How a reporter discovered lobbyists get state pensions

A tip received in the New York Statehouse, shared with other AP statehouse reporters across the country, leads to the news that public pensions are available to hundreds of lobbyists in at least 20 states. A staff memo from Managing Editor Kristin Gazlay gives the backstory:

It was a tip that walked in the door. A former Albany journalist who stopped by AP’s New York Capitol bureau to say hello offered a jaw-dropping piece of information: He had just landed a job lobbying for the New York Conference of Mayors and was surprised to learn that the non-governmental job came with a special government perk — a full state pension.

So Capitol reporter Michael Gormley started to dig. At first, officials who oversee the New York state pension system told him they were unaware that lobbyists for eight private associations representing counties, cities and school boards were entitled to state pensions. So Gormley filed a request under New York’s Freedom of Information Law and found that the state indeed offers lobbyists that benefit, on the premise that they serve governments and the public.

Stephen Acquario

In this May 9, 2013 file photo, Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, attends a news conference in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Acquario is among hundreds of lobbyists in at least 20 states who get public pensions because they represent associations of counties, cities and school boards, an Associated Press review found. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Gormley also was able to obtain the names of people falling into that category, along with some financial data. Among the people pinpointed were the executive director and general counsel of the New York State Association of Counties, who already makes $204,000 annually and gets a company car, and New York Conference of Mayors Executive Director Peter Baynes, who makes $196,000 a year and also gets a company vehicle. Both will retire with full state pensions.

But Gormley didn’t stop there. With the assistance of East Desk editor Amy Fiscus, he enlisted his statehouse colleagues across the country to determine that a similar pension benefit is offered to hundreds of such lobbyists in at least 20 states. Several states are questioning whether the practice is proper, and two states — New Jersey and Illinois — have legislation pending to end it.

For thinking beyond his state’s borders to produce a smart piece of accountability journalism that once again underscores the value of AP’s statehouse reporting, Gormley wins this week’s Best of the States $300 prize.

More on AP’s style on Pvt. Chelsea Manning

Yesterday the AP announced that we will use Pvt. Chelsea Manning to refer to the soldier convicted in the WikiLeaks case, rather than Pvt. Bradley Manning. We also will use female pronouns for Manning.

Our decision brought several questions from readers. In particular, readers asked if we were giving in to a pseudonym by accepting “Chelsea Manning” (middle name Elizabeth) or if we should have waited for Manning to do a legal change of name. Others questioned the whole idea of referring to Manning as a woman in the absence of sex-change surgery.

Our basic guidance on transgender people has been in the AP Stylebook for years. It applies to all people, not just celebrities or public figures. It says, “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”

Our guidance does not require sex-change surgery in order to present oneself as a member of the other sex. Manning is clearly presenting herself as a woman, so female pronouns apply.

But what about the name?

We often do use legal names as a guideline. But AP style is not ultimately determined by court or government action. We refer to many entertainment and sports figures by the names they’re commonly known by, whatever their legal names may be.

We do oppose pseudonyms, but that policy is based on the fact that most pseudonyms are used to conceal a person’s true identity. In the Manning case, there’s no question what person we’re talking about.

Manning’s case also does not involve a spur-of-the-moment change. An army psychiatrist testified at trial that Manning was diagnosed with gender-identity disorder in Iraq in 2010. On the basis of this testimony, the photograph of Manning as a woman and the private’s own signed statement, it seems clear that Manning’s new identity, including the name Chelsea, is a real thing to her.

When Chaz Bono, the child of Sonny and Cher, underwent a gender transformation from female to male, AP began referring to him as Chaz in 2009. His formal name change came only in 2010.

While the Stylebook doesn’t directly address name changes in transgender situations, it accepts “nicknames” such as Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson. The spirit of the Stylebook entry is that, after consideration, AP can call people what they wish to be called. Manning’s self-identification as Chelsea seems to merit at least the same consideration.

AP editors’ note on Manning

Update: The following advisory was sent to AP member editors and other subscribers on Aug. 26, 2013, at 6:03 p.m.:

The Associated Press will henceforth use Pvt. Chelsea E. Manning and female pronouns for the soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning, in accordance with her wishes to live as a woman.

Manning announced her wishes last Thursday after being sentenced to 35 years in Fort Leavenworth military prison and a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Army for revealing U.S. secrets to WikiLeaks, the anti-establishment website.

Manning’s statement was reiterated, with additional detail, in a blog posting (http://www.armycourtmartialdefense.info/) and an interview with The Associated Press on Monday by defense attorney David E. Coombs.

The use of the first name Chelsea and feminine pronouns in Manning’s case is in conformity with the transgender guidance in the AP Stylebook. The guidance calls for using the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

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The following note was sent to AP member and subscriber editors on Aug. 22, 2013, at 7:46 p.m. ET:

Editors:

The Associated Press policy as stated in the AP Stylebook is to comply with the gender identity preference of an individual.

At this time, the AP is seeking more details about the gender change statement attributed to Pfc. Bradley Manning that was read Thursday on the “Today” show in the presence of defense attorney David Coombs. The typewritten statement said “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female,” and asked supporters to use “my new name and use the feminine pronoun” in gender references to the U.S. Army soldier. Manning’s lawyers had raised the issue of gender identity during the trial, but Thursday’s statement went further.

Manning was sentenced Wednesday to 35 years in Leavenworth military prison for providing secret U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks, the anti-establishment website.

With Manning in custody and unavailable to comment, the AP is seeking additional information about the statement from Coombs, who did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages.

For the time being, AP stories will use gender-neutral references to Manning and provide the pertinent background on the transgender issue. However, when reporting is completed, the AP Stylebook entry on “transgender” will be AP’s guide.

That stylebook entry states: “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly. “

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