U.S. Senator Grassley credits Watchdog’s coverage of EB-5

Friday, October 9th, 2015

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, singled out Watchdog.org as he spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday for its great work on the controversial EB-5 program.

“Watchdog.org, a national watchdog group that has followed abuses of the program closely over many years, has also identified another problematic, gerrymandered targeted employment area,” said Sen. Grassley. “They reported that a 21-story residential building project, which included trendy restaurants and shops, was built with foreign investments despite its location in an upscale neighborhood with only 0.8 percent unemployment. These are just a few examples, yet they point to a clear problem with this program.”

Watch Sen. Grassley’s statement below:

Steve Forbes cites Watchdog reporting in Fox News Opinion

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

In a column for Fox News, Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of the business magazine Forbes, cited Watchdog reporting in his call for Congress to hold the EPA responsible for the environmental disaster the agency created in Colorado.

“If President Obama could play golf as well as his administration practices hypocrisy, he would easily win every major tournament,” Forbes wrote. “Take the way Obama’s pet regulatory agency, the EPA treats its own environmental accidents with those that occur in the private sector.”

According to Watchdog, he noted, “the EPA offered conflicting statements, even denying involvement, before finally admitting that it triggered the catastrophic spill.”

Click here to read the full column

Alyssa Viscomi, Executive Assistant

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Alyssa is the Executive Assistant to Franklin Center’s President, Erik Telford managing daily tasks and coordinating alyssa vall travel and meeting requests on his behalf. She comes bearing previous legal administrative experience within the law firm capacity and was former Executive Assistant to Fox News contributor, Laura Ingraham. Having been a native Floridian, she received her Bachelor’s degree from Saint Leo University, in Tampa dual majoring in Political Science and International Studies.

Alyssa may be reached at Alyssa.Viscomi [at] FranklinCenterHQ.org


Showdown in the Show-Me State: Missouri unions vs. right-to-work

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015


It’s been years in the making, but the right-to-work wave that swept into the statehouses of Michigan and Wisconsin crashed into Missouri this year, when state lawmakers voted to pass legislation that would ban unions from making membership a condition for employment.

Right now, half of the Union’s 50 states have right-to-work laws, but that figure will rise if Missouri lawmakers can gather enough votes to override Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s veto. The first time around, 92 state representatives and 21 state senators supported the right-to-work bill. They will need 109 and 23 votes, respectively, to overcome the veto. But it’s not as large of a jump as it might seem. The statehouse has already overridden Governor Jay Nixon about two dozen times. Democrats are staunchly united against right-to-work, but a number of Republicans also opposed it.

What’s in a name?

Not surprisingly, union opposition to right-to-work has been staunch, but it has also been subtle and potentially deceptive at times. One of the groups fighting against the state’s right-to-work bill, for example, is The Committee to Protect MO Families. On paper, the group has a lot going for it – a name that resonates with voters, the support of Gov. Nixon, and a “broad-based coalition” that it says includes hundreds of supporting businesses and individuals.

In reality, however, Watchdog reporter Jason Hart found that 98 percent of the funding for The Committee to Protect MO Families last year came from just one source, Carpenters Help In the Political Process. CHIPP is a political action committee run by the Carpenters’ District Council of St. Louis & Vicinity and operates out of the union’s St. Louis headquarters. So, essentially, Hart explains, the group is a carpenters’ union front.

Hart found a similar case in a group called Preserve Middle Class Missouri. Like The Committee to Protect MO Families, its name doesn’t suggest union involvement,and it is the state-focused branch of Preserve Middle Class America, a nonprofit that bills itself as “a grassroots coalition of citizens and organizations.” What it doesn’t advertise, however, is that it is run by the Teamsters union.

