Top-ranking state senator sues journalists over records cost

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The top-ranking Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate wants journalists who wrote about his campaign spending to pay thousands in costs to produce those records.

Spotlight PA and The Caucus reported Wednesday that a hearing is scheduled for next month in the litigation brought against The Caucus and two reporters by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati’s campaign committee.

Scarnati’s committee filed the lawsuit last month, seeking more than $6,000 from The Caucus, a publication of Lancaster-based LNP Media Group, Caucus reporter Brad Bumsted and Spotlight PA reporter Angela Couloumbis.

Scarnati’s campaign had tried to bill the reporters $2,000 for the records, but the Department of State told his lawyer in October 2018 that the law only permits costs of a quarter a page.

The Caucus and Spotlight PA reported on nearly $3.5 million in campaign spending by Scarnati and other lawmakers over 2016 to 2018 that the publications said could not be fully traced based on what information the campaigns made public.

Scarnati’s reports, for example, described as “lodging” what was a hotel room in Germany during a 2016 European trip, the publications concluded.

Tom Murse, editor of The Caucus, called the lawsuit an effort to intimidate journalists and others who want to hold accountable candidates for public office.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 7 before Jefferson County District Judge David Inzana, whose territory includes Scarnati’s Brockway home.

Scarnati plans to retire from the Senate at the end of this year. A message was left for him seeking comment.