TIME Law

NRA Suing Pennsylvania Cities on Gun Laws; Mayors Vow Fight

nra leadership forum
NRA members listen to speakers during the NRA Annual Meeting of Members at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on May 4, 2013 Johnny Hanson — AP

The lobby group has set its sights on Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster for passing firearms ordinances against in violation of state law

Armed with a new state law that opponents denounce as a gift to the gun lobby, pro-gun groups are rapidly scaling up their attack on municipal firearms ordinances throughout Pennsylvania, with the National Rifle Association filing suit over gun-control measures in three cities.

Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster have “openly defied” a 40-year-old state law that forbids municipalities from regulating firearms, said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.

The cities said they will fight the NRA, contending the local regulations are a sensible way to address deadly gun violence.

“This should be a wake-up call for citizens across Pennsylvania,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said. “We’re not taking away anyone’s right to own a gun — or 10 or 20 guns. What we’re saying is when a gun is lost or stolen, you’ve got to report it. Too many people are being killed in the streets of Pittsburgh and other cities with stolen guns.”

Pennsylvania has long barred its municipalities from approving ordinances that regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns or ammunition. But scores of cities and towns ignored the prohibition, and gun-rights groups complained the local measures were difficult to challenge because judges have ruled that plaintiffs could not prove harm.

Under a state law that took effect last week, gun owners no longer have to show they have been harmed by an ordinance to win in court. The new law also allows organizations like the NRA to sue, and successful challengers can seek legal fees and other costs.

Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster are fighting the new law in court, arguing lawmakers didn’t follow constitutional procedure for passing legislation.

“It is unconstitutional, it never should have been passed, and it breaks with more than 200 years of history in Pennsylvania, by allowing organizations without standing the ability to sue,” Peduto said.

Under threat of litigation from several smaller gun-rights groups, more than 20 Pennsylvania municipalities already have moved to repeal their firearms ordinances instead of defending them in court. Another group, Houston-based U.S. Law Shield, sued the capital of Harrisburg on Tuesday over its gun laws.

The NRA suit filed Wednesday against Philadelphia targets seven ordinances, including ones that require owners to report lost or stolen firearms; prohibit guns from city-owned facilities; and ban weapons possession by people subject to protection-from-abuse orders or who are found to pose a risk of “imminent harm” to themselves or others.

Philadelphia officials have long said its measures are needed to combat gun violence that claims hundreds of lives each year. In 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed city ordinances that limited people to buying one gun a month and banned assault weapons, but the NRA — deemed to lack standing — lost its bid to get other city gun laws thrown out.

If the city’s bid to overturn the new state law is successful, “then the NRA would not have standing to file the suits that it has filed today,” said Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter.

In the small city of Lancaster, meanwhile, the NRA is challenging an ordinance that requires gun owners to tell police when a firearm is lost or stolen.

Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, one of the named defendants, denounced the NRA lawsuit as “pathetic” and said the city’s attorney had determined its ordinance could withstand legal scrutiny.

“The NRA is a New York-organized corporation that is based in Virginia and they are suing us in Lancaster because we are asking people to report stolen firearms,” he said. “I have a difficult time getting my arms around that.”

Cox, the NRA official, said local laws “do not make people safer” and, in a statement, accused officials of “politically grandstanding at taxpayers’ expense.”

The NRA plans to go after other municipalities whose gun ordinances are barred by state law, said the group’s attorney, Jonathan Goldstein.

“We expect every municipality to repeal ordinances that are pre-empted. If other folks don’t get on board with what the law requires, they can expect to hear from us in due course,” he said.

TIME Campaign Finance

Dark-Money Group in Pennsylvania Could Face Fine

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) headquarters strands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 9, 2014.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) headquarters strands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Union-backed group failed to file mandatory tax return

Union-backed Pennsylvanians for Accountability, which spent more than $1 million on political advertisements targeting Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and a handful of state lawmakers, failed to file a mandatory tax return, the Center for Public Integrity has learned.

For failing to file returns with the IRS on time, the secretive, Pittsburgh-based Pennsylvanians for Accountability could be fined up to $50,000.

The IRS confirmed the agency had not received the group’s tax filing — the kind of document that provides a key window into the inner workings of politically active nonprofit groups like Pennsylvanians for Accountability, which are becoming increasingly influential in state and national elections.

Adam Bonin, a Philadelphia-based lawyer who represents Pennsylvanians for Accountability, acknowledged the nonprofit didn’t file its tax return on time. He said the group would soon be submitting documents to the IRS.

