be useful — especially if you go back and see whether facilities received similar citations in the past. Administrative court records provide more detail. It’s worth running the names of facilities through your local civil court system. All those records help build a strong foundation as you connect with people.

LIFE IN PRISON: Pennsylvania went from having 541 "juvenile lifers" to six under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that raised the bar for sentencing children to life without parole. The high court has since reversed itself, but while The Marshall Project says most states will continue to restrict the option, racial and geographic disparities will widen.

VOTER FRAUD: A Delaware County man says "propaganda" led him to use his dead mother's name to commit pro-Trump voter fraud in November, per CNN. Bruce Bartman pleaded guilty to voter fraud and was sentenced to five years probation last week. Two more Pennsylvanians are now facing voter fraud charges in a nearly identical case, the AP reports.

RACE DATA: Members of Pennsylvania's Legislative Black Caucus could hold the key votes on two measures that would expand police oversight and protections for Black drivers, the Capital-Star reports. This includes a push for universal collection of racial data from traffic stops, something the State Police resumed after investigative reporting by Spotlight PA

QANON QUESTIONS: A Philadelphia judge and state Supreme Court candidate is distancing herself from a QAnon-branded event that listed her as a speaker, alongside state Sen. Doug Mastriano. The Inquirer reports Judge Paula Patrick previously appeared as a guest on a podcast with one of the event's organizers she called "prophet."

TROOPER LAWSUIT: A Black state trooper has filed a federal lawsuit alleging white colleagues harassed and retaliated against him during his time at the Greensburg barracks. Trooper Tavin Davis, now stationed in Dauphin County, says the colleagues used racial slurs and physically abused people of color who were suspects, per the Post-Gazette.

» AP: GOP wants Wolf to fire vendor that mishandled virus data

» CITYLAB: Mapping Pa.'s pandemic-era migration patterns

» INQUIRER: MOVE remains headed to funeral home

» POLITICO: Conor Lamb tells donors he's likely to run for U.S. Senate

» WHYY: Pa. moves forward with merging struggling state universities

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TRAVEL DAY (Case No. 91)A person is sitting in a cabin in Colorado and two hours later gets out of the cabin in Texas. How?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: Draw one large rectangle and three smaller rectangles within it. Place three Xs in each small rectangle. Alternative take: Just put nine Xs in each box because a total of nine Xs was never specified.
Congrats to Jyotin S., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: George S., Beth T., George S., Kevin H., Annette I., Mary B., Dennis P., Norman S., Joe M., Jon N., and Lynda G.
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