Two investigative journalism organizations that have called out Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati on allegations of corruption have the state’s top Republican threatening legal action.
The organizations say they are standing by the story.
At issue is a story released last week by Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA and Brad Bumsted and Sam Janesch of The Caucus, regarding Scarnati and a proposed gambling expansion in the state.
The story, printed in the June 20 issue of The Era, alleged that Scarnati was “fast-tracking a lucrative gambling expansion that would benefit a major campaign donor,” allegations that the senator called “appalling.”
The story alleged a lobbyist for Golden Entertainment helped host a Las Vegas fundraiser for Scarnati where the tickets ranged from $7,500 to $25,000. And several months later, Golden’s executives “poured thousands of dollars into a campaign committee controlled by Scarnati and close associates.”
And, the story alleged, Scarnati and other top Republicans were working behind closed doors to garner support to expand Pennsylvania’s legalized gambling to include more video-gaming terminals, which would benefit Golden.
Scarnati, who is not seeking re-election this year, released a statement Friday afternoon.
“First and foremost, there are many good reporters who work to provide the public with news regarding legislation and governmental operations,” he began. “I appreciate the work these reporters do to keep the public informed on issues before the Senate.”
However, he mentioned the gambling expansion story by Spotlight PA and The Caucus, saying the information presented was false.
“While I rarely push back on media coverage, there comes a point when the truth must be heard,” Scarnati said. “The recent media reports from The Caucus and Spotlight PA that have attempted to draw links between donations to my campaign and potential gambling legislation are appalling. … These publications actively solicit contributions from donors, which raises questions as to the bias of their reporting.”
Regarding the allegations themselves, the senator said, “I have not advocated for members of the Senate to support video gambling legislation. In fact — in the past I actively worked against legislation that had been proposed for VGTs. The spread of false information on this issue can in no way be considered fair and balanced ‘journalism.’”
Scarnati said his campaign finance records are public.
“Over my years in office I have received numerous campaign donations — often from competing interests — and my legislative and policy decisions cannot and do not take contributions into account,” he said. “It is also important to note that all of my campaign records are available to the public and adhere to campaign finance laws.
“Any further false media statements will be met with appropriate legal action.”
Late Friday evening, Chris Baxter, editor in chief of Spotlight PA, referred a reporter to a comment on Twitter from both journalism organizations.
“We at Spotlight PA and at Caucus PA stand firmly behind our reporting on this story. Our reporters remain undeterred in their commitment to fearless journalism that serves Pennsylvania citizens and holds their elected leaders accountable.”