Bonin provided an unofficial copy to the Center for Public Integrity, which showed the group raised $1.23 million in its first year of existence. Most of the money came from labor unions.

Almost immediately after its formation in September 2012, Pennsylvanians for Accountability, which is organized as a “social welfare” group under Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code, produced mailers critical of several Republicans running for re-election to Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives.

The 501(c)(4) tax status allows organizations like Pennsylvanians for Accountability to lobby to advance a “social welfare” mission and engage in politics, so long as overt support of or opposition to candidates is not their primary purpose.

This tax status also generally allows these nonprofits to keep the names of their donors secret, unlike political action committees, which must disclose their funders. This has earned them the moniker “dark money.”

Such “dark money” nonprofits have been increasingly active in elections, thanks, in part, to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010, which allowed corporations, including certain nonprofit corporations, to bankroll political ads that call for the election or defeat of candidates.

One of the Republican lawmakers targeted by Pennsylvanians for Accountability was state Rep. Rick Saccone. The group’s mailers asserted that “our kids” weren’t Saccone’s “top priority” because he had supported cuts to education spending.

Saccone denounced the group for “trying their hardest to slander me” and persuade voters in his heavily Democratic district not to vote for him. He ultimately won by just 112 votes out of the nearly 29,000 votes cast.

The copy of Pennsylvanians for Accountability’s tax return for the first year of its existence showed the nonprofit spent about $475,000 in 2012 on political mailers and digital ads in nine state-level races in Pennsylvania, including Saccone’s.

Pennsylvanians for Accountability, it turned out, was just getting started.

A ‘shell game’

The following spring, Pennsylvanians for Accountability launched a barrage of TV ads attacking Corbett, the state’s Republican governor, for playing a “shell game” by cutting education spending while supporting “big tax cuts for his corporate backers” and “giveaways to his campaign donors.”

The new tax document indicates Pennsylvanians for Accountability spent $725,500 for its various anti-Corbett messages in 2013, which it classified as a “public education campaign.” This included both television and online ads. Corbett later lost his re-election bid in November 2014.

As a social welfare nonprofit, Pennsylvanians for Accountability isn’t required to reveal the identities of its funders. Therefore, it wasn’t known during its advertising barrage who was bankrolling the group — or even who was leading it.

But Department of Labor records and tax documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity show three unions combined to give Pennsylvanians for Accountability $1.11 million — 90 percent of the money it raised between Sept. 1, 2012, and Aug. 31, 2013, the tax year covered by the return.

The largest donor was the National Education Association, which contributed $650,000.

The Service Employees International Union’s Pennsylvania State Council gave $280,000, and the SEIU’s national headquarters contributed $180,000.

An additional $100,000 came from by another Democratic-aligned social welfare nonprofit — America Votes, a Washington, D.C.-based group that seeks to create “a permanent progressive campaign infrastructure across the country.”

SEIU’s Pennsylvania State Council and America Votes did not respond to numerous email and phone messages seeking comment about the contributions. Officials with both the NEA and the national SEIU declined to comment for this story.

“We received your inquiry, but we will not have a comment on this,” SEIU spokesman Beau Boughamer said.

NEA spokeswoman Sara Robertson also declined to comment. saying the union had “no control over” Pennsylvanians for Accountability’s operations.

Previously, officials at the SEIU have criticized political “dark money” for “polluting” American democracy. And both the SEIU and NEA have endorsed measures to curb the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Mum’s the word

The people listed on documents as running Pennsylvanians for Accountability don’t want to talk about the group either.

In state business filings, Pennsylvanians for Accountability lists three union-connected activists — Linda Cook, Kevin Kantz and Georgeanne Koehler— as the people who incorporated the group. The same three union activists, who are all Pennsylvania residents, are listed in the group’s new tax filing as its only officers.

Both Cook and Kantz have worked for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, where, tax records show, they both served as directors as recently as 2012. Koehler also has ties to organized labor: she’s an SEIU member and healthcare activist.

When reached by phone, Cook said: “I have no comment for your story.”

Neither Kantz nor Koehler responded to multiple requests for comment.

Koehler, however, did talk to a reporter with PublicSource.org, a Pittsburgh-based investigative reporting group, in May 2013 — though she didn’t shed much light on the inner workings of Pennsylvanians for Accountability.

“I’m not sure who started it or why it was started, other than they want to fight for a better life for our citizens,” Koehler said at the time.

