Inside Public Integrity

Published — August 22, 2013 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:51 pm ET

Top investigations from 2013 that you may have missed


It’s been a great year for the Center so far: we were honored at the White House Correspondents Dinner, our investigative coverage of the financial industry was brought back to life, we added a bunch of new faces to our staff and our friends at ICIJ made a huge splash internationally with the release of the “Secrecy for Sale” project on offshore tax havens (more on that story below).

Amid all the excitement, we wanted to pause and reflect on a few of 2013’s important investigations, and give you the opportunity to discover them once again. Below we’ve compiled selections of our most meaningful accountability journalism over the past year:

1. ‘Deficit hawks’ keep costly nuclear plant alive

Deep within this story is a tale of Former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., leaving Congress, and becoming president of the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation. A week later, an article titled “Mixed Oxide Fuel Facility in South Carolina Needs Congress’s Support” appeared on the Heritage website. Coincidence or not, DeMint is not the only fiscal conservative who has quietly backed the over-budget, mismanaged Mixed Oxide fuel plant. Keep reading

2. Minority Media org begins taking sizable industry donations, and siding with industry

The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, a group that historically opposed media industry consolidation, shocked critics when it published a study that said the cross-platform ownership ban should be relaxed. Meanwhile, the group had received hundreds of thousands of dollars from media titans like CBS, News Corp. and Clear Channel Communications since 2010. Keep reading

3. Expelled California students left to teach themselves

In California, public school students who are expelled must still be offered an education — it’s state law. But for children living in rural areas, lengthy commutes can rule out their county-based, alternative classroom option. The last choice is independent study, a curious choice for students who may have already been struggling to keep grades up in a normal classroom. Keep reading

4. Once-gushing streams sucked dry by “brutally efficient” coal mining

Six streams have suffered irreparable damage due to a coal mine that snakes beneath 144 square miles of Pennsylvania terrain. In 2005, a 62-acre lake turned into a grassy meadow after a massive longwall mining machine cracked its dam. The energy company responsible has been tasked with “restoring” the streams — it’s doing so by injecting the stream bed with grout, and pumping water into the water channel. Keep reading

5. Mystery group easily outspent, and likely sunk, judicial candidate

Ed Sheehy was favored to win a seat on the Montana Supreme Court last year, until a social welfare nonprofit outspent him and launched an attack ad campaign slamming him for his actions as a public defender of a murderer. Who paid for the attack? A group called “Montana Growth Network,” and the name is just about all that election records revealed. Thirty-five states, including Montana, have campaign finance laws that are more relaxed than federal election laws (Oh, and we graded each state). Keep reading

6. “It’s like a zombie, you just keep killing it and it keeps coming back again”

That’s what a health policy expert had to say about the effort by health insurance agents and brokers to pass laws limiting the reach of state exchange “navigators.” Along with the creation of online marketplaces, Obamacare planned for trained navigators to act as guides for these new insurance portals. But insurance agents felt this tread too closely on their industry, and as a result of a extensive campaign, navigator laws are on the books in 16 states. Keep reading

7. Rare glimpse into the origins of dark money

At the request of an unnamed shareholder, tobacco company Reynolds American publicly revealed donations to anti-tax nonprofit Americans for Tax Reform, and Koch-backed nonprofit Americans for Prosperity, among others. As tax-exempt, social welfare nonprofits, these groups don’t normally disclose where their money comes from. Keep reading

8. Corporations and conservative foundations are top sponsors of judicial junkets

About 185 federal judges attended more than 100 judicial education seminars sponsored by conservative foundations (such as the Koch Foundation and The Searle Freedom Trust) and multinational corporations (such as ExxonMobil Corp., Shell Oil Co., and Pfizer) over a 4 1/2-year period. We identified instances where judges who attended seminars underwritten by certain firms and trade groups later issued rulings in the funders’ favor. Keep reading

9. What’s stopping the Air Force from killing a drone program it can’t afford?

A major defense contractor used campaign donations and insider access on Capitol Hill to defy the Air Force and keep the troubled Global Hawk Block 30 drone aloft at a cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars.
Keep reading

10. Secrets of the offshore tax haven world revealed

How the mega-rich use complex offshore structures to own mansions, yachts, art masterpieces, and other assets, while gaining tax advantages and remaining anonymous. Keep reading

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