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Shapiro outraises Mastriano in final weeks of campaign

Plus, how we found Pa. workers who were fired, demoted over medical marijuana use.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

September 29, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
Candidate money, Election Center, crime issues, poll workers, rebate guide, Harrisburg action, inside the investigation, per diems, and pay scales.
🎁 BONUS DAYS: Today and tomorrow only, all gifts in support of Spotlight PA's vital election coverage will be *DOUBLED* as a bonus to close out our Autumn Member Drive and end September strong.

Don't miss this final chance to power the best election reporting in Pennsylvania and have your impact go twice as far.


Democrat Josh Shapiro’s campaign spent a staggering $28 million on his bid for Pennsylvania governor over the past three months, new campaign finance reports show. 

That total eclipsed spending by Republican nominee Doug Mastriano, who has struggled to amass support from high-profile donors despite national attention on the race.

Reporters Stephen Caruso, Angela Couloumbis, and Katie Meyer have more insights into the latest campaign finance filings

As part of our commitment to covering this critical election and making sure Pennsylvanians are informed, Spotlight PA this week launched a new Election Center website. It features a voter toolbox with key dates, an interactive sample ballot, a campaign finance tracker, and a form to get in contact with our reporters.

It also includes a link to our issues coverage, including a new explainer of where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on crime and justice issues, and our comprehensive voting guides, including this one on how to become a poll worker

Also, Charlotte Keith explains how to apply for a Pennsylvania property tax rebate or rent rebate. As her most recent investigation showed, fewer people are qualifying each year because of stagnant income limits.


"It’s a transparency bill. I can suck up my dislike for the man."

—State Sen. Katie Muth (D., Chester) on her support for accountability legislation introduced by GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano

» THE STATE OF PA ELECTIONS: Join us today at 6 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A with Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman, who oversees elections in Pennsylvania. Chapman will discuss how her agency secures and runs elections, explain the state's voting policies, and answer all of your pressing questions ahead of Nov. 8. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on...
»  Crime & Justice
»  LGTBQ Rights

More issue analyses will be published in the coming weeks.

A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides:
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
»  No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom
»  How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8
»  These Pa. voters haven't missed a Nov. election for 50+ years
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

En Español: 
» Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» CNN: Northampton County is a 'place to watch on Election Night'
» NBC: Mastriano said yes to murder charges for abortion ban violations
» POST-GAZETTE: Trump stumps for Mastriano in tele-rally (paywall)
» WTAE: New Marist poll: Dems Shapiro and Fetterman hold their leads
» YDR: U.S. Rep. Perry, challenger Daniels spar in forum (paywall)

» Looming election jolts Harrisburg into action as Pa. lawmakers pass a flurry of bills, cash in on fundraisers

» Schools like Penn State self-police student-athlete endorsement deals

» A complete guide to Spotlight PA’s investigations of Pennsylvania’s flawed medical marijuana program

» An attempt to deter more student high-rises in State College raises larger debate about the future of downtown


Inside our latest medical marijuana investigation

Our monthslong investigation into employment protections for medical marijuana patients began with an email about a failed drug test.

After a drug screening indicated he had used marijuana, Philadelphia Gas Works employee Todd Douglas told me he faced a troubling choice: Give up a doctor-approved drug that provided pain relief, or risk his job. As our reporting explained, Douglas fought the drug test and won. Other medical marijuana patients weren’t so lucky.

When I started working on the investigation, two questions surfaced: How many people find themselves in Douglas’ situation? And what happens to them?

There’s no simple answer, but I used a number of techniques to understand the issue. I interviewed a lot of advocates and attorneys, of course. But I knew not everyone would want to talk — and confidentiality agreements could pose problems for some if they did. We wanted to understand those situations, too.

I analyzed about 20 medical marijuana employment cases, filed dozens of open records requests, and reviewed thousands of pages of public records. All of these steps were necessary to understand how decisions made by lawmakers in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., affect hundreds of thousands of patients across the state. Here's a look at some of the tools we used to understand the scope and the stakes in Pennsylvania.