“I don’t know who’s in charge,” she continued, adding that she was recruited to serve as a director of the organization by Mary Shull, the state director of America Votes in Pennsylvania.

And Koehler wasn’t Shull’s only connection to Pennsylvanians for Accountability.

Daniel Ford, who worked with Shull at America Votes in Pennsylvania until May 2013, was listed in multiple documents as a point of contact for Pennsylvanians for Accountability.

Reached by phone, Ford, who now works at a community organizing company in California, declined to comment. Shull did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A call for more transparency

Shortly after the PublicSource.org article in May 2013, Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican, called for a hearing to determine if Pennsylvanians for Accountability was violating the state’s election law. The hearing, though, never took place.

“A group attempting to influence the outcome of an election ought to register as a political committee,” Metcalfe said at the time. “They appear to be a political committee more than anything else.”

Lynsey Kryzwick of public relations firm BerlinRosen, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvanians for Accountability at the time, dismissed the criticism as “nothing more than a partisan attempt to silence the real concerns that Pennsylvania taxpayers have with Gov. Corbett’s budget and the direction that he’s taking our state.”

Since the anti-Corbett advertising blitz in early 2013, Pennsylvanians for Accountability has all but disappeared.

Media outlets rarely mention the group anymore, and it has not produced any additional TV ads, according to Kantar Media/CMAG, an advertising tracking firm. Its largest presence appears to have been online, where Pennsylvanians for Accountability’s Facebook page — which boasted more than 8,000 likes — regularly promoted content throughout the 2014 midterm election, mostly news articles critical of Corbett.

The nonprofit’s most recent activity on Facebook came on Oct. 29, 2014 — just days before Democrat Tom Wolf defeated Corbett at the ballot box. The group’s Facebook page appears to have been deactivated following inquiries from the Center for Public Integrity.

Metcalfe, who chairs the House state government committee, called Pennsylvanians for Accountability a “shell organization” that was used as “an attack dog” and was “trying to skirt the law.”

Voters deserve transparency to “know who’s actually behind these operations,” Metcalfe told the Center for Public Integrity, adding that when the Pennsylvania legislature reconvenes, it would be a “high priority” for him to address this issue.

“The law is meant to ensure that the citizens of Pennsylvania have good information to work with when they are going and choosing who their leaders are going to be,” he said.

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative journalism organization, reporting on the influence of ‘dark money’ in politics.

TIME weather

Road Salt Prices Skyrocket After Last Winter’s Snowstorms

Road Salt Woes
Salt is unloaded at the Scio Township, Mich. maintenance yard on Sept. 16, 2014. Some Midwest county road officials are facing price increases that are three times what they paid last year. Carlos Osorio—AP

Prices have risen by up to three times since earlier this year

Last winter’s severe snowstorms triggered road salt shortages around the U.S., pinching supplies and forcing some transportation departments to stock up early. The result: road salt costs have doubled, and even tripled in some parts of the country, thanks to increased demand by states hoping to keep the roads clear.

From Minnesota to New York, states have had to pay premium prices for road salt this year. In Michigan, prices up are up 50%. In Indiana, they’re up almost 60%. In Missouri, some local transportation departments are reporting prices that have doubled. St. Louis, for example, is paying $112 a ton, up from $49 last year.

“Several severe winters are forcing prices upward,” says Todd Matheson, a spokesman for the department of transportation in Wisconsin, where more than four feet of snow fell in some places last week.

Wisconsin normally goes through about 500,000 tons of salt a year. But because of the potential for a repeat of last winter’s severe weather, this year the state has 564,000 tons on hand with 141,000 tons as an option to purchase. Costs are up statewide 14% compared with this time last year, averaging $69 a ton, Matheson says.

Ohio, which got unexpectedly hit with by storms over the weekend, triggering snow emergencies across the central part of the state, paid $105 a ton for a portion of the 600,000 tons of salt it currently has on hand. On average, the state paid $57 a ton compared with $38 last year.

Even with the rising prices, most states are not reporting road salt shortages. The New Jersey Department of Transportation is currently at 100% capacity (164,000 tons) and is in the process of adding 20,000 tons of storage space set to be available this winter. It can also store 716,000 gallons of liquid calcium and 150,000 gallons of brine, which is often applied to roads before a storm hits to help keep snow and ice from sticking.

