The Backchannel

Reporter Anna Wolfe read a startling statistic published in a 2017 report: Mississippi, the most impoverished state in the nation, was approving just 1.5% of families applying for cash welfare assistance. That statistic sent Wolfe looking for where the state was sending the federal funds, if not to families who needed them. Over the next five years, Wolfe submitted more than 80 public records requests and faced repeated stonewalling from government officials and agencies. Through the challenging reporting process, she discovered that the state was funneling tens of millions-worth of welfare grants through two nonprofits under the guise of former Gov. Phil Bryant’s nebulous anti-poverty program called Families First for Mississippi, which refused to provide direct aid, instead leading needy families down dead ends. After the arrests of state welfare agency and nonprofit officials for embezzlement, Wolfe’s reporting didn’t stop: Through private text messages that officials have concealed from the public, Wolfe uncovered corruption and influence peddling extending all the way to Bryant and former NFL legend Brett Favre. Bryant admitted to many of the report’s findings in a rare on-the-record interview. Multiple defendants have since come forward with allegations against Bryant or have relied on the reporting in court filings that insist Bryant be held accountable. Congressman Bennie Thompson and the NAACP president urged the U.S. Attorney General and Department of Justice to investigate Bryant’s otherwise ignored role in the scandal, and Thompson has vowed to hold congressional hearings. State lawmakers, citing the investigation, held multiple hearings about how the state could better spend its welfare grants. Several legislators filed bills in early 2023 to reform the welfare agency’s management and oversight over federal funds. Meanwhile, federal criminal investigations into the scandal continue. 

Uncivil Action

The release of the story, entitled “Uncivil Action: A Town Left to Die”, led to litigation against W.R. Grace and the indictment of executives on federal charges of knowing endangerment, obstruction of justice, and wire fraud after the company declared bankruptcy and illegally transferred funds and assets to new companies

Dirty Votes: The Race for Miami Mayor

Revealed corruption in Miami’s city administration, exposing the irregularities of the city’s electoral contest in 1998, such as buying votes and falsifying votes of deceased persons and of criminals.

Investigation into Chicago City Hall Ethics Abuses

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that lawyer and Chicago Alderman Edward Burke, chairman of the city council’s Finance Committee, was paid at least $189,000 in fees while helping developer Joseph Beale, who got a $1.2 million subsidy and other aid from City Hall. Investigative reporters Chuck Neubauer and Charles Nicodemus wrote in their November 15 story that the total paid to Burke may have exceeded $300,000, and that Burke’s wife, Anne, a state appellate judge, also received at least $17,000 from the developer. They also reported that Burke’s lobbying efforts on Beale’s behalf included writing a letter to a state official on city stationery.

Broken Trust: The Failed Cleanup at the Massachusetts Military Reservation

A six-day series of articles entitled “Broken Trust” was published by the Cape Cod Times in January 1997. The articles discussed the mismanagement and other problems associated with the MMR cleanup.