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Dear friends of inewsource,

Our crew just returned from an inspiring, educational, and very humid conference for journalists, held this year in San Antonio, Texas. Around 1,200 investigative reporters and editors from around the world joined up for three days of speeches, brainstorming sessions and hands-on training.

Our own reporters were honored to speak on two panels and train their colleagues: Joanne and Brad presented and dissected recent inewsource projects while Ryann showed data journalists new techniques in computer-assisted reporting.

The final day’s awards ceremony brought with it the first-of-its-kind “Golden Padlock Award”  given to a federal agency with strong ties to San Diego — keep reading to find out which “went the extra mile to frustrate journalists’ attempts to get access to records and documents.” Very prestigious.

But we’re back in town and on the beat, fresh with new stories and ideas, so please keep checking in online and in your inbox. And if you like what you see, please consider supporting our mission, or forward this message to your friends.

— Brad Racino, inewsource

Carl DeMaio: ‘The Future Something’

It didn’t take long for failed mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio to announce his new political plan to challenge freshman Democratic Congressman Scott Peters, in the 52nd district.

inewsource reporter Brooke Williams and KPBS reporter Claire Trageser teamed up to follow the money and the connections, revealing DeMaio is walking a blurry line when it comes to fundraising and election law. Williams and Trageser documented DeMaio’s fundraising and promotional efforts on behalf of his political group, Reform San Diego, before declaring his candidacy for Congress.

Federal election laws prohibit raising unlimited funds or money from corporations during a campaign or using it for “testing the waters.” DeMaio insisted he is following the law, taking specific actions to comply. Reform San Diego and his run for congress are separate, he said.

Play around with our cool interactive feature that shows how DeMaio and his Super-PAC are connected to a wealthy, well established political machine.

Geo-location project with SDSU

If you haven’t yet, please take a moment and interact with our new geolocation application.

inewsource is working with Amy Schmitz Weiss, associate professor at San Diego State University on a special, innovative news project, and she would like to get your opinion about a news prototype.

In order to participate, check out the map in the middle of this page here:

and then complete a brief survey here about the prototype:

For your time and participation in the survey, you will be entered into a random drawing for the chance to receive an Apple gift card to purchase iTunes music or a mobile app of your choice worth $20 or a check of $20. Ten people will be selected for the drawing.

Feds are demanding $113 million from San Diego Hospice

We began reporting on the federal crackdown on hospices earlier this year with our special project: “When Does End of Life Begin,” and examined the question medically, financially, politically, and personally after San Diego Hospice made public a Medicare audit looking into whether it had cared for ineligible patients.

Last week, the U.S. Dept. of Justice filed a $112.8 million-claim against the now defunct San Diego Hospice for submitting “false claims,” among other things. The federal government also indicated it’s conducting a criminal investigation “to determine whether any federal health care offenses… have been committed.”

Look for more of our reporting this week as we follow the case in bankruptcy court. inewsource reporter Joanne Faryon will join host Mark Sauer on the KPBS Roundtable at noon on 89.5 FM radio and at 8:30 Friday evening on KPBS TV to discuss the latest.

Update on access to local records

Thanks in large part to an overwhelmingly supportive email campaign organized through our friends at the First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael, a bill threatening the public’s access to public records was removed from state senate.

Here is a concise update from our colleagues at the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

“A little more than a week ago, the California legislature passed a trailer bill—a  piece of legislation that accompanies the state budget—that would have taken many of the most important provisions of the California Public Records Act and made them optional for local governments. Had Gov. Jerry Brown signed this bill, AB 76, local agencies (such as cities, counties, education boards, sheriff’s departments and water districts) would no longer have to assist members of the public with identifying the records they seek, respond to requests within 10 days, give legal reasons for rejecting requests, or provide provide electronic versions of documents that already exist in digital format. These important requirements would have become “best practices” instead of mandates.

The bill passed late on a Friday and immediately open-government groups, citizen watchdogs and media outlets took action—including hundreds of EFF supporters. Within days, the governor and leaders in the Senate were forced to back down.

With a 27-11 vote, the state senate on Monday sent a new version of the trailer bill — without the public-records language — to the governor’s desk. Brown has pledged his support for the new bill, SB 71, as long as the legislature also passes a constitutional amendment that would shift the cost of complying with CPRA from the state to the local agencies. That is set for a vote later this week and would be placed on the ballot in 2014.”

So far, so good.

Last but not least — the Golden Padlock Award

While in San Antonio, the members of Investigative Reporters and Editors voted for the government agency with the strongest “commitment to secrecy” and most “impressive skill in information suppression” that “routinely keeps knowledge about everything from public health risks to government waste beyond the reach of citizens who pay their salaries.”

And the winner is — U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Our series, “Deadly Patrols,” highlighted all the deaths near the border at the hands of US Border agents. We apparently weren’t the only news organization that’s dealt with the opaque federal agency — the ballroom in San Antonio erupted in a round of applause from the other thousand journalists who felt the prestigious honor was well-deserved.

Apparently, no representatives from the federal agency could make it to San Antonio to receive their prize.

Lorie Hearn is the chief executive officer and editor of inewsource. She is a lifelong news-aholic who started her reporting career writing her Girl Scout newsletter at age 12. High school and college were filled with school newspaper work, and after graduation, she worked as a reporter for newspapers...