Extra Extra : September 2008

The Secret Money Project

The Secret Money Project, a joint endeavor by the Center for Investigative Reporting and NPR, tracks the influence of hidden money from independent groups funding advertising campaigns during the 2008 elections. Changes in campaign finance laws and political strategies have ratcheted up the influence of such groups in the current election cycle, as these groups are not limited in how much money they can raise and often aren't scrutinized like the candidates or party committees. An interactive map identifies the groups behind the smear campaigns by state.

Army missteps handling chemical weapon disposal plant

Matthew D. LaPlante of The Salt Lake Tribune found that the U.S. Army made several errors in its attempts to dispose of Utah's stockpile of lewisite, a now-illegal agent similar to mustard gas used in chemical warfare.  Lewisite can be disposed of in two ways: by incineration, which can release arsenic into the air without the right filters; or by neutralization, a process supported by most environmental groups, which disposes of the chemical by dissolving its components in hot water. After building a multi-million dollar plant to neutralize the chemical, the Army incorrectly found that the neutralization process ... Read more ...

Central Ohio fire departments missing the national response standard

The National Fire Protection Association says that firefighters should get to a site within 6 minutes, 90 percent of the time. Using state fire-run data, Doug Caruso, Martin Rozenman and Jim Woods of the Columbus Dispatch discovered that only two of 84 fire districts in central Ohio meet that national standard. Area firefighters say that the size of fire districts, staffing crunches, congested road conditions, and 911 calls from cell phones are causing the slower response times.

Sewage cleanup plan not enough to repair polluted waterway

A special report by the Courier-Journal (Louisville, Ky.) looks at Beargrass Creek, a polluted waterway that runs through Louisville, Kentucky, and finds that an $800 million sewage cleanup plan won't be enough to solve its many problems. The report used computer-assisted techniques and multi-media presentations to help document and tell the story of this troubled, urban waterway that's not safe for swimming or fishing.

Indianapolis city employees are abusing parking placards

An investigation by Tom Spalding and Heather Gillers of the Indianapolis Star has led to a policy change regarding special parking placards in Indianapolis. Some have been using the special permits, intended to help city employees complete quick downtown tasks, to park for hours at no charge. The abuse has negatively impacted downtown businesses, whose customers have no place to park. On Sep. 23, in response to the Star's ongoing investigation, Indianapolis Public Safety Director Scott Newman asked the Indianapolis City Council to draft an ordinance regulating permit use.

St. Louis towing lot illegally sold impounded cars

Reporters Joe Mahr, David Hunnand and Jeremy Kohler of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have uncovered a scandal involving St. Louis police and a private towing contractor. St. Louis police, who do have access to a public impound lot, allowed the proprietors of the St. Louis Metropolitan Towing lot, to illegally keep and sell stolen and seized cars impounded by the police department. The lot also made it nearly impossible for vehicle owners to retrieve their cars, even if they managed to complete the lot's unnecessary and confusing paperwork.

"Mitchell Report" for NFL shows history of drug use

Using media reports, archives, public records and interviews with players and personnel, Brent Schrotenboer of the San Diego Union-Tribune compiled a "Mitchell Report" for the NFL. The list identifies 185 players linked to abuse of performance-enhancing drugs dating back to 1962. "There are no bombshell names unveiled for the first time, nor is it considered comprehensive or proportional, just the best snapshot that could be provided through those sources. It is believed to only scratch the surface of actual usage in pro football during that time, according to doping experts."

Head of McCain's transition team lobbied for Freddie Mac

Newly released Congressional documents show that the lobbying firm of William Timmons Sr., who Republicans say has been tapped to lead Sen. John McCain's transition committee, receive $260,000 this year from Feddie Mac prior to the government's takeover of the mortgage company, report Jonathan D. Salant and Timothy J. Burger of Bloomberg.  The midyear financial-disclosure form of Timmons & Co.  lists Timmons Sr. as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac.  Speaking about the current financial crisis in Green Bay, Wis. last week, McCain stated, "At the center of the problem were the lobbyists, politicians, and bureaucrats who succeeded in ... Read more ...

NY state misappropriating fees collected from cell phone tax

An investigation by Michelle Breidenbach of The Post-Standard (Syracuse, N.Y) shows that a $1.20 cell phone tax intended for upgrades to 911 technology is being misappropriated. Only six cents for every $1.20 collected ends up in the coffers of the 911 call center. "Instead, the state spends the money on itself: overtime, fringe benefits, travel, vehicles, new boots, clip-on ties, sun block, spray paint, groceries, dry cleaning and other daily expenses for agencies ranging from the state police to the departments of corrections and parks, state records show."

Cluster of foreclosures linked to loose lending practices

Cary Spivak and Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel identified the four inner city neighborhoods hit the hardest by the mortgage meltdown in Milwaukee and zeroed in on the lending practices.  The reporters found that many of the people who lost homes to foreclosure never should have gotten loans in the first place. But lenders eagerly wrote loans to people despite poor credit ratings, numerous bankruptcies and even criminal convictions for financial crimes such as forgery and food stamp fraud.