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Lawyers back Pa. political bids, win big contracts

Plus, Pa. newspaper publisher hit with ‘significant ransomware attack.’


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
October 13, 2021
Legal loop, ransomware attack, FBI raid, bogus claims, history made, stolen secrets, and antique pet portraits. It's Wednesday, thanks for checking in.

Politically connected law firms pour millions of dollars into the campaigns of Pennsylvania legislators who in turn hire those firms for all types of legal work on taxpayers' dime — a mutually beneficial system that, while perfectly legal, has good-goverment advocates sounding the alarm.

Law firms and lawyers who have worked for the Pennsylvania House and Senate have donated at least $5.5 million to 18 campaign committees controlled by Democratic and Republican leaders in the past decade, Spotlight PA and The Caucus found.

In just the past two years, lawmakers have paid nearly $10 million to many of the same firms and lawyers to wage taxpayer-funded legal battles.

Critics warn of a pay-to-play culture in which contracts are given to political allies.

THE CONTEXT: Some states have banned campaign contributions from taxpayer-paid contractors, or have required those contractors to disclose political giving as a condition of doing government work. Pennsylvania isn't one of them.

Instead, Pennsylvania's legislature has for decades refused to even debate bills pushing for stricter campaign finance laws.

But good-government groups say state lawmakers don't need to look far for an example of successful reform. 

In Philadelphia, where pay-to-play rules were strengthened 15 years ago to deter political donations in search of reciprocity, Patrick Christmas of the good-government group Committee of Seventy says the political donation landscape has "completely" changed.


"We are not dumb. It's just because we've had unfortunate incidents in our life that we end up here." 

—Chris DuBose, president of the Holland Towers Resident Council, on protests over poor conditions at the Meadville public housing complex
COVID-19 NEWS: Pennsylvania is one of just five states that saw a 10% or higher uptick in new cases last week; a visualization condenses 20 months of COVID-19 spread into a single minute; and deaths from COVID-19 in Pennsylvania have officially topped 30,000. To find a COVID-19 vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» THE JUDICIAL VOTE: Join us Thursday, Oct. 21 at noon EST via Zoom for a free breakdown and Q&A on who will be on the ballot this November and how voters will decide the future of Pennsylvania's courts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
Two examples of fossilized prehistoric tree root sections that are common to Appalachian coal country. Thanks for the gem (which is apparently worth some money), Don H.! Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
ATTACK PAGE: The publisher of Lancaster's LNP newspaper and other area periodicals confirms a "sophisticated ransomware attack" caused ongoing disruptions to its printing operations. The 227-year-old news organization was told to pay an undisclosed sum of money to unlock critical files used in the printing process. It's unclear if they plan to comply.

SIEGE SEARCH: FBI agents in riot gear raided the home of the vice president of Philadelphia's Proud Boys chapter on Friday in search of information on the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol siege. Aaron Whallon Wolkind wasn't arrested or charged. His attorney told The Inquirer the raid was likely focused on another leader of the far-right group.

FACT CHECK: Former President Donald Trump and his allies have made plenty of claims about Pennsylvania's 2020 election — "Philadelphia had more votes than voters," "thousands of people received multiple ballots," and "thousands of people weren't allowed to vote." The Washington Post looked into the claims and found "mountains made out of molehills."

FIRST RANK: Kristal Turner-Childs is now the first Black woman to serve as deputy commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, Capital-Star reports. She was also the first Black woman to command a state police troop here. The appointment comes as the force, one of the largest of its kind in the country, faces scrutiny over a lack of diversity.

TOP SECRET: A Navy nuclear engineer formerly stationed near Pittsburgh has been arrested for trying to sell military secrets to a foreign government. Authorities say Jonathan Toebbe's foiled plan included several Pennsylvania touchpoints. Meanwhile, WESA explains how the Navy lab central to the case wound up in landlocked Pittsburgh.

VOTER GUIDE: You have exactly five days left to register to vote in the Nov. 2 municipal election. Capital-Star has a helpful how-to guide on getting started and casting your ballot — whether in person or by mail. 

PET PROJECT: Old-timey photos of famous Pittsburghers with their dogs and cats make great Instagram fodder, it turns out. The Post-Gazette shares the story of the "Pittsburgh Pets of the Past" account and its feel-good appeal.

FIGHT, FLIGHT: Boxing legend Sonny Liston said he'd "rather be a lamppost in Denver than the mayor of Philadelphia." Why? Racial profiling that drove him from the latter city at the height of his success, Billy Penn explains.

END ZONE: Police were called when someone spread a loved one's ashes at Heinz Field after Sunday's Steelers game without permission. A witness told WTAE the ashes blew onto other fans and their food.

CAT CAM: And the winner of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's trail cam contest is ... this image of a group of the wildcats crossing a road in Snyder County. Philly Voice reports Jeremy Napp's pic beat out nine others.

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: Interpretive

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Susan F., Craig W., Neal W., Susan D., Doris T., Michelle T., Elaine C., Mike B., Irene R., Susan N., Kimberly B., George S., Bette G., Judith D., Craig E., Heidi B., Suzanne S., Kimberly S., James B., Elizabeth W., Don H., Joel S., Dianne K., Tim B., Bill S., John P., Vicki U., David W., Myles M., Kim C., and Daniel M.
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