Yet another organization, We Are Missouri, is even more shadowy about the groups behind it. Its website lists no union affiliation, no leaders’ names and no mailing address, but Hart found leads that point to its union backing. In 2013, for example, Missouri AFL-CIO president Hugh McVey was quoted in a news story as one of several spokespeople for We Are Missouri. Furthermore, in 2012 the group was paid $45,861 by AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C. for “state legislative advocacy,” and the AFL-CIO hosts a number of call-to-action forms on We Are Missouri’s website.

The “solidarity” of the bosses

It’s popular to harp on the problem of inequality these days (a concern often raised by opponents of right-to-work), but there’s still one place where huge pay gaps are apparently acceptable: in organized labor. As Hart found in his investigations into Missouri unions, executives and staffers of the state’s carpenters union earn nearly twice as much, on average, as the workers they represent. The average employee of the Carpenters’ District Council of Greater St. Louis & Vicinity earns $88,680 (50 of whom earned more than $125,000), compared to $50,120 for the average Missouri carpenter.

The trend holds true for many other Missouri union leaders. For example, Jim Kabell, the primary Missouri contact for the aforementioned Preserve Middle Class America, was paid a total of $177,081 by Teamsters headquarters and Teamsters affiliates in 2014 – that’s more than three times as much as the average Missouri family.

The hypocrisy also extends to the national level. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, for instance, is a fiery critic of CEO salaries, but Trumka himself earned $322,000 last year – all taken from union dues.

Union supporters argue workers shouldn’t care that union bosses are paid six figures because, they claim, executives at huge corporations are paid more. But according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average corporate CEO pay last year was $216,100. Not only does Trumka’s hefty salary top that by more than $100,000, but he is not even one of the 100 highest-paid union bosses in America.

The political reality

Regardless of how the votes in Jefferson City pan out, the fact remains that unions are on the decline nationally, having dropped from around 30 percent of all workers in the 1960s to around 11 percent last year. Missouri itself has seen a drop in union membership from 27 percent to 8 percent of workers in that span. But the most recent right-to-work progress has happened in union-heavy states like Wisconsin and Michigan.

In his report on how labor unions’ dwindling muscle in Missouri mirrors their national decline, Watchdog reporter Eric Boehm sums it up like this: “Right-to-work laws aren’t causing this trend, they’re a result of it.”

What opponents seem to fail to grasp is that right-to-work is not inherently destructive to unions. All it says is that workers in any given industry should have a choice whether they want to join a union or not. If the worker believes the cost of their dues outweighs the benefits of being part of a union, he or she should not be compelled to join. There’s even an argument to be made that right-to-work will help strengthen unions because it will foster competition, forcing them to improve their services. As Jason Hart found, it turns out that a majority of Missourians (and a majority of Americans, more broadly) do not believe that union membership should be a condition for employment.

As a result, it has become a losing issue politically. The fact that a veto-proof majority in favor of right-to-work is even a possibility speaks for itself. In the long run, it likely won’t matter whether the state legislature can pull together the two-thirds majority. Come 2016, Missouri politicians who threw their hat in with the unions are going to face a tough battle.

Meet Jillian Melchior: Franklin Center journalism fellow

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

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For the past three years, Jillian Melchior has been honing her reporting skills as the Thomas L. Rhodes journalism fellow at the Franklin Center. She is housed at National Review, where her investigative reports and frequent appearances in national media outlets like Fox News have been critical in propelling Watchdog stories to national prominence.

Jillian’s investigative reporting focuses on domestic issues like government waste, fraud and abuse; energy and environmental issues; and organized labor. In special reports for Watchdog this year, Jillian has exposed Senator Elizabeth Warren’s real estate profiteering before the 2008 financial crisis, investigated massive taxpayer-backed loans to “green” supporters of President Obama, and reported how the Obama administration’s fracking regulations hurt Native Americans.

Jillian recently took a break from covering the next big story to answer a few questions about her path to journalism and the state of today’s media:

Franklin Center: How did you first become interested in journalism, and what led you to where you are today?