One state that is running below average is Pennsylvania. The state has in store 90% of the average amount it uses during a winter, says Richard Kirkpatrick, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesperson. The average is 841,000 tons, and last year the state went through 1.2 million tons. But this year it only has 694,000 tons on hand with another 65,000 on order. And the long-range forecast? Above normal snowfall for much of the state.

TIME Baseball

Mo’ne Davis Helps Draw a Record Little League Viewership

Nearly 5 million viewers in all tuned in

Little League World Series’ sensation, 13-year-old Mo’ne Davis, may have got pulled during her game on Wednesday night, but the event did garner the largest viewership of a Little League game in ESPN’s history, says the Hollywood Reporter.

Despite the 8-1 loss by Davis’ Philadelphia team Taney Dragons to Las Vegas’ Mountain Ridge, the coverage drew a 3.1 rating, which, according to ESPN, was up 155% from last year’s viewership. In Philadelphia, 14.9% of homes tuned in on Wednesday, while 16.3% watched from their homes in Las Vegas. Nearly 5 million viewers in all tuned in for Wednesday night’s game.

Davis was catapulted to fame this summer as the first female in the history of the Little League World Series to pitch a shutout game. She landed a Sports Illustrated cover and a ton of fans.

However, her unfettered success took a turn when she was pulled in the third inning after allowing Las Vegas three runs on Wednesday. She was then unable to pitch against Chicago during Thursday night’s game (because of restrictions designed to prevent arm strain). And because Philadelphia lost 5-6, the possibility of her taking to the mound during a Saturday night rematch with Las Vegas was quashed.

Davis’ manager Alex Rice nonetheless has big hopes for the 13-year-old’s future. “The world’s her oyster, right?” Rice told the Associated Press after the Chicago loss on Thursday. “Mo’ne will figure out her future, and it’s going to be terrific.”

TIME nature

Woman Hospitalized After Massive Sinkhole Swallows Car Whole

A man looks at a car as it falls into a sinkhole on McKnight Road in Ross Township of Pittsburgh on Aug. 12, 2014.
A man looks at a car as it falls into a sinkhole on McKnight Road in Ross Township of Pittsburgh on Aug. 12, 2014. Roxanne Oglesby—Reuters

"I felt a thunk"

A Pittsburgh woman escaped her car in the nick of time, eyewitnesses said, after a massive parking lot sinkhole opened up beneath the car and it sunk into a water-filled pit. Photos showed the back of the sedan sunken nearly up to its front wheels in a hole roughly three times the car’s width.

The woman reportedly escaped through the passenger window and was listed in good condition.

“I felt a thunk,” the car’s owner, Natalie Huddleston, told KDKA news, “and all of a sudden I was tilted and I felt movement, I was swaying, I kept drifting back and realized I was stuck in this hole.”

[KDKA]

TIME Crime

Shooter Kills 1 at Pennsylvania Hospital

Hospital Shooting
Investigators work the scene of a shooting Thursday, July 24, at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pa. AP

The suspect is in custody and injured.

A shooter opened fire in the psychiatric unit of Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pennsylvania on Thursday, killing one female employee and injuring a doctor, authorities said.

The suspected shooter was also shot and is in critical condition, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said in a press conference Thursday afternoon. Whelan said the suspects’ injuries were not believed to be self-inflicted, but it’s still unclear who shot him.

Whelan added that the shooter had “psychiatric issues,” though police are still investigating the motive for the attack.

Mercy-Fitzgerald Hospital, a teaching hospital, is part of a regional Catholic healthcare network, Mercy Health System. It’s located several miles south of downtown Philadelphia.

TIME Bizarre

Body Falls Out of a Coroner’s Car in the Middle of Traffic

“I thought someone was playing a prank," a local resident of Feasterville, Pa. said

Among the hazards to watch out for while driving in Pennsylvania: random dead bodies.

A corpse fell out of the back door of a coroner’s van and into the middle of traffic Friday following a car malfunction, according to the Bucks County Coroner’s Office. The unidentified driver was near a shopping center in Feasterville, Pa. on the way to the coroner’s office when the incident occurred around noon, the Bucks County Courier Times reports.

Local resident Jerry Bradley assisted the driver after he saw the body, which was covered in a body bag on a gurney, while waiting at a traffic light.

“I thought someone was playing a prank. Someone is pranking people,” Bradley told the paper Saturday night. “It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen.”

Bradley took a picture of the body in the middle of traffic before helping the driver quickly get it out of the street and back in the vehicle. The picture has been shared more than 1,900 times on Facebook.

