Friends of the Court

While there has been plenty of press coverage of the Supreme Court’s landmark court decisions over the years, the Justices themselves have long evaded the kind of public scrutiny endured by elected officials and other public servants. Seeking to shed light on one of the most opaque branches of government, this reporting team used a series of unconventional reporting techniques – cross-referencing highly redacted records from U.S. Marshals with flight data, hunting down fishing licenses, private yacht schedules, photos on social media and interviews with hundreds of people around the world – to reveal a system that enables judges to thwart ethical oversight and conceal conflicts of interest as they rule on the country’s most consequential legal cases. Their reporting prompted investigations by the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees and led to the Supreme Court’s adoption of a code of conduct for the first time in its history.

News Hole: The Demise of Local Journalism and Political Engagement

The decline of local newspapers is a familiar story. Hundreds of them have shut down, with the loss of thousands of jobs. But News Hole shows that the problem is more than one of locked doors and laid off workers – when a local paper goes, so does the community’s civic health. Lower turnout in local elections, less responsive local officials, less civic engagement, wider polarization, less social trust, weaker community ties, less awareness of what’s going on a City Hall, the school board, and the county commission – in short, when a newspaper goes out of business, the community stops acting like a community. Danny Hayes, Professor of Political Science at George Washington University, and Jennifer L. Lawless, Leone Reaves and George W. Spicer Professor of Politics and Professor of Public Policy at the University of Virginia, aided by dozens of student research assistants, analyzed fifteen years of reporting in more than 200 local newspapers, while also studying election returns, opinion surveys, and other indicators to track community engagement to show that without solid journalism, democracy itself is at risk.

Power Play: How utilities paid a consulting group that infiltrated local news media, attacked clean energy foes and intimidated public officials 

A months-long investigation by NPR’s David Folkenflik and Floodlight’s Mario Ariza and Miranda Green uncovered just how far two major power companies went to try to make sure their political foes didn’t dampen their profits or hold them accountable. The reporting, building off of an earlier Floodlight investigation with the Orlando Sentinel, found that Alabama Power and Florida Power & Light paid consulting company Matrix LLC millions over a decade, resulting in undisclosed payments to news outlets that cast the utilities in a positive light and were critical of those who questioned their power. A freelance ABC News producer was also hired to misleadingly represent herself and confront politicians over controversies relevant to Matrix clients. These revelations were followed by leadership changes at both power companies, internal investigations into their work with Matrix, as well as broad calls for transparency and reform. ABC News also severed ties with the freelance journalist. The story offers a rare window into the way power companies and consultants manipulate the democratic system, and the pressure local regulators and lawmakers confront if they seek to hold those corporations accountable, and what happens when local news erodes. 

How Democracies Die

Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms.

Foreign Contributions Riddle

Illegal Democratic Campaign Contributions

The team of reporters from the Los Angeles Times uncovered large contributions to the Democratic party by influential Asian donors. Subsequent to the reportage, the Democrats returned nearly $1.2 million in donations and sparked a nationwide debate on campaign finance reform.

Going Negative: How Political Advertisements Shrink and Polarize the Electorate

Drawing on both laboratory experiments and the real world of America’s presidential, gubernatorial, and congressional races, the authors show that negative advertising drives down voter turnout – in some cases dramatically – and that political consultants intentionally use ads for this very purpose.

Who Owns the Law? West Publishing and the Courts

In a series prepared over four months, the journalists exposed federal judges accepting gifts from a private corporation often amounting to expensive vacations. The articles raised questions about the propriety of federal judges and the ensuing hidden corruption in the justice system.

The Rostenkowski Investigation

The Sun Times story, led by journalists Charles Neubauer, Mark Brown and Michael Briggs, uncovered a corruption case against Rep Dan Rostenkowski’s campaign that had paid Dan Rostenkowski $73,000 in building rent and used taxpayer’s funds to personally acquire cars for himself.

Voting Rights: The Next Generation