2021 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Small Newsroom finalist

The Hidden Tab

About the Project

In “The Hidden Tab,” reporters from Spotlight PA and The Caucus spent more than a year amassing records to chronicle for readers for the first time how one of the nation’s largest and most expensive full-time legislatures in the country spends hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars with little or no transparency.

Through dogged reporting and public records fights, the news organizations obtained tens of thousands of pages of financial records, receipts, and other documents. They later partnered with a team of Temple University students to build a first-of-its kind database, containing a trove of nearly 40,000 transactions, that allowed them to track and analyze an array of expense accounts that the public never sees.

The investigation revealed that the legislature spent $203 million from 2017 through 2020 just to feed, house, transport, and provide rental offices and other perks for lawmakers and their staff. One in every 10 of those dollars went into lawmakers’ pockets in the form of reimbursements for meals, mileage subsidies, per diems, and other expenses.

The investigation also showed that several lawmakers continued to cash in on special travel-related reimbursements even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, as large swaths of Pennsylvania’s economy shut down, and the legislature put in place special rules to allow the majority of its members to work and vote remotely.