“I have to keep going back to look at it to believe it happened,” Bradley said. “I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. If that was my loved one I’d be angry.”

County spokesman Chris Edwards directed questions to Coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell but said “care was taken to respect the deceased individual” in a statement.

“The Bucks County Coroner’s Office deeply regrets this incident and will take steps to ensure that it is not repeated in the future,” he said.

[Courier Times]

MONEY Ask the Expert

How Do I Find the Best Place to Retire?

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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I live in New Jersey. Which state would be financially better to retire to: Pennsylvania or North Carolina? – Kevin, Bridgewater, NJ

A: Your cost of living in retirement can make or break your quality of life, so it’s smart to take financial factors into account as you decide where to live. Moving from New Jersey where taxes are steep and home prices are high to a more affordable area will allow your savings to stretch further. Housing and property taxes are the biggest expenses for older Americans, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

By those measures, North Carolina and Pennsylvania both stack up fairly well. Neither state taxes Social Security benefits or has an estate tax, though Pennsylvania has an inheritance tax and North Carolina will begin taxing pension income for the 2014 tax year. When it comes to cost of living, Pennsylvania has a slight edge. The median price of homes in Pennsylvania is $179,000 vs. $199,000 for North Carolina, according to Zillow. Income tax is a flat 3.07% in Pennsylvania while North Carolina has a 5.8% income tax rate. You can find more details on taxes in each state at the Tax Foundation and CCH. But both states have cities—Raleigh and Pittsburgh—that landed at the top of MONEY’s most recent Best Places to Retire list.

Of course, you need to look beyond taxes and home prices when choosing a place to live in retirement, says Miami financial planner Ellen Siegel. Does your dream locale have high quality, accessible healthcare or will you have to travel far to find good doctors? Will you be near a transportation hub or will you live in a rural area that’s expensive to fly out of when you want to visit family and friends?

There are lifestyle considerations, too. If you like to spend time outside, will the climate allow you enjoy those outdoor activities most of the year? If you favor rich cultural offerings and good restaurants nearby, what will you find? Small towns tend to be less expensive but may not offer a vibrant arts scene or many dining options.

To determine whether a place is really a good fit for your retirement, you need to spend more than a few vacation days there. So practice retirement by visiting at different times of the year for longer periods. Stay in a neighborhood area where you want to live and get to know area residents. “Having a strong social network is important as you get older and if you move to a new area, you want to make sure you can make meaningful connections and find fulfilling activities,” says Siegel. By test driving your retirement locations before you move, you”ll have a better shot at getting it right.

Have a question about your finances? Send it to asktheexpert@moneymail.com.

TIME nation

School Aide Tricked 4th Graders into Eating Pet Treats

Getty Images

No injuries have been reported

An aide at a Pennsylvania school has been put on leave for giving fourth graders pet treats and saying they were cookies, the Associated Press reports via WFMZ.

They were given to approximately 75 fourth graders at New Hanover-Upper Frederick Elementary School last week during recess. Gabriel Moore, a student who ate three of them, told WFMZ that the aide told them they were dog treats at first, but then said they were cookies and totally acceptable to eat.

In an advisory to parents, the superintendent did not say what kind of treat the students were given, but said they would not be dangerous to eat.

TIME Turkey

Turkish PM Wants To Extradite Muslim Cleric From The U.S.

TURKEY-POLITICS-CORRUPTION-DEMONSTRATION
A Turkish protester (L) holds up a banner with pictures of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) and the United States-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen (R) during a demonstration against goverment on December 30, 2013 in Istanbul. Ozan Kose—AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen is attempting to topple his government from within the United States

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants the United States to deport an influential, Turkish cleric for allegedly attempting to topple his government.

Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, 74, was once Erdogan’s ally, but went into self-imposed exile in 1997 after rising accusations from the secular government of creating dissent in the state.

Ergodan accused Gulen of trying to build a “parallel state” in Turkey from America. Ergodan has been battling a bribery and corruption scandal in Turkey since December, for which he has blamed the cleric and his Hizmet, or “Service” movement. Gulen has denied claims he wire-tapped Turkish officials and engineered the graft probe that has ensnared the Prime Minister’s government.

“These elements which threaten the national security of Turkey cannot be allowed to exist in other countries because what they do to us here, they might do against their host,” Erdogan told PBS talk show host Charlie Rose in a Monday night broadcast. He told Turkish reporters that the extradition process will begin soon.

[Bloomberg]

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