Jillian Melchior: I’ve loved journalism ever since high school, when I used to sign out of classes to go hang out at the local TV news channel. I helped pay my way through college freelancing, writing mostly about state-level health-care and education policy—an experience that’s been directly relatable to my Franklin Center work. Good mentors, both in academia and in the professional world, have helped me stay focused and make good career choices. And reporting in the U.S. and also abroad, I’ve gotten a better sense of the baser natures of people in political power—something that’s definitely fueled the fire for investigative reporting.

FC: What has your fellowship with Franklin Center enabled you to accomplish as a journalist?

JM: Partnering with National Review, I’ve had an incredible opportunity to grow as an investigative reporter. From corrupt unions to Obamacare problems, I’ve been encouraged to spend the time to really dig into records and statistics and develop high-impact stories. And thanks to a great PR team, I’ve had the chance to become better at TV and radio reporting, too.

FC: What is the most important story you’ve covered this year?

JM: I’ve done an investigative series on Al Sharpton and his questionable financial and political dealings, from millions in back-taxes owed to two suspicious fires that burnt down his offices amid his campaigns.

FC: What is one issue or story you wish more Americans were paying attention to?

JM: Domestically, I wish people were paying more attention to the pervasive waste, fraud and abuse in government. Some stories tend to get little focus, either because they’re a relatively small-dollar amount, or because they’re a small percentage of a big number. But such misappropriation adds up, at significant cost to taxpayers—and it’s often indicative of a bigger, more expensive problem.

Internationally, I’m sad to see few people following the crisis in Ukraine anymore. The U.S. committed to protecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity when we convinced Kiev to give up its nuclear weapons, and our lack of follow-through will have major repercussions for denuclearization. Also, there are a lot of brave young people there who want Western-style liberal democracy, and their plight is being largely ignored.

FC: What is the biggest challenge facing journalists today?

JM: The editorial tendency to judge a story’s value only by the number of clicks it receives, combined with the incredible deadline pressure of the Web. Together, these two forces undermine the value of quality in-depth reporting and encourage a focus on sensational stories that are actually pretty trivial. Thankfully, Watchdog balances content demands with an emphasis on good reporting, which is largely why it has managed to succeed in the digital era without succumbing to such a short-sighted strategy!

From Watchdog to Politico: How the Rural Utilities Service boondoggled broadband

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015


The best of intentions; the worst of plans

The stimulus package that Congress and President Obama passed in 2009 was supposed to be the gift that kept on giving, but too often it has proved to the gift that keeps on taking.

That is the conclusion, at least, of a recent Politico investigation into stimulus money that was intended to expand broadband coverage to America’s rural communities, which sorely lack quality Internet access. The story goes back to the creation of the Rural Utilities Service during the Great Depression. Originally the agency was tasked with bringing electricity to rural areas that weren’t being serviced by private companies. Through the stimulus package and in response to the “Great Recession,” the agency has attempted to pull off a similar feat in the digital age by bringing the modern advances of high-speed Internet access to America’s countryside.

A key part of President Barack Obama’s blueprint of recovery involved bringing quality broadband to farmers and remote businesses so that they could compete in a global, digital economy. In 2011 RUS was awarded $3.5 billion in aid to service sparsely populated, hard-to-reach areas.

Four years and four directors later, however, Politico concluded that “RUS never found its footing in the digital age.” The report points to misfires and cronyism at every turn: the agency funded networks in well-wired population centers, poor management led to project stumbles and failures, borrowers defaulted on loans, and all along lawmakers suppressed their doubts and gave the agency political cover.

The agency initially projected in 2011 that its “investments in broadband will connect nearly 7 million rural Americans.” It boasted of accomplishing this through nearly 300 projects that it approved through the stimulus package.

