July 27, 2018

Best of the States

Private messaging apps used for official business test open records laws

Smart phone private messaging apps are great for keeping secrets. The apps delete messages almost immediately and do not allow them to be saved, copied or captured with a screenshot.

But what about use of the apps by government officials and elected representatives? State Government Team reporter Ryan Foley spotted a trend of public officials increasingly using such apps for official business. It’s a trend that alarms advocates for open government, who say it undermines state laws designed to ensure transparency and access to records.

Foley’s research was based in large part on use of a new legislative tracking tool called the Sunshine Hub that was developed by AP Data Team members Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen. The tool allowed Foley to see whether bills addressing the trend were being introduced in state legislatures across the country. And indeed they were.

The resulting story won play on more than two dozen front pages and prompted several editorials, including one in The Columbus Dispatch warning that officials’ use of message-vanishing apps was the same as destroying public records.

For their efforts in exposing a potentially dangerous anti-transparency trend among government officials, and developing a unique tool to track it, Foley, Tumgoren and Rasmussen win the Best of the States award.

Ap 18191654580350 1024

April 03, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Some national parks insist on staying open

were out front with widespread coverage as many national parks insisted on remaining open during the COVID-19 pandemic, triggering health concerns in neighboring towns. Seattle photographer Ted Warren showed visitors enjoying Mount Rainier National Park, and while some parks closed, others remained open with entrance fees waived by the Trump administration and promised federal guidelines still in limbo.https://bit.ly/2UCB1Xbhttps://bit.ly/2xFR3qa

Ap 20079004129023 Hm Rainier

June 29, 2017

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking open UAE’s secret prisons in Yemen

for revealing the extent of the United Arab Emirates' network of secret prisons in southern Yemen – at least 18 black sites – and the pervasiveness of torture. Her work forced U.S. officials to confirm for the first time that American interrogators have questioned detainees from the prisons, a potential violation of international law that would counter efforts to disassociate the U.S. war on terror from the use of torture. http://apne.ws/2s5h22B

Oct. 18, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Engineer says Ethiopian Airlines went into records after Max crash

for reporting exclusively that a former Ethiopia Airlines chief engineer says the carrier delved into the maintenance records on a Boeing 737 Max jet a day after it crashed this year, part of what he says was a pattern of corruption that included fabricating records, signing off on shoddy repairs and even beating employees who got out of line. The jet’s crash in March killed all 157 people on board. https://bit.ly/2pupJqV

Jan. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Records confirm Trump devotees fueled US Capitol riot

led an effort to dig into the backgrounds of more than 120 people who were either arrested or emerged on social media after storming the U.S. Capitol, finding they were overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials and donors and far-right militants.AP’s fast-breaking team effort to review social media posts, voter registrations, court files and other public records was the most comprehensive look yet at those involved in the riot, giving lie to claims by right-wing pundits that the violence was perpetrated by left-wing antifa infiltrators. The detailed background work included calls, and in some cases even doorknocks, to nearly all whose names emerged from the Jan. 6 takeover.The AP found that many of the rioters were adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory as well as claims by Trump that the vote had been stolen. Several had openly threatened violence against Democrats and Republicans they considered insufficiently loyal to the president.The team’s story, accompanied by AP photos taken inside the Capitol, scored huge play and was featured prominently on major websites. It stayed among the top stories on AP News for two straight days. https://bit.ly/2Kd7Tn1

Ap 21007017666908 Hm Trump Supporters1

Aug. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Records show businesses swayed governors on reopening

worked with his AP statehouse colleagues in every state to reveal how businesses influenced governors’ decisions on when to reopen state economies during a critical period of the coronavirus pandemic. AP obtained thousands of pages of emails through public record requests filed over several months in all 50 states. In a number of those states, governors overruled public health recommendations at the behest of business interests, only to have to reverse those decisions as COVID cases flared. The story received heavy play, and some AP bureaus added state-specific sidebars for their AP members. https://bit.ly/3hN27UN

Ap 20234478601636 Hm Reopen

March 29, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Public records reveal social spending by New Mexico’s governor

for using the state’s public records laws to obtain an accounting of social spending by New Mexico’s newly elected governor that revealed a $3,600 brunch and receipts for dry cleaning, Perrier and prosciutto.The records are an early indication that Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is making good on promises be open and candid about her administration, in keeping with new disclosure rules that went into effect Jan. 1. https://bit.ly/2UV8B8l

April 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP's 50-state analysis: State legislatures lack public records of sexual misconduct claims

As the #MeToo movement spread to state capitols, AP statehouse reporters filed uniform FOIA requests with every legislature seeking information about past sexual misconduct cases and payouts to victims. The coordinated effort, overseen by State Government Team reporter David Lieb, produced some interesting numbers: roughly 70 complaints and nearly $3 million in sexual harassment settlements over the past decade.

But the real story was the information that wasn’t released.

In fact, a majority of states would not disclose records related to sexual misconduct among lawmakers. The most common response was that they had received no such complaints over the past decade, did not keep a record of any such complaints or were not legally bound to disclose the records. But Lieb's research revealed that even states with documented cases of lawmaker sexual harassment were not releasing records about those allegations – and potentially others.

Lieb worked with data editor Meghan Hoyer to organize and analyze the responses from our statehouse reporters in every state. The resulting spreadsheet was distributed to AP bureaus and customers weeks ahead of publication to allow for localizations. AP reporters in 19 states did just that, producing sidebars that in many cases landed on A1.

The mainbar and the state-by-state list of accused lawmakers received wide interest on the APNews app. The story also landed on at least 20 front pages.

For their 50-state accountability project on a topic that continues to rattle state capitols, Lieb and Hoyer win this week’s Best of the States award.

Ap 18095622971766 1024

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.

Ap 20118836339432 1920 1

Dec. 27, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

As abuse reports surge, secretive Vatican office opens doors to AP

for securing the first TV and photo access to the secretive Vatican tribunal that processes clergy sexual abuse cases. The result was an exclusive on-camera interview with the head of the tribunal’s discipline section, an unprecedented tour of the room where appeals are heard and a look at the trolleys of files documenting all the world’s known Catholic sex abuse cases. The office says it has seen a record 1,000 reports of clergy abuse this year. https://bit.ly/2ETTPsghttps://bit.ly/2rqSyFR

Ap 19343470054402 Hm Vatican