The reasons why Pa.’s legislature paid millions to outside law firms in 2019 and 2020

The interior of a building in Harrisburg that houses the Pennsylvania legislature

Spotlight PA sorted through thousands of heavily redacted documents to reveal how the Pennsylvania legislature spends taxpayer dollars on private lawyers. (Tim Tai/Philadelphia Inquirer)

This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.

At the beginning of the year, The Caucus and Spotlight PA filed public records requests with the state House and Senate for invoices, receipts, and other documents related to the private law firms lawmakers hired at taxpayer expense in 2019 and 2020.

In response, the legislature provided more than 4,100 pages of records.

Information was often redacted to the point of not being able to identify the case or who was being represented.

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It took months for reporters to organize the records and match some of the invoices with other documents to determine the nature of the matters. The results are in the table below.

Based on a close review of the documents, there are up to two dozen additional matters for which the House paid a private law firm in 2019 and 2020. But because of the lack of specificity, the redactions, and the organization of the pages, it’s impossible to tell for sure. For the same reasons, it is impossible to calculate the total cost to taxpayers for some of the cases.

The table shows cases that the news organizations were able to identify using invoices and engagement letters, which law firms use to outline the services they plan to provide as well as the costs. Unlike a contract that goes through a bidding process and should be made public on the state treasurer’s website, the legislature signs these letters with no public disclosure or oversight.

Some cases overlap between the chambers, and a single chamber will sometimes use multiple firms for the same case.

Legislative leaders did not respond to requests to provide more information about redacted or vaguely described cases.

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To send a tip about any of the cases in the database, contact reporters Angela Couloumbis and Sam Janesch.

Spotlight PA logoSpotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media.

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