Many of those projects, however, have not come to fruition. RUS has quietly killed 42 of them, and with the agency required to “substantially complete” construction on the remaining projects before the end of September, 2015, it finds itself in a race against the clock. Politico found that about half of the infrastructure projects given the green light by RUS have not drawn their full funding. As a result, $277 million in potential investments could end up being returned to the Treasury, representing at best a huge waste of time for the stimulus funds. RUS gradually lowered its original estimate of how many homes will benefit from its projects from 7 million down to 728,000 in March of 2014, and now won’t even list a figure. Even worse, it is unclear how many people have received improved Internet access, because the agency can’t tell exactly who its stimulus dollars have served.

In short, the government’s attempts to invest in services in places neglected by private companies have been nothing short of a boondoggle.

Problems in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

shutterstock_270238202To drive this point home, the Politico report highlights the plight of Lake County, Minnesota, a story that had been covered by Minnesota Watchdog several months earlier. RUS’ attempts to bring greater broadband coverage to the rural county have turned out to be one of the most egregious examples of how federally-backed loans and grants, with inept management and all of their red tape, can suck the vitality out of a community rather than invigorating it.

As Minnesota Watchdog reported late last year, Lake County officials promised at the beginning of the project that it would not cost local taxpayers anything.

“Lake County is acting as a conduit to receive federal financing to build out the network. The taxpayers will not be responsible for any debt,” the county website said in a blurb that has since been scrubbed. An FAQ on the website was updated to say that the county has invested $3.5 million to bring greater broadband access, “a remarkably small amount given the scope of the project and benefits to the area.”

That $3.5 million represents the unexpected cost of RUS rejecting the project’s bond financing. Before the agency sent a single check to Lake County, it forced the county to pony up its own funds to keep the project on track.

But that was just the beginning. Minnesota Watchdog found that that figure soon ballooned to $6 million. And after RUS suspended payments amid concerns that the county could not pull off the project on time and on budget, local officials decided to authorize another $15 million in funding from local taxpayers to get the project back on track.

Just like that, the “remarkably small” amount covered by local taxpayers has become remarkably large for the sparsely populated county. It has left county officials feeling betrayed by the federal program, which originally approved and said it would fund Lake County’s proposal of $66 million for an ambitious plan to cover an area with about 16,000 residents.

Now time is running out. The broadband network is still under construction and behind schedule. At this point, Politico notes, the county probably won’t be able to draw all of its federal funding by the end of September and will thus end up losing another $6 million from RUS.

Perhaps the Lake County should have taken a cue from the private sector before throwing its hat in with the federal government and putting every resident on the hook for $1,400 (the per-person cost of $15 million).

Kirk Lehman, a manager for a competing broadband provider, can’t see how the government intends to make the Lake Communications broadband economically viable.

“A lot of folks have looked at the numbers, and there’s not enough customer base to support the Lake County debt,” he told Minnesota Watchdog. “I don’t care how you slice and dice it, there’s just not enough of a customer base there.”

SolarCity: Elon Musk’s empire of government subsidies



Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk is not subtle about his business strategy: follow the government money.

That’s the conclusion, at least, of a recent article in the Los Angeles Times investigating how the businessman of SolarCity, Tesla, and SpaceX fame has built his multibillion-dollar fortune through companies that have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government subsidies.

Politicians love latching on to the SolarCity, Tesla, and SpaceX brands, which promise to lead the way into a greener future. The result is dependence on a slew of government incentives, “including grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits,” reports the LA Times, adding that “it also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels and electric cars.”

It’s gotten so egregious that states are actually competing to give Musk’s companies money, according to Musk biographer Ashlee Vance. “As his star has risen, every state wants a piece,” she said.

The story goes on to list some of the most egregious examples. The state of New York will spend $750 million to help SolarCity build a solar panel factory in Buffalo, which the company will lease for $1 a year and pay no property taxes on for a decade. And on the federal level, the Treasury Department has doled out almost half a billion dollars in direct grants to SolarCity.

Tesla, meanwhile, recently secured an agreement with Nevada to build a huge battery factory in Reno that includes $1.3 billion of incentives. In its home state of California, the company has made $517 million by selling environmental credits to other automakers, which must purchase credits from the state and federal government if they don’t sell enough zero-emission cars.

