Joel Kaplan

(315) 443-1429

Doing investigations off your beat:
20 records you should routinely use if you cover any government beat.

    1. Leases--see who your government agencies are leasing their office space from: sweetheart deals; long term locks with politically connected people.
    2. Contracts--look at each and every contract you can get your hands on. Get used to the language and read the fine print.
    3. Expense records--a great way to determine where the, top honchos like to travel and eat expensive meals.
    4. Telephone records--particularly telephone credit card records--great way to determine who is peddling influence.
    5. Schedules--try to get both the public and private schedules
    6. Records of professional boards and other administrative agencies--see which architects, lawyers, doctors and contractors are being disciplined and why.
    7. Liquor license applications--in many places liquor licenses are extremely difficult to obtain.
    8. The budget--hundreds of stories are hidden in the line items of budgets
    9. City Charter--read it--find out who actually has the responsibilities under the law.
    10. State code--find out what those "housekeeping amendments" actually do.
    11. Personnel records or resumes--in some states these are public. Mine them for discrepancies.
    12. Ethics board filings--politicians, contractors and lobbyists often have to file elaborate forms under penalty of going to jail. Government officials often have to file financial disclosure forms as well.
    13. Press releases--save them; you never know when they might come in handy.
    14. Audit reports--both programmatic and financial. Sometimes incredible wrongdoing is buries in a comptroller's report.
    15. Attorney general opinions--sometimes government officials up to no good want the AG to validate their actions.
    16. Property records; limited partnerships; liens; etc. from Recorder of Deeds office--good to determine where your government officials live and how much they own.
    17. Court records, both state and federal--routinely run their names through the dockets; don't rely on your court reporter to catch everything.
    18. Probate records--did the mayor buy that $1 million house because his mom left his lots of money, or is he taking payoffs.
    19. Vouchers and actual checks--check to see who is getting the money and examine the checks to see where that money actually goes.
    20. Minority and women business enterprise applications--those cities and states that still believe in affirmative action require minority and women owned businesses to file reams of personal and financial information to prevent front companies. Oftentimes, actual income tax forms can be found in those files.