Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Records show Montana official’s misuse of state vehicle

When the Helena Police Department cited the statute of limitations in declining to bring charges against Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for misuse of a state-owned vehicle, Helena reporter Amy Hanson dug deeper.

After multiple public-records requests Hanson found that Secretary of State Corey Stapleton traveled tens of thousands of miles more than what had been previously reported, including many times when he had no official events on his calendar. And she found that the misuse continued until he turned in the vehicle in March, well within the statute of limitations.

For determined reporting that resulted in a textbook example of accountability journalism, Amy Hanson wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 11, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Trump allies sought lucrative Ukraine gas deal

for breaking the story that while Rudy Giuliani was pushing Ukrainian officials last spring to investigate one of Donald Trump’s main political rivals, a group of his business associates was also active in the former Soviet republic, trying to install new management at the top of Ukraine’s massive state gas company. Two people with knowledge of the plans told AP that these businessmen and Republican donors, touting connections to Giuliani and Trump, were prepared to steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies. https://bit.ly/2IteINg

Aug. 16, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Reshaping of federal courts concerns gun control supporters

for a forward-looking piece amid the blizzard of gun-related news that followed the most recent mass shootings, looking at how the reshaping of the federal courts under President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate could undermine strict gun-control laws passed by Democratic-leaning states. That scenario is already playing out in California, where a Republican-appointed federal judge has blocked a state law limiting the number of rounds allowed in ammunition magazines. Thompson’s story, turned around in a day and a half in the wake of the latest shootings, resonated with readers and editors, scoring heavy play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2KDN1BC

March 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Twin Texas scoops: UT fires former football star; GOP governor packing courts

for breaking two completely unrelated Texas scoops: that the University of Texas had fired former star quarterback Vince Young from his part-time job as an ambassador and development officer for the school, and for reporting that after barely three months after Democrats showed signs of cracking Republican dominance in state elections, Gov. Greg Abbott used the power of his office to appoint GOP judges who had been rejected by voters to new positions on the bench.https://bit.ly/2J6ZNe3https://bit.ly/2TB5fe3

Oct. 19, 2018

Best of the States

High-profile Georgia race focuses national attention on voter ID requirements

In the current political and media environment, it’s not often that a state politics story without President Donald Trump’s name in it drives a national political conversation for almost a week.

But that’s what happened when Atlanta-based newsperson Ben Nadler published a look at Georgia’s “exact match” voter registration verification process and other policies backed by Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, faces Democrat Stacey Abrams, vying to become the first black female governor of any state.

According to records obtained by Nadler from Kemps office through a public records request, 53,000 registrations – 70 percent of them from black applicants – were on hold with less than a month before the Nov. 6 election. Nadler also found that Kemp’s office has cancelled more than 1.4 million inactive voter registrations since 2012 – nearly 670,000 registrations in 2017 alone.

The story got tremendous play with AP customers over multiple news cycles and lit up social media.

For his deep look at a critical issue in Georgia’s high-stakes gubernatorial election and driving a national political discussion for days, Nadler wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 05, 2018

Best of the States

Oklahoma Republicans targeted by GOP colleague, dark money

Oklahomans widely assumed that 12 Republican state lawmakers who lost their bids for re-election came up short at the polls because of their opposition to raising pay for the state’s public school teachers.

While opposition to education funding may have been one factor in incumbent losses in the GOP primaries, Oklahoma City-based reporter Sean Murphy began hearing scuttlebutt about an organized effort from within the Republican Party to kick out incumbents from their own party.

Using campaign finance reports and solid sourcing at the Capitol, Murphy was alone in showing that the rumors were true.

Public records showed a top state House GOP leader had given money to opponents of two of his own colleagues, and the opponents unseated the incumbents. Murphy also leveraged a relationship developed over years of reporting to get the lawmaker to talk. He acknowledged a plan to punish fellow Republicans for taking hardline stances that forced a compromise with Democrats on a plan to raise taxes to pay for teacher raises.

For combining shoe-leather reporting with smart document work, Murphy wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the States

Tibbetts murder suspect lived, worked on land linked to GOP fundraiser

Within hours of the news that the man charged with killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts was a Mexican citizen believed to be in the United States illegally, Republican leaders from President Donald Trump to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds injected the case into the political debate, blaming lax immigration policies for allowing the man into the community.

Amid such comments, Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley got a tip from two longtime Republican Party sources: The suspect lived on land partly owned by Nicole Schlinger, one of the party’s most prolific national fundraisers, the sources said.

Foley was determined to discover whether that was true. He obtained property records showing Schlinger and her husband owned the farm trailer where Rivera had lived, and her husband was president of the farm. Foley then got confirmation from Schlinger, who had avoided his questions for days.

Further, Schlinger’s fundraising client list included anti-illegal-immigration hard-liners, including Reynolds, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and even the Stop Sanctuary Cities PAC.

The story was used extensively by Iowa newspapers and was a big online hit, with hundreds of postings and 40,000 Facebook interactions.

For scooping local and national competitors on a high-interest topic even as he reported on spot developments, Ryan Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 09, 2018

Best of the States

Jobs boom favors Democratic counties over Trump strongholds; social issues motivate GOP base

President Donald Trump has long asserted that his tax cuts and other policies would accelerate job growth, which, in turn, would serve the “forgotten” men and women who had helped propel him to the White House in the 2016 election.

Washington, D.C.-based economics reporter Josh Boak wondered: Had that actually occurred so far? And how much was job growth a motivating force for Trump supporters?

Boak hit on a possible way to hold the president’s claims to a fair test. He turned to a relatively obscure report issued by the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, then merged those economic figures with the AP’s 2016 election returns, broken down by county.