Hedge fund manager Mark Spiegel offers a devastating summary to the LA Times: “Government support is a theme of all three of these companies, and without it none of them would be around,” he said. Spiegel is betting that Tesla’s stock will fall, even though it has more than doubled over the last two years.

This raises a number of important questions for the taxpayer. How much longer will the public largesse continue? Will these companies survive without government subsidies? And even if they do, will the public ever recoup the value of the alleged benefits these green technologies will bring?

Readers who have been following SolarCity at Watchdog, however, shouldn’t be surprised by the LA Times’ findings. Watchdog reporter Tori Richards has written a series of stories over the past year that help fill in the picture of the Musk empire’s dependence on taxpayer funds.

In November of last year, for instance, she reported that SolarCity stock has soared since it went public, even though a company report admitted that business would be difficult to maintain without government help.

“If, for any reason, we are unable to finance solar energy systems through tax-advantaged structures … we may no longer be able to provide solar energy systems to new customers on an economically viable basis,” it said.

Even with the help of $244 million in federal grants , SolarCity posted losses of $55 million in 2013, and was running a $166 million deficit at the time. This year, it doesn’t appear much has changed as the government has continued to prop up the solar industry – most recently through an extra $32 million in funding from the Department of Energy.

More recently, Richards covered Congressional leaders’ calls to end the “potentially deceptive sales tactics” of companies like SolarCity that use a zero-down, 20-year lease business model. Congress’ attention was drawn to solar companies by consumer complaints that their solar panels weren’t bringing them their promised savings. As Richards reported, many customers, such as northern California resident Jeff Leeds, have found themselves locked into costly deals thanks to under-producing solar panels on top of their homes. Leeds later received a notice from his bank informing him that SolarCity had placed a lien on his home, which held him up from closing a loan to buy another house.

Richards’ coverage of SolarCity’s $750 million plant deal in Buffalo found that many of the details of the contract were confidential – even though public money is at stake and the contract was acquired through a Freedom of Information request. State officials claimed the redacted portions of the contract protected trade secrets.

For now, Musk’s companies have “a great strategy, but the government will cut you off one day,” warns Dan Dolev, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research.

If and when those government funds dry up, don’t say we didn’t warn you.


Digging deeper: plenty of citizens share news, but why don’t they create it?



Inscribed over the main entrance to the Nebraska State Capitol is a saying taught to philosopher Hartley Burr Alexander by his father: “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness of the Citizen.”

Alexander’s quote captures the bedrock philosophy of the Franklin Center and our journalism team at Watchdog.org. It is vital to have professional investigative journalists on the beat, but their stories only make a difference to the extent that citizens read and respond to them. As we discussed here last month, local news still matters to most Americans in the digital age. That post focused on a recent Pew study of the news consumption patterns of three small- to mid-sized American cities. In a follow-up blog post on that report, Pew researcher Jesse Holcomb has taken a deeper look into the study’s findings about citizen engagement in the news process. His conclusion is mixed: “News audiences spread the word, but few get involved in local journalism.”

“To what extent is the public directly engaging in acts of journalism?” Holcomb asks. Its case studies of Denver, Macon, Ga., and Sioux City, Iowa – along with previous research – suggest it’s a “small but measurable share.”

In all three of these cities Pew found that residents were much more likely to share news online than to actually post or submit news themselves. Sharing was highest in Denver, where just over half of residents had shared a news story through a digital channel like email or social media in the past year. A smaller but still significant portion of respondents in Sioux City (40 percent) and Macon (36 percent) also shared news digitally. However, the report found that “no more than one-in-ten residents of each city had submitted their own local news content to a news outlet or website.”

shutterstock_155584379This is consistent with a similar survey Pew conducted last year, Holcomb noted, which found that “half (50%) of U.S. adults who are social-network users share or repost news stories, videos or images. But fewer post photos (14%) or videos (12%) that they themselves took of a news event.”

