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Conor Lamb enters crowded U.S. Senate race

Plus, a video guide on rent relief and eviction rules in Pa.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 9, 2021
Magic money, rent relief, class masks, public defense, Lamb's in, prison force, and Pennsylvania's sacred stone sites. It's Monday, thanks for checking in.
The criminal case against a former state lawmaker has again highlighted Pennsylvania's lax rules for reimbursing electeds with taxpayer and donor money.

Former state Rep. Margo Davidson (D., Delaware) was charged in July with stealing from taxpayers and misusing campaign funds. She has since resigned her office.

Now, Spotlight PA and The Caucus report, the case against her is prompting scrutiny and giving new fodder to critics who say the state's reimbursement system is ripe for abuse

While Republican leadership has failed to move reforms before, the charges have prompted GOP members of the state House to announce new reviews of the system and law, with one saying Davidson's case was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back."

THE CONTEXT: State Rep. Seth Grove (R., York), who chairs the House State Government Committee, said in late July that he will call a series of hearings on the topic. Whether the reviews will produce tangible change remains to be seen. 

Under current rules, state lawmakers often aren't required to provide proof when seeking reimbursement from taxpayer-funded accounts. On the campaign side, candidates can lump together thousands of dollars of election expenses, obscuring the purpose from the public. And when disclosures are made voluntarily, they normally leave lots to be desired.

The lax rules have created "a culture of zero accountability," Khalif Ali, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, said during a recent Spotlight PA live event.

Catch up with more coverage of this issue here.
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

And Spotlight PA is answering the call in a bold new way.

We built Spotlight PA on the premise that you, our loyal readers, will step up and contribute to journalism that holds the powerful to account and gets results. Put another way, without your support, we cease to exist.

If you value our vital investigative journalism, make a contribution of any amount and become a member now. 

"Both sides of the aisle are very politically polarized and open to accepting information that they already believe to be true. Deepfakes make that worse."

—State Rep. Nick Pisciottano (D., Allegheny) on his bill to penalize the use of political deepfakes within 90 days of an election 

VACCINE UPDATE: Dr. Anthony Fauci says he's hopeful the Food and Drug Administration will give full approval to the coronavirus vaccine by month's end and expects doing so will spur a wave of vaccine mandates in the private sector as well as schools and universities. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
Logan Falls is seen cascading in the Allegheny National Forest in a photo by PA Poster @johnmcculloughphotography. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
HOUSING HELP: If you missed Spotlight PA's event on rent relief and the new federal eviction ban, watch video of it here. The panel and Q&A followed Spotlight PA reporting on widespread concerns among Pennsylvania renters with thousands of rent relief applications stuck in backlogs and eviction rules changing quickly.

MASK TEST: Gov. Tom Wolf confirms he has no plans to require masks in Pennsylvania schools and will defer to CDC guidance that recommends them instead, the AP reports. School starts in a matter of weeks, and vaccine participation remains low among school-aged children both nationwide and statewide. Those under 12 remain ineligible.

DEFENSE FUND: Pennsylvania is the only state in the U.S. that doesn't provide any funding for public defenders, leaving it up to counties instead, The Daily Item reports. Reform advocates say that approach is costing taxpayers more money and creating an uneven playing field. Gov. Tom Wolf agrees change is needed but has yet to offer up a plan.

PRIMARY COLORS: U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D., Allegheny) is officially in the running for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat, launching his centrist primary bid in Pittsburgh last week, per WESA. "We can't only use the language that is popular in a college classroom but not in a union hall," Lamb said. He joins a crowded field and a very expensive race

RED FLAGS: A contractor, whose work at York County Prison produced images reminiscent of Abu Ghraib, is headed to Allegheny County Jail where a $350,000 contract for militaristic training, weaponry, and other equipment awaits. TribLIVE reports the contract comes amid heightened scrutiny of Allegheny County Jail's tactics and uses of force.
BIG BOX: E-commerce giant Amazon's growth isn't just financial, it's also physical. Plans for Pennsylvania solar farms meant to power operations overlap with plans for distribution centers meant to speed up deliveries, the latter rankling residents from Pittsburgh and nearby Churchill to the Lehigh Valley, where a warehouse boom is well underway, per The New York Times.

ROAD RAGE: Cars are back on Philadelphia's Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and pedestrians and cyclists who enjoyed a year of exclusive access aren't happy. Billy Penn reports there's one thing both sides agree on in the ensuing debate: The city didn't get enough community input.

PIE PIPERS: It's tomato season in Pennsylvania and Epicurious has a recipe for tomato-cheddar pie — a riff on the SEPA specialty — that looks pretty good. (Tip: Readers in the comments recommend drying your tomatoes in the oven first.) Looking to use up Pennsylvania tomatoes and corn? No worries.

CHIP SHOT: York County has a new 80,000-square-foot casino inside an old Sears store at a local galleria. It's set to open Thursday with 510 slot machines, 30 table games, and a casual restaurant, the York Daily Record reports. It arrives after a record year for Pennsylvania gambling.

STONE SITES: Pennsylvania stone formations, at least one of which likely dates back to 570 BC, are getting new attention with other indigenous sites in the northeast, some going back thousands of years and containing precise astronomical alignments, LancasterOnline reports.
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.

This week's theme:
Pennsylvania town names

Friday's answer: Decorum

Congrats to our weekly winner: Scott R.

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Doris T., Mike B., Susan D., Irene R., Neal W., Diane P., Don H., Marty M., Dawn C., Carol D., Myles M., James Z., Wendy A., John P., Steve D., Al M., Craig E., Dennis M., Beth T., John S., Susan N., Kim C., Susan F., Adrien M., Maureen G., Jeff M., Elaine C., Tish M., Kenneth J., Joel S., Becky C., George S., Christine M., Paul H., William M., Brandie K., Elizabeth W., David W., Dan H., Patricia R., Craig W., Skip B., James B., Cathy S., Karen W., Elayne B., Brian B., John H., Daniel M., Johnny C., and Steve M.
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