Secrecy Still Pervades PA State Government, But Spotlight PA Is Fighting Back

The one constant in Harrisburg no matter the dominant political party is a reflexive inclination to shield information from the public.

By Christopher Baxter | Spotlight PA

The sun rises over the state Capitol building in Harrisburg.
Credit: Michael Yatsko Photography

Politicians in Harrisburg come and go, and political majorities shift over time. But one enduring constant no matter who’s in power is a reflexive inclination to shield information from the very people who pay the bills — we, the taxpayers.

Our state and local governments exist to serve our communities. We pay our taxes each year, and in return, we the taxpayers have a right to know what our government is doing, how it’s spending our money, and whether we’re getting the services we deserve.

But there are fewer and fewer journalists on the front lines, keeping government honest — and when officials don’t face questions or requests for public records on a regular basis, they increasingly lean toward the side of secrecy over transparency.

We know all too well what can happen when powerful institutions are left to their own devices. Just look at our recent investigative reporting in DuBois, where the city manager awarded himself lucrative bonuses and allegedly stole thousands of dollars.

That’s why Spotlight PA’s work across Pennsylvania promoting transparency and openness is so vital to the health of our state. And that’s why we need your support to keep up this fight in a vital year — and right now, your contribution will be doubled.

This week is Sunshine Week, a nationwide effort each year to call attention to the importance of government transparency and access to public records. Those are two principles that are core to the mission of Spotlight PA.

If you’re not familiar with our work, Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit newsroom covering the state Capitol and urgent statewide issues. We share all of our journalism at no cost with 100+ community news outlets across the state.

In the past year, Spotlight PA has written stories about Gov. Josh Shapiro’s use of unusually strict nondisclosure agreements for members of his transition team, and his refusal to publicize the private donors who had funded his inaugural festivities — a departure from his two immediate predecessors (a Democrat and a Republican).

The governor refuses to make public his daily schedule, obscuring many of the details about who he meets with and what they discuss. And when a top aide was accused of sexual harassment, his administration settled and barred all parties from talking about it.

And then there are the endless records fights with the state legislature, which itself has quietly paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past five years to settle sexual harassment and other claims against lawmakers and staffers, often including secrecy clauses and other provisions that prevent public disclosure of the agreement.

Spotlight PA is also suing the legislature to win access to emails between lawmakers and lobbyists as guaranteed by the state’s public records law. In addition, we’re also actively fighting on your behalf in other matters before the courts to ensure our powerful institutions abide by the state’s public records and meeting laws:

  • In July, a court ruled in favor of Spotlight PA and partner The Caucus, part of LNP Media Group in Lancaster, that the legislature cannot categorically redact the reasons for hiring private lawyers based on attorney-client privilege, but must instead meet the burden of withholding records on a case-by-case basis.
  • In August, Spotlight PA joined with four partner newsrooms in filing suit seeking to unseal records in a widely publicized corruption case against former DuBois City Manager Herm Suplizio. The documents, which are normally made public in the usual course of business, were later released.
  • In December, Spotlight PA sued the Penn State Board of Trustees over what the newsroom contends are violations of Pennsylvania’s open meetings law.

Each and every day, Spotlight PA reporters across the state are fighting in big and little ways to track your tax dollars and understand what our government is doing. How do we have the time and resources to do such important work?

That’s thanks to you.

Our journalism and the future of Spotlight PA depend on your support. Make a tax-deductible gift of any amount at, and as a special bonus, all contributions will be DOUBLED thanks to a matching gift from The Benter Foundation in Pittsburgh, which is committed to ensuring an honest and ethical government.

If you’d like to donate by check, send it to: Spotlight PA, 312 Walnut St., #11728, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728. I hope we can count on you to help Spotlight PA continue to fight for government transparency, hand-in-hand with our newsroom partners.

Christopher Baxter is the CEO & President of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit newsroom based in Harrisburg. Email him at

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