Obviously it is easier to share news stories than to produce your own original reporting. But thanks to advancements in mobile technology, the barriers to producing original news content are coming down. The Pew article points to new video streaming apps such as Periscope and Meerkat that will allow laypeople to easily distribute news. Even with these powerful new tools, however, this obviously still requires citizen journalists to have the news savvy to be in the right place at the right time so as to have information that has genuine news value.

In any case, Holcomb notes, it’s clear from these findings that “at least on one fundamental level, the public clearly plays a large role in the local news ecosystem.” More than a third of Macon’s residents (37 percent), for example, get local news from friends and neighbors. That’s just as many as those who rely on their daily newspaper (36 percent). The balance is similar in Denver. In Sioux City the daily newspaper still holds a more central role among residents, but getting news from others in the community still comes in as a top-three source for local news.

What does this mean for you? The report’s findings have two major implications. The first is simple: share important news stories! Another Pew study from 2011 found that 55 percent of adults said they got news and local information through word of mouth at least weekly. Tell your friends and family about big stories you’ve read and share them online. With the rise of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, every individual can have at least a small voice and platform.

Second, part of the beauty of America’s free speech protections is that ordinary citizens have the freedom to report news from their own perspective – providing you take initiative, put in the hard work, and stay truthful. To learn more about how you can become a citizen journalist in your community, check out our citizen stories at Watchdog Arena, and download our free Video Tipsheet for advice on capturing newsworthy moments from politicians, public meetings, protests and more.

Help us deliver better news to you by completing our quick survey

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Police took $4.1 million from motorists and built a police station: Watchdog covers civil asset forfeiture


Richland PD sign civil forfeiture

What’s the deal with the Richland’s new police station?

At first glance, residents of Richland, Mississippi were probably thankful for their new $4.1 million police station, complete with a top-level training center and a fleet of black-and-white Dodge Charger police cars, especially with the sign announcing that funds for it were “tearfully donated by drug dealers.” It seemed like a win-win. After all, who could argue against money from bad guys going to keep us safe?

Mississippi Watchdog reporter Steven Wilson, however, took a deeper look at the Richland Police Department, and uncovered a much different story behind the new station. While much of the money may have come from drug dealers, it was acquired through a much more controversial practice: civil asset forfeiture – property and cash seized from during traffic stops from motorists on the mere suspicion that they had committed a crime – no conviction necessary.

The sheer egregiousness of the practice launched Steve’s story up the ranks of top posts to reach the number two spot on Reddit, the “front page of the internet,” where nearly 6,000 readers upvoted the story and more than 3,000 commenters chimed in, driving tens of thousands of readers to learn about the huge forfeiture numbers racked up by Richland’s four-officer interdiction team, whose total civil forfeiture collection averages out to $72 per resident of the small town.

Watchdog Opinion contributor Logan Albright explains how civil asset forfeiture works: “If police or federal agents suspect that property has been involved in the commission of a crime, they can simply take it. No charges need be filed against the property owner, no trial must occur. In effect, the property itself is accused of a crime, and it’s up to the owner to prove its innocence if they ever wants to see it again.”

A long list of abuses

This story is hardly an isolated incident. Last year in Philadelphia, for example, Chris Sourovelis and his family lost their home after his son was caught by police selling $40 of heroin – a punishment that hardly seems commensurate to the crime. Reporting on the case exposed some of the worst aspects of Philadelphia’s civil asset forfeiture program, showing how the city’s police department and district attorneys’ office regularly seizes homes, cars and other property from suspected criminals without any conviction. In some cases this even took place without any charges being filed.

shutterstock_25312519At the federal level, many innocent business owners have been targeted by the IRS through civil asset forfeiture laws, such as the Hirsch family from Long Island, NY, who own a distribution company. They had more than $446,000 in assets and cash seized by the Internal Revenue Service in 2012, even though they were never charged with a crime. The federal government eventually dropped its case against the Hirschs, but it took nearly three years of legal battles for them to get their money back.

