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How an error touched off a massive PSERS scandal

The Investigator

June 3, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Fortune watch, unemployment outage, political currency, race shape, war ready, gun gaps, Arizona audit, veto count, ballot block, and official retribution.
HELP US KEEP THE PRESSURE ON: Our investigative reporting into how lawmakers spend millions in taxpayer dollars is spurring meaningful reform efforts. Contribute any amount now so we can keep it up »
The Milton Hershey School has a dilemma many charities want: too much money. But that fortune comes with questions about how much is being used to support the school's charitable mission. 

Federal tax law does not require organizations like the Milton Hershey School to spend a particular amount each year in support of charitable goals.

But Spotlight PA's Charlotte Keith reports the widening gap between what the Hershey school could spend to help poor children and what it actually spends has alumni, a local probate judge, and the state attorney general calling for the institution to do more

Also this week, Pennsylvania's 60-year-old unemployment benefits computer system is going dark as officials upgrade to a new, cloud-based program, Rebecca Moss reports.

The overhaul, nearly two decades in the making, is being hailed by the Wolf administration as the long-awaited fix to problems that have stymied claimants during the pandemic and for years before it.

But technology experts and unemployment advocates warn the timing could exacerbate existing problems and divert resources from those still stuck in a backlog.

In other news, Republican state lawmakers are crying foul over 2020 election grants from a Mark Zuckerberg-backed nonprofit they say favored left-leaning Pennsylvania counties. 

In response, Marie Albiges reports, they're proposing a ban on counties directly taking such funding in the future. Experts and local officials say a lack of government funding is the real issue.

Finally, our investigative reporting is getting results: A bipartisan bill is being drafted to require Pennsylvania to disclose how lawmakers spend taxpayer money on food, lodging, mileage, and other perks. The move comes in direct response to our ongoing investigation with The Caucus into how the legislature obscures millions of dollars in expenses every year.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA
Our reporting has one purpose: To make Pennsylvania a better place.

If you value our vital investigative journalism, make a contribution of any amount and become a member now. Our work depends on your support.

"Why you would ever use an estimate, if you had an audited number for that same period, makes no sense whatever."

—Pension audit expert Robert Lavenberg questioning decisions and errors that touched off a massive scandal for Pa.'s largest pension fund

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get the COVID-19 vaccine

» How a small error turned into a big scandal for the $64 billion PSERS fund

Pa.'s 2022 guv race: What we know so far
Pennsylvania politicos are preparing for an intense 2022 election, with open seats for U.S. Senate and governor on the November ballot. The fields are still taking shape, but it’s already clear there’s a lot at stake — both races are currently categorized by the Cook Political Report as toss-ups. 

The race for governor may get less national attention, but the outcome will determine the balance of power in Harrisburg and could radically shape policies on everything from abortion to voting rights in the years to come. Here’s what we know about the candidates so far. Sarah Anne Hughes, Spotlight PA


With roughly a year to go until the primary (Pennsylvania hasn’t set a date yet), no Democrats have officially declared they are running. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro has come the closest, telling Philadelphia magazine earlier this year, “I expect to be a candidate.”

The number of other Democrats rumored to be interested in the job appears to be dwindling, but Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is apparently still considering a run. 


There are a lot of names in the mix on the Republican side. State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a right-wing lawmaker who hosted a hearing devoted to unfounded claims of 2020 election fraud and marched to the U.S. Capitol before the Jan. 6 insurrection, claimed former President Donald Trump asked him to run and promised to help him campaign. (An aide says Trump “has not made any endorsement or commitments yet.”)

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, of Western Pennsylvania, also believes his relationship with Trump could be an asset should he run for governor. Another member of the state’s congressional delegation, Dan Meuser of Luzerne County, said he is considering a run, and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain is exploring the possibility, as well.

Five other men have already declared their candidacy, most notably Lou Barletta, a former member of Congress who first rose to national prominence because of his anti-immigration policies as mayor of Hazleton

The other declared GOP candidates are:

Joe Gale, Montgomery County commissioner | Website

Jason Monn, restaurant owner and former Corry City Council member | Website

Jason Richey, attorney | Website

Nche Zama, cardiothoracic surgeon | Website


So far, two people who aren’t members of a major party have declared their intention to run:

Libertarian Party: Joe Soloski, public accountant | Website

Green Party: Christina Olson, artist and owner of Lehigh Valley Ladders | Twitter

WARTIME POSTURE: A Pennsylvania religious sect known for MAGA politics and armed worship has purchased a compound in Texas it's billing as a safe haven ahead of a looming "deep state" war, VICE reports. The Wayne County-based church has spent years expanding its footprint, along with the reach of its radical and militant teachings.

GUN SALES: A Pennsylvania gun store that was allowed to stay open despite racking up 45 violations and eight warnings from the ATF went on to sell a gun used to kill four family members, USA Today and The Trace found. The outlets dug through a trove of gun store inspection documents and found lots of violations but few consequences

PRAISING ARIZONA: A secretive, chaotic, and highly partisan audit of Arizona's 2020 election results drew three Pennsylvania lawmakers to the Copper State on Wednesday — not to join the chorus of bipartisan critics but rather to tout it as exemplary. The Capital-Star reports at least one attendee, GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano, wants to do the same thing here.

'THE FIREWALL': Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed around 50 pieces of GOP legislation since taking office in 2014 — more than a third in the past year alone, USA Today's Capital Bureau reports. Now, the term-limited governor is nearing the end of his tenure and both parties are wondering what might happen when he — and his veto pen — are gone.

BALLOT POSITION: Philadelphia election officials who vowed to count undated mail ballots from May's primary, despite impeachment threats from state Republicans, won't do it after all. The about-face was announced Tuesday, hours after the Wolf administration weighed in, saying ballots must be signed and dated to count, per The Inquirer.

» AP: DOJ settles Hazleton language-barrier policing lawsuit

» PENNLIVE: Convicted killer's confession closes four Pa. cold cases

» READING EAGLE: School official's Facebook post prompts backlash

» TRIBLIVE: DA blocks plea deals for Black attorney who criticized office

» TIMES LEADER: Death of official confirmed after months of mystery

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WATCH OUT (Case No. 95)If eleven plus two equals one, what does nine plus five equal?
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Last week's answer: Suzie is 12 years old now.
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