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

Lobbyist gift limits hinge on one big unknown

Plus, potentially 'damaging' PSERS report could stay hidden.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

November 11, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Mask ruling, ballot blunder, gift ban, under wraps, power play, automatic recount, new beat, lethal force, RTK win, crash suit, and a landmark trial.
Dear reader,

We recently kicked off a historic effort to sustain Spotlight PA's vital journalism in 2022, and I want you to be a part of it. We've been challenged to raise $70,000 by December 31st, and if we do it, we'll unlock $70,000 in matching gifts. This is simply unprecedented.

We built Spotlight PA on the premise that people will support tough, nonpartisan journalism that holds our elected officials and those in power to account. If you take a minute and make a tax-deductible contribution now, you'll help us keep the pressure on next year.

And with the race for governor about to heat up, we need Spotlight PA's professional journalists working around the clock to cut through the nonsense and deliver the truth. Put another way: We can't continue to do this work without your support. So please consider making a gift now.

With gratitude,
Christopher Baxter, Editor in Chief
Days after Gov. Tom Wolf said he expected the state's school mask mandate to be lifted in January, a state court on Wednesday nixed the rule, saying the acting health secretary lacked the authority to impose it.

Jamie Martines reports the Department of Health has appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, a motion that Wolf's office says effectively pauses the lower court's ruling, keeping the mask mandate in place for now.

In other news, Gov. Wolf shared in a radio interview last week that his wife, First Lady Frances Wolf, dropped his mail ballot off for him in the Nov. 2 election, a violation of Pennsylvania law, Danielle Ohl reports.

State law currently prohibits, in most cases, anyone other than the voter from returning a mail ballot, and can punish such an act with one year in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. A Wolf spokesperson called it "an honest mistake."

Also this week, Angela Couloumbis reports on the "potentially fatal roadblock" facing an active push to limit the influence of lobbyists in Harrisburg.

A coalition of Republican leaders is publicly backing new limits on lobbyist gifts to elected officials and public employees, but a key figure — Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) — has declined to back the change or say whether he'll allow it to come up for a vote.

And finally, a law firm's look into sweeping problems at Pennsylvania's $73 billion, taxpayer-backed pension fund for educators is almost done, but the findings may never see the light of day, Spotlight PA and The Inquirer report.

Some PSERS staff believe the probe’s findings could be damaging to their reputations. Their lawyers are pushing for the report to be kept private or contain rebuttals.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA
"Ultimately, if [the voters] disagree with the position the senator and I are proposing, they'll vote it down."

—House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) on a constitutional amendment push that would further curtail executive power if approved by voters
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman has tested positive for COVID-19 and canceled a reported gubernatorial campaign launch slated for tonight; Philadelphia has quietly rolled out a vaccine mandate for about 4,000 non-union employees; and about 900,000 U.S. kids ages 5 to 11 received a COVID-19 vaccine dose in their first week of eligibility. Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
» Top Pa. House Republican wants to greatly expand lawmakers' power over the governor, executive branch

» Recount triggered for open Commonwealth Court seat, with Democrat Lori Dumas leading
» CANNABIS CONUNDRUM: Join us today at 7 p.m. EST via Zoom for a free Q&A on cannabis as a treatment for opioid use disorder, the debate in the medical community, and a look at what the research says. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.

Meet Spotlight PA's new government and disinformation reporter, Ethan Edward Coston

Hi, I’m Ethan, Spotlight PA’s new government reporter. I cover political disinformation in Pennsylvania.

Over the past few years, disinformation has spread across the country, from conspiracies espoused by groups like QAnon to lies about vaccines, COVID-19, and the 2020 election. My goal is to debunk misinformation, pull back the veil on the people spreading lies, and keep falsehoods out of Pennsylvania politics. 

Pennsylvania is new to me. I grew up in La Mesa, a small city near San Diego, California. From the living room window of my childhood home, I could see Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

After high school, I attended the University of California San Diego, where I majored in political science and minored in sociology. In my free time, I worked for the campus bookstore and wrote for the campus digital newspaper, The Triton. I worked as a reporter at first, then served as an editor for two years. As a reporter, I sued the University of California twice for refusing to disclose public records and won both times — then I used that information to publish in-depth investigations about sexual misconduct at UCSD.

During my last year of college, which coincided with the start of the pandemic, I was a member of CalMatters’ inaugural class of higher education fellows. As I covered the pandemic, I learned the importance of engaging community members on issues rather than just policymakers. In my free time, I learned to code and how to incorporate data into my reporting. Both skills improved my work.

After my fellowship, I worked with CalMatters as a web developer managing a content sharing site. I also authored investigations and political reporting for national and local outlets such as Prism and Voice of San Diego.

Although I’m new to Pennsylvania, I’m not new to political reporting or rooting out disinformation. At Spotlight PA, I hope to break down Pennsylvania policy and politics in an understandable way, and work to prevent false information from spreading.

Have you seen a state issue that isn’t being covered or a public figure telling lies? Send an email to ecoston@spotlightpa.org.

Ethan Edward Coston, Spotlight PA

MISSING DATA: In a state with more than 1,500 jurisdictions, only two dozen Pennsylvania police departments were enrolled in the FBI's voluntary data collection program on lethal force, and only 21 of those actually turned over the information, the Post-Gazette found, leaving large gaps in a system meant to gather reliable data on violent police encounters.

OPEN RECORDS: A two-year-old open records case has forced Gov. Wolf's office to divulge information it withheld from the public after the controversial filling of a Commonwealth Court vacancy in 2019, The Caucus reports. A successful Right-to-Know Act appeal has now "shattered" the secrecy, confirming the identities of 17 others who applied.

CRASH CASE: Former state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner fell asleep at the wheel last spring and hit a car head-on in Maryland, critically injuring an 89-year-old man, a lawsuit says. York Dispatch reports Wagner was cited but later acquitted. Authorities did not detect impairment and did not test Wagner for drugs or alcohol.

FUNDING FIGHT: A landmark trial that could fundamentally alter how Pennsylvania funds its public schools is set to start Friday, seven years after the case was first filed. WHYY explains the respective arguments and the constitutional claim at the center of the suit, which the station calls "one of the most complicated and consequential in state history."

SENATE ROUNDUP: Talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz, fka Dr. Oz, is reportedly preparing to enter the Republican primary for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, and some insiders are said to be urging investment CEO David McCormick to do the same, all as former President Donald Trump's chosen pick, Sean Parnell, stands accused of abuse by his estranged wife.

» AXIOS: What's in the $1.2T infrastructure bill for Pennsylvania? 

» CNN: Crashed Pa. drone targeted energy infrastructure, authorities say 

» MORNING CALL: Losing GOP candidate, supporters 'haunt' vote count

» PUBLICSOURCE: Pittsburgh eyes police lieutenant's ties to militia

» WHYY: Ousted Philadelphia health commissioner lands in D.C.
Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org. Love the riddler? Chip in and become a member of Spotlight PA so we can keep the good times rolling.

SMOKE 'EM (Case No. 118)If an electric train is moving north at 55 mph and the wind is blowing east at 70 mph, which way does the smoke blow?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: 110 miles. (Find last week's clue here.)

Congrats to James D., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: George S., Michael H., Steve W., Jon N., Lynda G., Elizabeth W., Hagan H., Annette I., Judy A., Michelle T., Susan N., Karen A., Beth T., Philip C., Fred O., George S., George F., Paula F., Bruce B., Joseph M., Beverly M., Joel S., Heather B., Lindsey S., and Thomas D.
Like The Investigator? Share it with a friend.

Love The Investigator? Support Spotlight PA's journalism

Forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here.

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.