The issue has been steadily rising in the national consciousness lately, thanks to efforts by civil rights advocates and in-depth investigations by prominent mainstream publications like The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. It doesn’t take much political savvy to understand why civil asset forfeiture inspires activists and strikes a nerve with readers. The practice runs counter to many Americans’ sensibilities about property rights and the principle that citizens should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. It has its legal origins in British maritime law in the mid-1600s and first came into use widely in America during the Prohibition years, when police used it to seize cash and property from bootleggers. Since the war on drugs escalated in the 1980s, law enforcement has revived civil asset forfeiture to crack down on drug trafficking, and the practice has become steadily more lucrative. Justice Department seizures from a single program, for example, have risen from $407 million in 2001 to $4.2 billion in 2012.

The movement for reform

As more voters and the lawmakers who represent them become aware of civil asset forfeiture, proposals to reform the system have received substantial support from across the political spectrum. Two states that have passed reform this year, for example, have done so overwhelmingly despite having politically divided statehouses and governors.

Earlier this year New Mexico’s legislature unanimously passed a bill making significant reforms to its civil asset forfeiture laws, and it was signed into law by Governor Susana Martinez – a former prosecutor – in April. The state now requires a criminal conviction before property can be forfeited, proceeds from forfeitures will go into the general fund (rather than to local law enforcement budgets), and property owners have better due process protections such as a codified “innocent owner” presumption. New Mexico

In Montana, the Republican-dominated statehouse and Democratic governor Steve Bullock joined together in April and May to pass House Bill 463. Similar to reform in New Mexico, the law requires a criminal conviction before property can be forfeited, and it requires police to provide “clear and convincing” evidence tying the property to criminal activity for them to keep it. The Montana law does not go so far as to divert forfeiture revenue into a general fund, however.

The broad support for reform in these states suggests that for the rest of the country, one of the greatest obstacles to reform is ignorance. Watchdog stories are helping to change that though, and legislative efforts are underway elsewhere in the country.

In Virginia, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are leading an effort to curb the police’s ability to seize cash and property from innocent citizens. In Pennsylvania, lawmakers have begun calling for changes to the civil asset forfeiture system so that the “innocent until proven guilty” principle applies to law enforcement looking to take people’s property. And in Wyoming, the senate has supported civil asset forfeiture reforms with a decisive 80-9 vote on SF14. The measure was shot down by Republican Gov. Matt Mead, the legislature may consider updating the measure’s reforms to make them more agreeable to Gov. Mead.

Watchdog reporter Andrew Staub awarded Novak Journalism Fellowship

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Andrew Staub profileOn Wednesday, May 13, Pennsylvania Watchdog (formerly PA Independent) reporter Andrew Staub (pictured) became the fourth Watchdog.org reporter to formally accept a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship. Andrew was awarded a $25,000, part-time fellowship during The Fund for American Studies’ annual Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Awards Dinner at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

His project is titled “A Legacy of Prohibition: The fight to privatize Pennsylvania’s archaic liquor monopoly by introducing a free-market system to benefit state consumers.”

He sums it up like this: “That’s just a long way of saying I’ll be writing about how confusing it is to buy wine, liquor and beer in Pennsylvania.”

His work on the project begins September 1st.

Andrew previously worked as a reporter at The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, and The Citizens’ Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism from Penn State University.

The Novak Journalism Fellowship Program was launched in 1994 to nurture a new generation of responsible journalists. Legendary journalist Robert Novak provided the inspiration for the program, which was named in his honor following his passing in 2009. Novak Fellows devote a full year to a journalism project supportive of American culture, a free society, and free enterprise.

Andrew joins Jon Cassidy as a current Watchdog.org reporter who doubles as Novak Fellow. Former Watchdog reporters Ryan Ekvall and Bill McMorris were also Novak Fellows.

Click here for a list of former and past fellowship recipients.