May 08, 2020

Best of the States

Sourcing, records yield scoop: Texas AG helped donor fight Colorado lockout

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he’d sent a letter leaning on Gunnison County, Colorado, to end an order expelling non-residents during the pandemic, AP’s Paul Weber immediately wondered: Why was the top law enforcement official in Texas picking a fight with a remote county two states away in the middle of the crisis? And did Paxton have donors there? 

Weber and colleague Jake Bleiberg started combing campaign finance and property records, quickly finding that some of Paxton’s biggest donors have homes in the wealthy mountain resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado. 

Persistent reporting and extensive public records work revealed that Paxton’s push against the Gunnison health order stood to benefit an exclusive group of Texans, including campaign donors who gave the attorney general a total of nearly $2 million. AP Texas members jumped on the story, using it in print and online.

For alertly connecting the dots between a puzzling press release and a conflict of interest in the attorney general's office, Weber and Bleiberg earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 02, 2018

Best of the States

AP uncovers NJ utility lobbying for a bailout, and blackout of financial records

In the weeks before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie left office, a measure quickly advanced through the Legislature that would give PSEG, the state’s largest utility, a $300 million bailout for its nuclear power plants.

That got the curiosity of statehouse reporter Michael Catalini, who started digging.

A records request turned up more than a dozen emails showing that the company had lobbied for the bailout and wrote in a clause itself to prevent the public release of financial information proving it needed the money.

The bill introduced in the Legislature included language to shield the company’s books from the public, but failed to get to Christie’s desk during December’s lame-duck session. It re-emerged after Democrat Phil Murphy took office.

Catalini’s story revealing the lobbying effort was published a day before a committee hearing on the bill. Lawmakers rewrote the measure after the story appeared to clarify that PSEG would be required to submit “any financial information” to the state utility regulator.

For holding the utility and state lawmakers accountable, Catalani receives this week's Best of the States award.

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Feb. 14, 2020

Best of the States

Records reveal Virginia attorney-lawmaker privilege that delays court proceedings

Sometimes accountability stories are hiding in plain sight, but getting to them requires first recognizing the potential and then doing a whole lot of digging. Virginia reporter Sarah Rankin did both of those things. 

After seeing a one-sentence mention in a legal trade publication, Rankin began the hunt for a deeper story about a continuance privilege granted to lawyer-legislators, and how one Virginia lawmaker used the privilege to consistently delay court hearings. 

Rankin plowed through records of cases that involved Virginia lawmaker Jeff Campbell, the defense attorney for a one-time NASCAR race driver accused of domestic violence. She found that Campbell had employed the continuance privilege at least 30 times over three years, more than double any other lawyer-legislator.

For seizing on the brief mention, then following up with determined reporting that revealed a potential for abuse by lawyer-lawmakers in Virginia and elsewhere, Rankin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Wrestler goes public with abuse charges; AP gets the interview

Kantele Franko, reporter, Columbus, Ohio; Larry Lage, sports writer, Detroit; and Thomas Peipert, reporter, Denver, for nimble coordination across three regions to secure an all-formats interview with the first athlete – Olympic wrestler Andy Hrovat – to make public accusations of sexual abuse against now-deceased Dr. Robert Anderson of the University of Michigan.https://bit.ly/2HZ8m7Ghttps://bit.ly/2PwPH7j

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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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April 05, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

APNewsBreak: Records request reveals pardons by ex-governor, expedites policy change

for using Maine’s open records law to reveal the names of more than 100 people pardoned by former Gov. Paul LePage. A 2017 law prohibited law enforcement agencies from releasing the names of pardoned individuals, but Villeneuve noted that the secretary of state’s office, which is custodian of the list, is not a law enforcement agency. Her request under the Freedom of Access Act led to the release of the names and an executive order by the current governor reversing the 2017 policy. https://bit.ly/2UhnxSa

Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Most arrested in US protests aren’t leftist radicals

set out to determine who had actually been arrested in the protests that have rocked the U.S. since the killing of George Floyd in May. They scrutinized the arrest records of every person charged in federal court with protest-related crimes, delivering an important accountability story that showed the Trump administration’s claims of leftist-incited violence during racial unrest were overblown. The trio read through thousands of pages of court documents and sifted through 286 federal cases where people were charged with federal crimes of violence. They found only one mention of antifa and very few cases of organized extremism.They also called dozens of lawyers, activists and sources to determine what was going on behind the numbers, finding an effort by the Department of Justice to pursue cases that normally would be handled in the state systems, and exaggeration by the president of the danger posed to the public. The team’s reporting undercut claims that left-wing extremists were running rampant in American cities. On a busy news day, the story received outstanding play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2HMltwl

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Sept. 12, 2016

Best of the States

Police losing battle to get drivers to put down their phones

Who hasn’t glanced out the car window and seen another driver, head down, texting furiously? That was the genesis of a story by Boston-based reporter Denise Lavoie, who took an authoritative nationwide look at the texting-while-driving scourge and law enforcement’s losing battle to stop it.

Lavoie did spot checks with a handful of states around the country, as well as interviews with federal transportation officials and others. Her reporting – AP’s first major attempt to grasp the scope of the problem – found that police are fighting a losing battle despite adopting some pretty creative methods to catch serial texters in the act.

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April 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

States, feds pressured to reveal nursing home outbreaks

used the power of the AP to highlight an almost unfathomable fact – the federal government and many states have not publicly tracked coronavirus infections and deaths in individual nursing homes – and their story was followed very quickly by policy changes. A day after their story appeared, New York announced it would indeed release a list of individual nursing homes and how many deaths each one had. And less than a week later, the federal government announced it would begin the same process.https://bit.ly/2VRcP2Khttps://bit.ly/2yAhgaf

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