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Tracking how Penn State's THON millions are used

Plus, Gov. Shapiro continues death penalty moratorium.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Friday, February 17, 2023
Paper trail, under wraps, penalty pause, Fetterman update, bankruptcy plan, toxic testing, 'Mayor Trashman,' and a rival flag flies in Harrisburg. 

Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all monthly gifts will be matched 12X!We have some big news. One of our biggest supporters, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, has offered to match all monthly gifts to Spotlight PA at their ANNUAL VALUE. That means they'll give us 12X your monthly gift!
This is a HUGE opportunity for us to ensure Spotlight PA can serve you for years to come. Will you take advantage and make a gift now?

Thank you X12!

Colin D.,
Newsletter Editor
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all new monthly gifts will be matched 12X!

Penn State University's grueling-but-jubilant philanthropic ritual, THON, raises huge amounts of cash for children with cancer and their families.

That money goes to Four Diamonds, a charity nested inside the Penn State system. And while THON promotes the benefits for families, Four Diamonds uses most of the money to fund research and related endowments.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: What the public can and can’t know about Four Diamonds, beneficiary of Penn State THON’s fundraising.

THE CONTEXT: Spotlight PA analyzed Four Diamonds' spending over the past 14 fiscal years, spoke with experts who study charitable finances, and sought information from Four Diamonds and THON about how they operate. 

In that time, Four Diamonds has spent $239.4 million. From that $239.4 million, about 9% ($21.2 million) went to administrative costs; about 19% ($44.5 million) went to patients and families; about 33% ($80.4 million) went to research; and about 39% ($93.2 million) went to endowments.

Four Diamonds received criticism in the past for a lack of financial transparency, and while its disclosures became more robust in response, aspects of its operations remain difficult to understand.


"There were no options left in the state, in the political process. They forced our hand. We had no choice but to bring litigation."

—Michael Churchill, an 83-year-old Philly lawyer whose life work culminated in this month's landmark Pennsylvania school funding ruling
A LOST NEIGHBORHOOD: Join us Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. EST on Zoom for a free panel on the history of Harrisburg’s 8th Ward, the residents who once called it home, and the groups making sure it's remembered. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all new monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
One of Pennsylvania's famously pugnacious starlings, via @barbara_searles. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A bird perched on a feeder.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.INFO BLOCKS: The Pennsylvania Department of Health is again suing Spotlight PA in an attempt to keep information about how patients obtain a medical marijuana card secret. This time, the department does not want to reveal how often individual physicians approve patients for the medical program — information that could help identify outliers who might be bending or breaking the state's rules.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.NO EXECUTIONS: Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro says he will continue his predecessor's death penalty moratorium and not allow Pennsylvania to execute anyone while he is in office, Forward reports. Shapiro also called on state lawmakers to abolish the option. Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R., Indiana) said the issue warrants "careful examination." He also took issue with Shapiro's timing.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.SEEKING TREATMENT: U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D., Pa.) checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Wednesday to receive treatment for depression. "While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks," his chief of staff, Adam Jentleson, said on Thursday, via Politico. Fetterman's care is on a voluntary basis.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.PAYOUT PLAN: The Harrisburg diocese's bankruptcy plan has been approved by a court, with $18 million set aside for 59 clergy abuse survivors who sued. An attorney for the claimants tells CBS 21 the money will be placed into a trust and allocated by a third-party attorney. The settlement is the culmination of years of litigation that followed the 2018 grand jury report on clergy abuse statewide.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.ONGOING TALKS: Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R., Indiana) says discussions have started about how to respond to a toxic train derailment in Ohio that was steps from the Pennsylvania border. "It is imperative the legislature engages in a deeper conversation and examination of our infrastructure system," Pittman said this week. Gov. Shapiro is vowing independent water testing.
🏆 TEST YOURSELF: Were you paying attention to the news (and this newsletter) this week? Test your grip on the latest headlines from around the state with this week's installment of The Great PA News Quiz.

NO CHARGES: The volunteer who whisked a dog from a Harrisburg shelter before it could be euthanized will not be charged, Dauphin County's district attorney said, via PennLive. DA Fran Chardo said charges weren't in the public interest. The dog's case prompted protests at the shelter.

WHO'S WHO: Terrill Haigler is an internet-famous former sanitation worker who's running for Philly mayor and wants his nom de social media — @YaFavTrashman — on ballots. The Inquirer (paywall) said his related argument is a first-of-its-kind in Pennsylvania election history.

SHE'S RUNNING: Former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley is seeking the GOP nomination for president in 2024. There are lots of former Toomey staffers on her campaign team.

FIRST PERSON: City & State has a new profile of K. Leroy Irvis, a Democrat who became Pennsylvania's first Black state House speaker in 1977 and the first Black speaker in any state legislature since Reconstruction.

NEW FLAG: Gov. Shapiro made good on his Super Bowl bet with the governor of Missouri and hung a Kansas City Chiefs flag in his office. "As I have been sitting behind this desk today, I've had to look at that," he said.

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. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Statuesque

Congrats to our daily winners: Kevin M., Becky C., Craig W., Michelle T., Kim C., Joel S., Eric F., John P., Don H., Beth T., Susan N.-Z., John A., Alice B., Irene R., Ted W., Dana D., Mark O., Jane R., Jon W., Mike B., Wendy A., Jill M., Susan R., Judith D., Susan D., Vanessa J., Nancy S., George B., Kimberly B., Barbara F., Ted B., Ada M., Steve D., Peg K., Art Z., Bill S., Ronnee G., Dan W., James B., Elaine C., Patricia R., Daniel S., Laura H., John F., Elizabeth W., Eddy Z., Joe W., Kathee M., Tish M., Thomas S., Judy M., Dennis M., Connie K., Stanley J., Bruce B., Arthur G., Michael K., Dianne K., Starr B., Ben P., Sandra W., Marty M., Kimberly D., Lance L., Rick A., Donna D., Vicki U., William Z., and Richard A.
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