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 22, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Finance reports reveal North Dakota GOP infighting

used campaign finance reports to document North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is helping bankroll a political action campaign aimed at unseating a powerful legislator and fellow Republican who had frustrated some of Burgum’s goals. Burgum was elected in 2016 as an outsider businessman, and has long clashed with the state’s Republican old guard, including House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer. https://bit.ly/2LM84CL

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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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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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Sept. 30, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP exposes candidate’s lies; upends one of the year’s most competitive congressional races

This AP exclusive started with a tip: A Republican nominee in Ohio had made questionable claims about his tenure in the Air Force.

J.R. Majewski told voters he was a combat veteran with a tour of duty in Afghanistan, but reporters Brian Slodysko and James LaPorta, joined by investigative researcher Randy Herschaft, reported extensively using public documents, expert interviews and a survey of former employers, revealing that among multiple misrepresentations, Majewski did not deploy to Afghanistan but instead spent six-months loading planes in Qatar. He was also demoted and barred from reenlisting.

The story was a hit with readers and had rival news outlets citing AP’s exclusive, while the Republican Party pulled its advertising money from Majewski, essentially giving up on his race.

For deep source work and dogged reporting that exposed a political candidate’s blatant lies about his record, Slodysko, LaPorta and Herschaft take AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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March 05, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Conspiracy, lies and social media: AP finds state, local GOP officials promoting online disinformation

After the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, investigative reporters Garance Burke, Martha Mendoza and Juliet Linderman wanted to know if local, county and state Republican officials across the country were continuing to amplify online messages similar to those that had inspired the riot, and what they hoped to accomplish by doing so.

The trio turned to data journalist Larry Fenn, AP statehouse reporters and a comprehensive archive of the Parler social media platform. A third-party algorithm matched public officials to their Parler accounts, allowing an unprecedented look at GOP officials’ unfiltered posts on the right-wing aligned site. The analysis of Parler and other alternative platforms identified a faction of lower-level Republican officials that have pushed lies, misinformation and QAnon conspiracy theories echoing those that fueled the violent U.S. Capitol siege.

For harnessing the power of social media analysis, data science and AP’s state-level expertise to reveal how lies and misinformation from the 2020 election have reached deep into the GOP’s state apparatus, Burke, Mendoza, Linderman and Fenn win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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