This story first appeared in inewsource’s weekend newsletter. Sign up for it here.
Reporters Megan Wood and Jill Castellano were busy this week.
With the election fast approaching, Jill dove into the spending and fundraising behind congressional and local races. Just one takeaway: the San Diego County Democratic Party has spent more than five times what the county Republican Party has since the June primary.
On the education front, Megan published her big investigation into a failed after-school program that cost the San Ysidro School District $276,000. The story took Megan a while to produce because her questions to the district sparked new developments along the way, a common occurrence in investigative reporting and one that can be tough to wrangle – when do you stop reporting and hit publish?
I asked Megan a few behind-the-scenes questions about this story:
When did you start working on this investigation and what prompted it?
I first started working on this story in early August after the district’s contract with the Greater San Diego After-School All-Stars was flagged by a former reporter of ours, Leo Castañeda. I started by looking at the company’s business filings, which is when I learned the organization had its nonprofit status revoked by the IRS last year. Once I knew the basics, and after I had spoken to several people who confirmed the district never received any programming, I reached out to the district with some initial questions.
What was one of the bigger challenges about reporting this story?
The hardest part about reporting this story was knowing when to publish, like you said. Everyday I was learning new, relevant information. But at a certain point we had to decide that we were ready to share what we knew with our readers. It took several public records requests, interviews, and dozens of emails and phone calls to get there.
Do you have any follow-up stories planned?
Of course! We’ll continue to follow this story. Officials told inewsource the district’s lawyer has recently reached out to the company for reimbursement.
Note: Shyla Nott is slacking on her duties this week by taking time off to get married. She returns next week.
Spending $276,000 on nothing
The San Ysidro School District, which serves some of the poorest students in San Diego County, has been dogged by controversy for years, often involving questions of financial mismanagement.
Megan’s new story found the district paid a San Diego woman $276,000 in 2016 for an after-school sports and cheer program that never happened. Two years later, the district is still trying to recoup the money from Tyree Dillingham and the Greater San Diego After-School All-Stars.
While investigating questions about the contract, inewsource discovered questionable claims Dillingham used in promoting her business online and in Arizona. Since Megan began asking questions, some of these claims have been erased from Dillingham’s website, and her business’s Facebook page has been taken down.
Repeated attempts to speak to Dillingham, including phone calls, emails and visits to her home, failed.
-Read Megan’s investigation here. It has been “transparified” to provide readers with all the documents we used to verify the facts in the story.
P.S.: One of our favorite comments on our “transparified” effort came from inewsource supporter Rob Dekoven on Twitter. He wrote,
“Why I support you. Love the depth, transparency, and the balance. What great journalism ought to be.”
Democratic Party outspending Republican Party in county races
It’s an important year for the San Diego County Democratic Party, which is hoping to flip key seats on the all-Republican county Board of Supervisors and on the San Diego City Council. And they’re spending a lot of money to make that happen.
After crunching the numbers, Jill found the local Republican Party has spent about $107,000 on six candidates running for city, county and state offices since the primary. During that time, the Democratic Party has spent more than $557,000 on 21 candidates.
About one-third of the Democratic Party’s spending since the primary has supported county supervisor candidate Nathan Fletcher, a former state assemblyman facing former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Republican.
Democrats are refusing corporate money in San Diego County House races
In Jill’s second story, she found Democrats Ammar Campa-Najjar and Mike Levin – running in two of America’s most contested House races this November – have refused donations from what they refer to as “corporate PACs.”
The Republicans in these races, Rep. Duncan Hunter and Diane Harkey, are taking corporate money, but they are trailing in fundraising by more than $1 million each.
A campaign finance professor at Loyola Law School says refusing industry donations is a growing trend.
-Read Jill’s story here.
We’ll let you know when big things happen.