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Leaks spur crackdown amid PSERS probes

Plus, another Republican has joined Pa.’s push for legal weed.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
October 5, 2021
Gag rules, checked claim, unhappy homes, high hopes, legal cover, campaign finance, and tracking the political trackers. It's Tuesday, welcome to PA Post.
Leaks about a growing law enforcement investigation into Pennsylvania's largest pension fund have its leaders taking unusual and, critics say, draconian steps to prevent further disclosures as scandal swirls. 

Spotlight PA and The Inquirer report leaders of the beleaguered Public School Employees' Retirement System board have cut off other members from briefings about the probe and are considering demanding that members sign nondisclosure agreements before briefings resume.

The board's chair, teacher Christopher Santa Maria, and board member Frank Ryan, a Republican state representative from Lebanon County, also discussed asking state law enforcement or a bipartisan legislative committee to track down whoever leaked information about the ongoing probe to the press.

THE CONTEXT: Pressure on PSERS and its 15-member board ratcheted up a week ago with news that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had joined federal prosecutors and the FBI in investigating the $70 billion pension plan for 500,000 retired and working public school educators.

But sources say last week's closed-door board meeting saw PSERS leaders more focused on stopping leaks they fear could be damaging.

Board members questioned how any related gag order would be enforced, while board member and state Sen. Katie Muth (D., Montgomery) called on Santa Maria and Ryan to resign if legal briefings for all members don't return.

"I will walk away from this, absolutely." 

—Philadelphia union leader John Dougherty speaking to media ahead of the start of jury selection in his federal bribery and corruption trial on Monday
COVID-19 UPDATE: Johnson & Johnson plans to seek booster shot approval this week; the CDC recommends keeping indoor gatherings well-ventilated this holiday season; and new data show higher vaccination rates in Pennsylvania's Democrat-led legislative districts. To find the vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» CRISIS OF CARE: Join us Friday, Oct. 8 at noon ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on rising rates of Alzheimer's disease in Pennsylvania, the barriers to care, and the solutions urged by advocates. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
The view from New Kensington looking across the Allegheny River toward Tarentum, courtesy of PA Poster Katherine M. Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
FACT CHECK: Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) said personal information on millions of voters sought by state Republicans for a contested election review has already been disclosed to third parties and isn't a big deal. But The Inquirer reports House Republicans already accepted that the opposite is true.

HOME FRONT: More than half of the developments owned and managed by Pittsburgh's housing authority failed inspections over a three-year period, per the Post-Gazette. Reports of crumbling stairways, busted pipes, mold, and indoor mushrooms come at a time when "the need for affordable housing continues to mount" in the city.

LEGAL WEED: State Sen. Mike Regan (R., York) is now on board with legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis and plans to introduce legislation that would make it a reality here. Capital-Star reports Regan's proposal would earmark revenue for law enforcement, crime prevention, highways, and more. Majority support, however, is far from guaranteed.

DISEASE LAW: The state House has passed a bill that would amend a 1955 law frequently invoked by the Wolf administration to shield aspects of its pandemic response from public view. The AP reports Republicans leading the push say amending the Disease Prevention and Control Law will improve transparency, but Democrats are unconvinced.

DONOR CLASS: Some counties make accessing campaign finance filings easy. Lancaster County isn't one of them, according to LNP's look at the hurdles faced by members of the public seeking information on how local campaign money is spent and who it's from.
TRACK AND FIELD: Second Lady of Pennsylvania Gisele Fetterman is calling out political trackers (here and here) who trail candidates like her husband to gather dirt and unsavory soundbites. PennLive wrote about the practice after gubernatorial hopeful Scott Wagner publicly confronted a tracker in 2017.

LOOK BACK: October is LGBTQ History Month. Fifty years of Pennsylvania queer media will be celebrated in a Point Park University event on Oct. 11. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania, the first state to ban sexual orientation discrimination of public employees, still lacks key safeguards

SEE EAGLE: New video shows what the "professional falconry techniques" Pittsburgh's National Aviary used to catch an escaped sea eagle named Kody actually looked like. Hint: A big bird and a wild swing with a bigger net.

PAYING TRIBUTE: A new historical marker in Philadelphia's West Fairmount Park honors late "60 Minutes" correspondent, award-winning journalist, and native son Ed Bradley, The Philadelphia Tribune reports. 

MILLION MILER: Tarentum postal carrier Donna McCorkle has driven a million miles delivering mail on her rural route without an at-fault accident. TribLIVE says she's looking to pair her achievement with some sparkling wine.
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: Intermediary

Congrats to our daily winners: Johnno S., Craig W., David I., Doris T., Susan D., Neal W., Becky C., Irene R., Diane P., Don H., Michelle T., Barbara F., Beth T., Kevin H., Susan F., Elaine C., Craig E., Judith D., Kyle C., Barbara O., Tim B., Susan N., Anne B., Lynne E., Tish M., Kim C., Kimberly S., Jill A., Eddy Z., Dianne K., Suzanne S., Carol D., Rick D., George S., Karen W., Valerie H., David W., Scott R., Catherine J., Adam G., John P., and Myles M.
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