Federal court lawsuits: RECAP Archive is a searchable collection of millions of documents from federal court cases. I used the collection to find Pennsylvania lawsuits with the phrase “Medical Marijuana Act,” which netted about 30 cases. I then read each case to figure out whether the dispute was over an employment issue. That narrowed the pool down to about a dozen. 

RECAP didn’t have all the case records, so Spotlight PA paid for additional documents directly from the federal court system. The records we bought are now available on RECAP for anyone to view for free. 

State court lawsuits: The state’s court system lets you search the content of opinions from appellate courts, so I looked for ones with potentially relevant phrases. Searching for “Medical Marijuana Act,” for instance, led to more than 60 results. I then went through each case and found a few that dealt with workplace issues, including the rights of medical marijuana patients to collect unemployment benefits. 

Open records requests: Most of the employment disputes I found in court records involved private companies, but some included public agencies.

I obtained employment records, drug and alcohol policies, and even a few settlement agreements using the state’s Right-to-Know Law. In one of those cases, a fired worker agreed to keep the settlement “strictly confidential” — or face legal action.

What’s next: We’re still investigating. I’ve recently heard from doctors, patients, and others who described problems with the state’s medical marijuana program. And I want to hear from more. You can reach me at emahon@spotlightpa.org or at 717-421-2518.

I’ve stayed in touch with Douglas, too. The day the investigation was published, he wrote to me that it was “tough to see other people being jammed up over this.” He hopes his story can help patients get some clearer protections. —Ed Mahon, Spotlight PA

PER DIEMS: State Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R., Lawrence) is drumming up support for a bill that would eliminate per diem pay for lawmakers — a professional flat-rate allowance for food, lodgings, and 50-mile-plus travel that legislators can claim without receipts — and replace it with a receipt-based reimbursement system. Spotlight PA reported on a similar legislative effort in 2021 that ultimately went nowhere.

PAY SCALES: Senior judges in Pennsylvania are collecting large sums of money in the form of per diems, often on top of lucrative state pensions, The Caucus (paywall) reports. The judges collect $611 per day for "services" provided when they step in for other judges as needed across the state. And that adds up. The Caucus found per diem totals as high as $795,450 over the course of several years.

PUBLIC STATEMENT: State Rep. Dave Zimmerman (R., Lancaster) told a rally crowd that he turned off location services on his phone in an apparent effort to dodge federal authorities investigating attempts to overturn the 2020 election. LNP (paywall) reports the comment came during a rally for GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano in Harrisburg on Saturday. Zimmerman said he was among the lawmakers who received related subpoenas in Harrisburg last month.

2020 REVIEW: A Michigan forensics company reviewed 2020 election materials in Fulton and Allegheny Counties and reported anomalies but did not claim evidence of fraud, WITF reports. The company, Speckin Forensics, which has ties to a widely discredited 2020 election review in Arizona, noted the limits of its investigation in Allegheny County, which was based on copies of documents obtained via a Right-to-Know request. Fulton County requested the review conducted there.

SECOND CHANCE: State officials and pro-cannabis advocates are urging people who have minor, nonviolent marijuana convictions to apply for a pardon as part of a special push by the Wolf administration before the Sept. 30 deadline. Celeste Trusty, secretary of the state Board of Pardons, told the Morning Call people will be able to qualify "in a matter of months as opposed to a matter of years."

» AP: Redrawn districts inject uncertainty in legislative contests

» CAPITAL-STAR: Changes to SNAP income thresholds coming

» COURIER TIMES: FBI denies anti-abortion activist's claims about arrest

» LNP: State delays releasing recent COVID-19 death data

» NBC10: Kenney signs order banning guns at Philly rec centers

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

IN REVERSE (Case No. 166)Spelled forwards, I'm what you do every day. Spelled backward, I'm something you loathe. What am I?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Silence. (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Chris W., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Ed M., Jon N., Fred O., George S., Jeffrey F., Donna D., Judy A., Irene T., Joe S., Peter S., Rick A., George S., Marisa B., Alberta V., Beth T., Robert K., Paul D., Annette I., Ken S., Joseph D., Michelle T., Tish M., Sherri S., and Seth Z.
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