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Shapiro camp: Sixers game was 'political meeting'

Plus, State College seeks LGBTQ protection copycats.


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A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

Your Postmaster: Spotlight PA Staff
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Courtside questions, discrimination checks, chemical cleanup, 'culture of secrecy,' prison labor, special seekers, and monstrous mascots.

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro's appearance with a longtime campaign donor at a Philadelphia 76ers game last month has raised an unexpected question: When is a gift to a public official not a gift?

Manuel Bonder, a spokesperson for Shapiro's transition who now works for the administration, said the pre-inauguration outing was a "political meeting." He didn't expand on that or say who paid for it.

But the tickets, which easily cost $3,000 a piece, put on full display the muddy interplay of Pennsylvania's lax campaign finance and government ethics laws, which are largely self-policed and very access-friendly.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Shapiro sat courtside at a Sixers game with a donor. His campaign called it a 'political meeting.'

THE CONTEXT: Shapiro's companion that evening was Philadelphia lawyer Darren Check, two sources told Spotlight PA. Check gave nearly $70,000 to Shapiro's gubernatorial run, $34,000 as in-kind contributions. 

Shapiro's office is treating the 76ers game as an in-kind contribution, too, a designation some — but not all — observers question.

Free tickets to sporting and other events are more often than not disclosed on annual statements of financial interest that require public officials to describe the gift and provide details on who gave it and its value.

In-kind contributions are reported on campaign finance reports but usually lack specifics on what goods or services were bought.


"Not every human is deserving of my child's empathy."

—An email filed as evidence in a conservative group-backed lawsuit against the West Shore School District's empathy-based curriculum
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
Nick Biddle of Pottsville, whose wound at the hands of a pro-Confederate mob in Baltimore is considered the first blood shed in hostility during the Civil War, via Library of Congress archives. Read more about Biddle's place in history here. We'll have more photos like this throughout Black History Month.
A black-and-white portrait of Black soldier Nick Biddle in uniform.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.REGIONAL EFFORT: State College officials are looking to launch a Regional Human Relations Commission to "investigate complaints of discrimination and facilitate mediation and conciliation of any founded violations." Spotlight PA reports the borough wants other municipalities to join the effort and pass local laws targeting LGBTQ discrimination, something that isn't covered by state law.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.CRASH ZONE: Gov. Josh Shapiro is criticizing Norfolk Southern's response to this month's toxic train derailment near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border and vowing to hold the company "accountable for any and all impacts to our Commonwealth." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says more contaminants may have been released into the environment by the crash than previously known.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.PRIVATE HIRES: Two transparency-minded hires at Dauphin County's troubled prison may have violated the state's transparency law. PennLive reports the public wasn't made aware that the hires were happening, despite Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act requiring such notice. Experts say the county's explanation of the omission is wrong, and the move has reinforced concerns about a culture of secrecy.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.'FORCED LABOR': A federal lawsuit alleging forced labor of child support debtors at Lackawanna County's recycling center has been reinstated. Via the Times-Tribune: The suit challenges a policy that required imprisoned child support debtors to first work at the recycling center for $5 a day before they could qualify for work release. The county halted the policy in 2020. The lawsuit seeks damages.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.HIGH INTEREST: Seventeen Republicans in Northumberland and Montour County are eyeing bids for the 108th state House District seat held by soon-to-be state Sen. Lynda Schlegel Culver, the Daily Item reports. Culver, also a Republican, will be sworn in as state senator this week, leaving her House seat vacant. The special election to fill it will be scheduled soon and, it appears, very crowded.

GARB CHECKS: Pennsylvania is the only state with a law banning public school teachers from wearing religious garb at work. WHYY reports the rule has long been inconsistently applied and is again being eyed for repeal. 

TIKTOK BLOCK: State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R., York) wants Pennsylvania to become the next state to ban TikTok on state-owned devices and networks — including Wi-Fi connections at state colleges, via KDKA-TV.

SHOW GOES ON: Pittsburgh's Deutschtown Music Festival will reemerge this year with a new name and a leaner lineup following "a tumultuous 2022 and a founder's acrimonious exit," Pittsburgh Independent reports. 

SCARY SPORT: Spring training starts soon, and this terrifying tweet says the first Phillies mascot was a Dutchman with a person-sized and leather-clad rat for a pet. Mercifully, The Inquirer (paywall) says it wasn't.

LIVE TONIGHT: LNP (paywall) has a guide to six Pennsylvania wildlife cams that are streaming 24/7 — from snow geese to Hanover eagles, farm country eaglesHarrisburg falcons, black bears, and more. 

Unscramble and send your answer to 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: Morphology

Congrats to our daily winners: Vicki U., Craig W., Becky C., Beth T., Starr B., Michelle T., Barbara F., John P., Wendy A., Jodi R., Jon W., Kimberly D., Laura T., Ted W., Kathee M., Susan D., John A., Dana D., Ashley W., Mike B., Don H., Art Z., Elizabeth W., Elaine C., John F., James B., Ronnee G., Nancy S., Dennis M., Ada M., Johnny C., Dianne K., Myles M., Bill S., Judith D., William S., Stanley J., Suzanne S., Trudy W., Joel S., David W., Keith W., Susan N.-Z., and Daniel M.
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