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Shapiro announces pick for top election official

Plus, what we know about new state House Speaker Mark Rozzi.

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

January 5, 2023 | spotlightpa.org
New speaker, official announcement, baseless petitions, uncovering chaos, private donors, ethic fails, court order, household name, and safety sites.

The Pennsylvania House has a new speaker — and he's definitely not the person most expected.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi was elevated to presiding officer of the chamber Tuesday with support from all Democrats as well as 16 Republicans, Spotlight PA reports. 

Rozzi's win was a surprise to people both inside and outside the Capitol, and our government team has been and will continue to cover the fallout.

Kate Huangpu and Stephen Caruso explained what Rozzi's speakership may mean for the rules that govern the chamberAnd the team put together a running explainer of what we know.

Also this week, Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro has announced his pick for secretary of state: Al Schmidt, a one-time Republican election commissioner in Philadelphia.

As Carter Walker for Votebeat and Spotlight PA reports, Schmidt rose to national prominence as he defended his city against Donald Trump's unfounded claims of widespread fraud. 


"We had members of our caucus that were vacillating on where they were going to be, and that created a dilemma that others were able to take advantage of."

—State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar (R., Somerset) on his failed bid for speaker and the in-fighting that allowed Rozzi to emerge victorious

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» Century-old law let voters file baseless recount petitions and delay Pa.’s election certification
» How Spotlight PA uncovered the chaos in a tiny Pa. borough after the hiring of Tamir Rice’s killer

Private money, not taxpayer dollars, used to fund bulk of swearing-in festivities

This past week, Pennsylvania’s new legislative session kicked off with the highly ceremonial rituals of swearing-in day in the Capitol.

There were new books of prayer for oath-taking purposes, fresh flowers for newly elected and returning state legislators, and lively receptions with food spreads and refreshments for family, friends, and out-of-town guests. 

Though the final price tag has yet to be tallied, the festivities are expected to cost tens of thousands of dollars. But because of public criticism in years past of using public funds to underwrite the event, taxpayers won’t be picking up the entire tab.

Several years ago, the House of Representatives, sensitive to media criticism over its swearing-in day expenses, created a nonprofit organization and tasked it with raising private donations to underwrite most of the costs.

The nonprofit, aptly named the Legislative Swearing-In Committee, pays for items such as new Bibles and swearing-in day programs, as well as food, transportation, and parking for legislative guests, said Luke Bernstein, who now co-chairs the group. 

Though it is not required to under federal tax law, the group makes its donors public, listing them on the printed programs that are handed out to people attending the swearing-in. This year’s contributors included labor unions and business associations, as well as health care and insurance giants — all of which have a stake in the outcome of legislation and other policies emanating from the Capitol.

Bernstein said he expects the final cost to hover around $50,000, although in prior years the group has spent between $70,000 and $90,000, according to the nonprofit’s publicly filed tax records.

Unlike the state House, the state Senate uses public funds to cover swearing-in day expenses, although officials there limit what can be charged to taxpayers. Flowers, for instance, are not a permissible expense. “Official entertainment” is permitted, according to the chamber’s chief clerk’s office, although no alcohol is served. Bibles and other books of prayer are in, as are chair rentals for seating guests in the chamber. But travel reimbursements are limited to legislators and their staff.

This year’s cost is not yet known, according to state Senate officials, who also could not immediately provide the price tag for past swearing-in days.

That total, however, is expected to pale in comparison to the tab for Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro’s inauguration on Jan. 17 — a day-long affair that attracts political luminaries, lobbyists, executives, and hundreds of spectators to the swearing-in ceremony outside the state Capitol, and later, to an evening bash.

Shapiro’s Inaugural Committee — also a privately funded nonprofit organization — plans to fund the majority of the expenses, according to committee officials. Previous administrations have also drawn on private funding, but largely to pay for the inaugural party in the evening. Shapiro’s committee, however, also plans to reimburse the state for its work in staging the oath of office ceremony.

Less clear is whether the incoming Shapiro administration will make the names of those private donors public as its predecessors have done. Committee officials have so far avoided answering the question. Angela Couloumbis, Spotlight PA

This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaPRIVATE DONORS: Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court has once again blocked an attorney from accessing personal information on donors who contributed to a legal defense fund for contested local gun restrictions in Harrisburg. The ruling is the latest in a ping-ponging lawsuit brought by gun rights attorney Joshua Prince, who is also currently running for a seat on the appellate court.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaETHIC FAILS: Pennsylvania's State Ethics Commission found six government officials guilty of ethics violations in 2022, most involving nepotism, USA Today's State Capital Bureau (paywall) reports. The list of offenders includes former officials in Allegheny, ChesterClearfield, Greene, Montour, and Susquehanna Counties. Some of the cases involved years-old violations of the state's Ethics Act.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaCOURT ORDER: The articles of impeachment against progressive Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner fail to demonstrate he acted with an improper or corrupt motive as required for impeachment of a public official in Pennsylvania, said a Commonwealth Court order issued on Friday. NBC10 reports the impact of the court order on the Republican-led impeachment push wasn't immediately clear.

HOUSEHOLD NAME: Hundreds of state lawmakers were sworn in at the Capitol on Tuesday, and Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro and his running mate, Lt. Gov.-elect Austin Davis, will follow suit on Jan. 17. Shapiro won the seat thanks to a big cash advantage and a struggling opponent. But he told CNN that his six-year and often high-profile tenure as Pennsylvania's top cop didn't hurt either.

SAFETY SITES: Just over a year after New York became the first American city to open supervised injection sites for consumers of street drugs like heroin, there have been no recorded deaths at the centers and nearly 700 overdoses reversed, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. Philadelphia's attempt to open such a facility, meanwhile, remains bogged down in a bureaucratic and legal morass

» AP: Man accused of helping immigrants on driver’s license tests

» ERIE TIMES-NEWS: Bayfront Parkway federal lawsuit tossed by judge

» INQUIRER: Jan. 6 committee withdraws its subpoena to Mastriano

» PENNLIVE: Ward takes over as first female president of the Senate

» TRIBLIVEPost-Gazette owner to buy City Paper from Butler Eagle

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POROUS POWER (Case No. 182)I'm full of holes but strong as steel. What am I?
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