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Pa. lawmakers tout transparency but don't deliver


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 13, 2021
Paper trail, party politics, rent relief, insurrection charges, police force, deep pockets, and the governor's message to gas hoarders. Today is Thursday.

"It's Your Money."

That's what many lawmakers like to proclaim in pledging their support for transparency around government spending, including their own. But The Caucus and Spotlight PA found many fail to deliver.

More than a decade after some state lawmakers started posting their own expenses online, just 18 members of the 203-person House and 11 in the 50-person Senate post some level of financial information today.

And almost all of them are still under-reporting their expenses.

Some are leaving out anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars attributed to them and their offices. Others are providing extremely limited information that's also outdated.

For example: Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman's own spending webpage, which includes a pledge to make basic information easily accessible, hasn't been updated in over six years.

THE CONTEXT: Corman, in an interview, did not explain why his website had become so outdated but said he is working with Senate officials to make lawmaker expenses more easily available online.

Currently, accessing such details means navigating and using the Right-to-Know Law, a decidedly inaccessible process for most taxpayers.

In a year-long investigation, The Caucus and Spotlight PA filed two dozen Right-to-Know requests for lawmaker spending details, acquiring and analyzing nearly 400,000 legislative expenses from 2017 to 2020 and facing pushback from lawyers for the General Assembly at times — all in an effort to help taxpayers understand where their money goes.

The news organizations created a database of those expenses, and a close review of lawmakers' actual spending and what they disclose on their websites shows many aren’t telling the whole story. 


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"Despite Mr. Salsman’s efforts to interfere in the investigation and his claims that the grand jury was politically motivated, today he is taking responsibility for his actions."

—Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office on a sexual misconduct case against Bradford County District Attorney Chad Salsman

VACCINE UPDATE: Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to and from vaccine clinics from May 24 to July 4 under a new deal announced by the White House Wednesday. A CDC panel has also officially cleared Pfizer's vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds, saying the benefits of vaccinating children and teens outweigh any risks. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» BE PREPARED: 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. We'll have more resources in the days and weeks ahead.
Thanks, Rich K. (a Spotlight PA member!) for this shot of Ketchum Run Gorge, near Loyalsock Creek in Sullivan County. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
GOP ULTIMATUM: More than 100 former Republican officials, including several from Pennsylvania, will sign a letter today declaring that if the Republican Party does not break with former President Donald Trump, they'll back the creation of a third party, Reuters reports. Signees include former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and former U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent.

'EXTREMELY CONCERNED': State officials are alarmed by the low number of Pennsylvania renters who have applied for a new wave of pandemic assistance, urging anyone who's behind on rent to submit their applications now, the AP reports. Adding to that urgency is the uncertain future of a federal eviction ban and the profound failures of the state's first run at COVID-19 rent relief.

FORTY CHARGED: A Chester County man is the 40th Pennsylvanian publicly charged in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, telling FBI agents it was antifa, not Trump supporters, who broke into the building. Asked to square that with his own documented presence inside the Capitol that day, KYW Newsradio reports 80-year-old Gary Wickersham said he pays taxes and can enter the space whenever he wants.

USE OF FORCE: A man says a Lancaster police officer shot him in the back with a Taser and lied on a report to justify his use of the weapon, LancasterOnline reports. The outlet notes it's the third time Officer Jacob Bingham has been sued for excessive force in recent years, the latest seeking more than $350,000, plus punitive damages and costs. 

PAC MAN: The richest man in Pennsylvania is spending millions on upcoming elections and single-handedly keeping school choice PACs flush with cash, WHYY reports. And Jeff Yass — a Bala Cynwyd billionaire with a history of supporting PACs and organizations with extremist ties — is doing it all while trying to keep a low profile. 

SUPPLY AND DEMAND: Some Pennsylvanians are panic buying gas after a cyber attack stalled a major fuel pipeline, and Gov. Tom Wolf wants them to stop. Lehigh Valley Live says experts caution the surge in demand, not the disrupted pipeline itself, is driving prices up and making supply issues worse.

BUILDING BLOCK: Philadelphia's "poop building" just got another opponent. Councilmember Jamie Gauthier won't back the 76-unit Squirrel Hill development made infamous by a neighborhood resident's soliciting of fecal samples to gauge community impact, per WHYY.

HIDDEN AGENDA: A Pittsburgh center billed as a resource for pregnant women is actually there to "advance an anti-abortion" agenda, an unaffiliated abortion care worker told City Paper. The alt-weekly says East Liberty's Women's Care Center was founded by anti-abortion televangelists. 

LOST AND FOUND: Philly jazz legend Hasaan Ibn Ali's only album as a bandleader was shelved by Atlantic and then declared destroyed in a warehouse fire. Well, the late pianist's "lost album" has been found and released, decades after being recorded, PhillyVoice reports.

OUTGOING MAIL: The dogs of Bethel Park are going to miss Mailman Bob, who retired last month and got a big sendoff from the residents, four-legged and otherwise, along his route. "Felt like family," Mailman Bob (last name Criss) told the Post-Gazette.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Serendipity

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Bob R., Becky C., Susan D., Craig W., Dixie S., Neal W., Fred O., Jennifer C., David I., Al M., Christine M., Kevin H., Don G., Joel S., Barbara F., Chris M., Brandie K., Daniel M., Beth T., Elaine C., Elizabeth W., Jill A., Irene R., Dennis M., Janet T., Suzanne S., David S., Don H., Tish M., Patty K., Geoff M., George W., Myles M., David W., Ryan J., Lance L., George S., Dianne K., Karen W., Meg M., Christine M., Mary Kay M., Sue B., Alice B., James B., Jimmy N., Skip B., Christine K., Richard D., Helen G., Kim C., Patricia R., Eddy Z., Ann and John P., Betsy R., and Carol D.


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