Money, Power and Influence

The Center for Public Integrity revealed how a Las Vegas-based telemarketer, in conjunction with dozens of nonprofit and political organizations, have raised more than $151 million in the name of heart string-pulling causes — kids with cancer, homeless veterans, families of fallen police officers. But only a tiny fraction of that money ever went to the causes donors thought they were contributing to. The story had almost immediate impact, with local and federal officials and lawmakers calling for investigations into the principal players featured in the story. Read the Story »

Illustration credit: Michael Hogue


In this five-country project, 100Reporters, working with Journalists for Transparency, uncovered patterns of systemic bribery in the U.N. Refugee Agency charged with resettling people fleeing violence and persecution in some of the most desperate corners of the planet. The reporting, co-published with NBC News, showed that U.N. employees and contractors were demanding bribes, in cash and sometimes sex, to provide basic services to refugees and retaliating against anyone who complained. Read the Story »

ProPublica drew attention to a provision in the Taxpayer First Act that would permanently bar the IRS from creating a free electronic tax filing system, a move that Intuit, H&R Block and other tax software companies have spent millions of dollars in lobbying to ensure. ProPublica also showed how TurboTax uses deceptive design, misleading ads, and technical tricks to get people to pay to file their taxes, even when they are eligible to file for free. Since publication, there have been government investigations, several senators have called for refunds and the House and Senate passed a new version of the law that removed the industry-backed Free File provision. Read the Story »

Southerly found pipeline companies asserting eminent domain rights more boldly. Several states, mostly in the South, have long granted oil and gas companies rights to take land from poor, rural landowners for little or no compensation. Read the Story »

Jay Lewis, 50, stands with his fiancé Paola Salter, 24, outside the small town of Lacassine, Louisiana. Bayou Bridge Pipeline may take the land through eminent domain for pipeline construction. Photo credit: William Widmer/Redux


The Connecticut Mirror revealed how local zoning boards in affluent communities erect invisible walls to block affordable housing, resulting in rich and poor households being more segregated in the state than anywhere else in the country. Legislation to address this issue gained momentum after the story was published, but was ultimately blocked by the ranking member of the Housing Committee, who is a real estate agent in a wealthy town. Read the Story »

The Center for Responsive Politics showed how federal lobbying figures don’t tell the whole story about the size and scale of the influence industry in Washington, D.C. Powerful insiders, including former lawmakers, are lobbying in the shadows without disclosing their activities to the public. Read the Story »

PassBlue explored the background of Kelly Knight Craft when President Trump nominated his ambassador to Canada to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She and her coal baron husband were major Trump campaign contributors. Sending a big donor to the embassy in Canada was not unusual, but the U.N. post normally goes to a diplomat well versed in foreign affairs. Read the Story »

In the waning hours before a Democratic governor took office, the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature and outgoing Republican governor approved $100 million in pork projects primarily to Republican areas of the state. Bridge Magazine found that the projects included $10 million for utility lines to real estate owned by a company run by the former Republican state chairman, leading to public pressure that blocked the grant. Read the Story » 

Florida Bulldog explored how the Trump administration was fast-tracking the train transport of volatile domestic Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to reduce reliance on energy from Eastern Europe, including the state-owned Ukraine gas company whose U.S. political ties are part of the impeachment inquiry. The reporting also disclosed that Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., was pushing legislation benefitting his personal investments in natural gas pipeline companies despite concerns that transporting LNG through urban South Florida was a “disaster risk.” Read the Story »

Baltimore Brew revealed that, amid marches and petitions opposing Johns Hopkins University's plan to create an armed private police force on its campuses, university officials contributed, as individuals, a total of $16,000 on a single day to Mayor Catherine Pugh's campaign. The reporting raised the issue of covert town-gown ties and fueled a campaign for transparency as the police force plan was approved with Pugh's backing. Read the Story »

Anthropocene Magazine explored how satellite surveillance technology is reframing our connection with nature in some of the same exhilarating and profoundly disturbing ways that social media reframed our connections with each other. Seeing the world’s 3 trillion trees in real time allows environmental watchdogs to catch criminals. But it also means that the data riches of big tech’s unblinking eyes will go to whoever can pay top dollar. Read the Story »

At Eye on Ohio, a team of five worked for 10 months gathering millions of records to show how a property tax loophole costs small business owners thousands of dollars each year. Read the Story »

In a series called “Your Data, Their Dollars: The Fight Over Privacy,” the San Francisco Public Press revealed the difficulties faced by California and local regulators in reining in widespread privacy violations by a wide array of corporations. These included retailers using facial recognition in stores and a people-search company that refused to take down personal data that could be used by stalkers. Read the Story »

Illustration credit: Reid Brown/San Francisco Public Press


Selling a million-dollar piece of public land on eBay, only notifying a handful of potential bidders that the auction was happening? That’s what the City of East Lansing did. East Lansing Info exposed the sale, which set up the buyers to make millions in a local marijuana real estate gold rush and became an issue in the city council election. Read the Story »

The National Park Service has been suffering from a shrinking workforce, down 7% since 2009, even as presidents and Congress added units to the National Parks system. National Parks Traveler discovered long-running and growing bureaucratic problems in the Human Resources division left the agency unable to properly fulfill its mission. Read the Story »