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Gov. Tom Wolf has spent thousands of dollars on private law firms without disclosing why

Matt Rourke

On today’s episode of The Confluence: 

Gov. Wolf spends thousands of taxpayer money on private law firm without disclosing why
(0:00 - 6:43)

An investigation by Spotlight PA and The Caucus found Governor Tom Wolf’s Office of General Counsel has spent at least $367,500 dollars on private law firms over the last three years. It’s unclear what work those law firms were doing.

The administration has argued that this information is sensitive and publicly disclosing it could jeopardize its legal strategy, thus excluding it from the state’s open records law.

Angela Couloumbis, investigative reporter with Spotlight PA, says transparency experts and lawyers she spoke with agree that disclosing broad details of a case are typically not a problem.

“Most people agree on this issue that if you say this involves a personnel matter or this involves a matter pertaining to the administration of elections, that that kind of broad general description will not violate things like attorney client privilege,” says Couloumbis.

While the Office of Records has sided with the Wolf Administration, this investigation continues as Spotlight PA and the Caucus have sued the state House and Senate.

A crowded Democratic field will vie for DeLuca’s 32nd House District seat 
(6:53 - 14:15)

This weekend, leaders of the Democratic Party will vote in a special election to nominate a candidate to replace the seat of late-state representative Anthony DeLuca. He died four weeks before the November 8th election but won reelection posthumously.

Eight contenders, including Penn Hills Mayor Pauline Calabrese and Penn Hills Democratic committee chair Joe McAndrew, have filed to be considered for the election.

Chris Potter, WESA’s government and accountability editor, says some committee members are worried that the field of candidates might be too crowded.

“We did have several in the race to fill the seat vacated by Ed Gainey when he became mayor earlier this year. But eight is a lot. And in fact, there have been some concerns that the county committee should have charged more for the filing,” says Potter.

Potter explains that while Democrats won by two-to-one margins in the U.S. Senate and governor race, Republicans could run a competitive campaign as Deluca’s seat is crucial for Democrats to take control of the 203-seat House.

Deed shows six Native American tribes traded goods for land that now includes Pittsburgh

(14:21 - 22:30)

For years, Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania were actually part of Augusta County in the commonwealth of Virginia.

Tribes traded the land in 1749 with settlers. According to the deed itself, which is viewable online through James Madison University Library’s digital collections, fur trader George Croghan, John Madison (then clerk of court for Augusta County), and a representative of King George II traded the tribes 400 blankets, 500 pounds of gunpowder, 600 pounds of tobacco, and more for the land.

“One of the things that we hope to do is some additional research with the help from James Madison [University], to look at the tribal leaders and the tribes involved,” says R. Steven Landes, clerk of Augusta County Circuit Court. “We know they were Iroquois tribes, but we'd like to know more about them, and if we can, find out more about the tribal leaders who actually sign the document.”

The deed for this land transaction remains in a northwestern Virginia courthouse.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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