The result, under multiple calculations, was clear: The bulk of U.S. hiring under Trump had so far occurred in Democratic counties.

Boak then spent three days in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, an area that had voted decisively for Trump and had lost jobs in the past 12 months. He reported that Republican voters appeared to be motivated more by social issues – opposition to gun control, for example. “Our No. 1 motivating factor,” the county Republican chairman told Boak, “is Second Amendment issues.”

For exclusively documenting how job growth under Trump has disproportionately underserved his geographic base and for illustrating that trend in a community that reflects it, Boak earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 29, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Kobach sought pardon for VP of a corporate donor

Topeka correspondent John Hanna had been hearing hints for weeks that there might be something in Kris Kobach’s record that could cause trouble for the Kansas secretary of state and candidate for governor.

At first, it was just that: hints. The suggestions were so vague that Hanna set off to review the nationally known Republican’s statements, but Hanna, whose reporting sense is informed by 30 years of statehouse reporting, found nothing.

So he kept digging. Eventually a source suggested there might be something to do with a pardon, and Hanna filed a records request.

The governor’s office released a copy of its file on a pardon request for Ryan Bader, the vice president of TriStar Arms, a firearms importer. Bader had faced an aggravated robbery charge over a 2009 incident but agreed to a plea bargain and received a light sentence. Now he wanted a pardon so that he could buy a gun again and get the licenses needed to take over the family business.

Bader’s attorney for the pardon request? Kobach. The records showed Kobach did not provide a key police affidavit that was later released by the office of GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer – whom Kobach is challenging. But there was more. Campaign finance records showed that TriStar had donated at least $7,000 to Kobach’s campaigns for secretary of state and governor. The company also helped sponsor a fundraiser with Donald Trump Jr.

Hanna’s APNewsBreak was well used, including a post on the homepage of a member that is usually hesitant to showcase work done outside its newsroom. It also became a topic of a gubernatorial debate, with Kobach defending the pardon request.

For smart digging and use of public records that helped drive the news agenda and political conversation, Hanna wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 16, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Lawmaker accused of meeting with prostitute used taxpayer money for hotel

Allegations that a lawmaker had been trysting with a prostitute while the Utah Legislature was in session rocked the state’s politics. The former lawmaker who had previously pushed for stricter laws cracking down on prostitution went into hiding. His attorney refused comment. The House speaker washed his hands of the scandal, and the prostitute was no longer talking, having sold the story to the tabloid site dailymail.com.

Political reporter Michelle Price needed another way into the story, so she started asking questions around the capitol.

She made a key discovery while looking at the screen grabs of the texts in the tabloid story: The dates lined up with the legislative session. She knew the lawmaker from southern Utah didn’t commute to the Legislature and would be staying in hotels while in Salt Lake City.

She started asking tougher questions. Was taxpayer money used to reimburse the lawmaker for hotel rooms where he met the prostitute? Now she had the attention of officials in state government.

Finally came the APNewsBreak: Price exclusively reported that the lawmaker used taxpayer money to book at least two hotel rooms he is accused of using to meet with the prostitute.

For determination and a commitment to exploring all angles even when the main characters weren’t talking, Price wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Jan. 19, 2018

Best of the States

Strong sourcing, teamwork put AP ahead on offshore drilling news

For Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout, the first day of the legislative session began with the usual pomp and circumstance, and Gov. Rick Scott’s annual state of the state speech. From there it took a quick turn.

A source in Scott’s office called Fineout at around 4 p.m. to say that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke would be flying in from Atlanta to meet with the governor – and both would be willing to talk to the media afterward. Fineout immediately emailed Matthew Daly in Washington, who covers Interior, and who had tapped into a key political problem in the Trump administration' recently announced offshore drilling plan: Republican governors were not on board.

At around 6 p.m. Zinke and Scott strode through Tallahassee’s small airport and dropped the news that Florida would be removed from the administration’s oil drilling plan. Before the two officials stopped talking, Fineout emailed Daly in D.C. to let him know the news that would soon create a torrent of criticism from other states that oppose the oil drilling plan. By the time Fineout got back to his car in the parking lot, Daly was moving the news alert.

Daly and Fineout’s model of teamwork put AP so far ahead some in the competition didn’t bother to catch up. For their initiative and coordinated effort to give AP an important beat, Fineout and Daly share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the Week

Cuba mystery deepens: AP first with details of 'health attacks' against US diplomats

When news first broke in early August about mysterious incidents involving U.S. diplomats in Cuba, the AP was all over the story, beating the competition to several key early details. These included talk among officials about a possible “sonic attack” and suspicions that ranged from Cuban culpability to possible intervention by an outside culprit like Russia.

But so many questions were left unanswered. And with the FBI deep into one of the most perplexing investigations in modern diplomatic history, U.S. officials in the State Department, White House and elsewhere were saying as little as possible about what they were learning.

That’s when the Washington bureau put together a multi-beat team of reporters to try to put the pieces together. Their comprehensive work wins Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 25, 2017

Best of the Week

Deep reporting, startling images reveal shaky faith and depths of despair in Trump Country

It’s a difficult thing, interviewing people about their desolation. But an Associated Press team went to Grays Harbor County, Washington, and came away with a deeply reported portrait of a place that had voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1932, but placed a bet on Donald Trump in November as its rescuer from addiction and economic malaise.

Sensitively and penetratingly, the team of Claire Galofaro, David Goldman and Martha Irvine used text, photos and video to tell the tale of an old logging county that “answered Donald Trump's call to the country's forgotten corners.” A half-year into the Republican’s term, they found varying degrees of faith in his ability to make a difference in their lives.

The latest installment in the AP’s Trump Country series is the Beat of the Week.

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