One of the driving factors in the creation of Watchdog.org was the need for substantive investigative journalism at the state and local level – especially as small- and medium-sized news outlets struggle to fund dedicated investigative journalism in the digital age. That’s why Watchdog has sought out strategic media partnerships with both local and national newspapers and websites. We want other news outlets to “steal our stuff,” so that citizens can get information about their government from journalists who don’t pull punches and go the extra mile beyond rehashing press releases.
So, where did Watchdog stories end up last year? Here are just a few examples of how our stories are shaping both the national news narrative and local debates in statehouses and cities.
Shaping the national narrative
Pennsylvania Watchdog reporter Andrew Staub was featured in The Wall Street Journal with a piece that explores the causes and effects of the state’s months-long budget impasse. At issue are tax increases, support for the state’s struggling school districts, and the years-long effort to privatize the state-run liquor monopoly – an idea popular with voters but bitterly opposed by public employee unions, and therefore a non-starter for Democrat Gov. Tom Wolfe.
The Washington Times carried a series of breaking stories Watchdog reporter Art Kane produced holding the controversial Export-Import Bank accountable. In the first, Kane revealed that many companies receiving aid from the Ex-Im Bank have already shipped thousands of jobs overseas – while demanding continued funding from the bank to keep them, they say, from doing just that. In a follow-up a few days later, Kane revealed that the Ex-Im Bank gave out more than $65 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to companies that worked to keep nearly $458 billion in profits offshore.
Last June, Forbes published an in-depth investigation from Kane into the Small Business Administration, in which he uncovered more than $8 billion dollars in questionable SBA loans handed out over the past eight years, on which borrowers defaulted, leaving taxpayers on the hook. These loans were made to an assortment of luxury businesses including country clubs, boat dealers, and wineries. He also found defaulted, taxpayer-backed loans to liquor stores, bars and tobacco retailers.
California’s ongoing drought has been a topic of news and concern in recent years, and a rallying point for environmentalists keen to blame normal human activity. Watchdog’s five-part investigative series demonstrated that the water shortage is indeed a manmade problem – but one caused by the domination of the environmental lobby over key water decisions in the state, as well as by government mismanagement of major infrastructure facilities and subsidies. Newsweek was one of the top mainstream websites to pick up the story.
In your cities and states
Watchdog’s partnership with The Colorado Springs Gazette, Colorado’s second-largest circulation newspaper, began with a series from Art Kane about per diem abuse by state legislators that threatens to wreak further havoc on the state’s already-struggling public employee pension system. Kane broke the news that the per-diem payments issued to lawmakers as expense reimbursements are actually counted as salary for the purpose of their taxpayer- funded pension plans, artificially inflating their declared annual salaries and therefore their eventual pension benefits. Since then he has covered more stories for the Gazette about bills to make Colorado’s government more transparent and provide more access to judicial branch records.
Right Wisconsin, Wisconsin’s leading conservative site, picked up dozens of stories from Wisconsin Watchdog over the course of the year, drawing readers to the ongoing battle over a rogue prosecutor’s unconstitutional John Doe probe into conservatives and exposing abuse at the Tomah Veterans Affairs facility.
Pennsylvania Watchdog‘s reporting on the debate over liquor privatization in the state was a regular fixture at the York Daily Record. Andrew Staub wrote stories showing how nothing about unwinding and privatizing Pennsylvania’s government monopoly over wine and spirits sales is simple, and looking at the incoherence of proposals that would privatize wine sales but allow the state to continue to sell liquor.
In Texas, Watchdog reporter John Cassidy successfully defended Wallace Hall, a member of the University of Texas at Austin’s board of regents, who blew the whistle on powerful state legislators pulling strings to get family members and political friends admitted – and faced impeachment for it until Watchdog stepped in. Cassidy’s stories led to two official investigations – the second after he proved that the first underreported the problem by fully 90 percent – and led to the resignation of UT-Austin’s president this past June. No one in Texas media would touch the story until Watchdog covered it, prompting a columnist for The Dallas Observer to write that Texas Watchdog reporter Jon Cassidy “has done most of the real digging on this story.”