Aug. 18, 2016

Best of the States

Shining a light on the origins of Arpaio’s campaign contributions

For years, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has made a name for himself as the tough-talking lawman from metro Phoenix who was unafraid of criticizing federal immigration enforcement, earning accolades not only from fellow conservatives but millions of dollars in donations from around the country.

Arizona law enforcement reporter Jacques Billeaud knew that much of Arpaio's campaign donations came from outside Arizona. That’s what his campaign had said. But exactly how much and from where was a mystery because the donations were catalogued in an unsearchable PDF format.

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March 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: How Bloomberg’s largesse built his campaign

revealed how Michael Bloomberg built a foundation of political goodwill across the U.S. for his 2020 campaign with years of political and charitable giving. The AP team compiled data on Bloomberg’s contributions over the last six years, then cross-referenced that with the names of politicians and activists who had endorsed him to create a comprehensive look, including a localizable data distribution and graphic elements. https://bit.ly/2PR1ZHF

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Sept. 25, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals Walmart, Amazon donations to Q-linked lawmaker

reviewed campaign finance records and social media posts, finding that Walmart, Amazon and other corporate giants donated to the reelection campaign of a Tennessee lawmaker who had amplified and promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory. Milligan helped compile and review Federal Election Commission data for 81 current or former congressional candidates who have expressed support for or interest in QAnon. The AP analysis showed that dozens of QAnon-promoting candidates have run for federal or state offices during this election cycle. Collectively, they have raised nearly $5 million from thousands of donors. Individually, however, most of them have run poorly financed campaigns with little or no corporate or party backing. Kunzelman’s story showed up in more than 200 news outlets with strong engagement, including Hollywood director Judd Apatow, who tweeted a link to his 2.4 million followers. https://bit.ly/3j0AnfH

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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Documents reveal alleged links between Trump 2016 and PAC

exclusively obtained documents from a former Cambridge Analytica insider revealing what an election watchdog group claims was illegal coordination between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and a billionaire-funded pro-Trump super PAC. The cache of previously unreleased emails, presentations and slide decks was provided to the AP by Cambridge Analytica’s first business development director, Brittany Kaiser. Burke’s story detailed how Trump’s 2016 campaign coordinated behind the scenes with the political action committee, and provided rich detail on how some key 2016 staffers are involved in the president’s current re-election campaign.In a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission, the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center says the now-defunct British data analytics firm violated election law by ignoring its own written policy, blurring the lines between work performed for Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Make America Number 1 political action committee, largely funded by billionaire Robert Mercer. https://bit.ly/3dINJvqhttps://bit.ly/31tUnAy

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July 20, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP first to identify, interview Russian-American lobbyist at Trump Jr. meeting

The sensational news about a campaign-season meeting involving a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump’s inner circle – including his son, Donald Trump Jr. – developed over six days, with details and accounts changing almost by the hour. Reports trickled out that another man also was at the meeting to represent Russian interests.

With all major news organizations in hot pursuit, Washington’s Desmond Butler was the first to nail the identity of the lobbyist in question and also to nab the first on-the-record interview with him. For tenacious source work, Butler wins Beat of the Week.

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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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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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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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