A four-part series telling the story of how corporate cash corrupted one of the greenest states in America earned The Oregonian the first Collier Prize for State Government Accountability. The $25,000 award, offered by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, is one of the largest journalism prizes in the nation.
The February 2019 series, “Polluted by Money,” identified specific problems in Oregon: Campaign contributions with no limits, loose rules on how campaign contributions can be spent by recipient politicians, and a weak oversight regime by a regulatory agency with no teeth. The series in April also won the $10,000 Scripps Howard Award for environmental reporting.
The Portland-based Oregonian’s series was one of 58 stories entered in the inaugural award program. The annual Collier Prize, offered in coordination with the White House Correspondents’ Association, is designed to encourage coverage of state government, focusing on investigative and political reporting.
The award was founded by Nathan S. Collier, chair of The Collier Companies headquartered in Gainesville, Florida. Collier said, “The greatest good the Collier Prize can have lies in creating a deterrent effect. Let it be known far and wide that someone is watching, that there are guardians, that accountability does exist.” Collier is a descendant of Peter Fenelon Collier, who in 1888 founded Collier’s, a weekly magazine focused on investigative journalism.
Judges commended the series for its extraordinary depth and scope and for being a great example of accountability journalism. One judge found the series to be “wonderful, nuanced, deep reporting put together across multiple mediums and told in a compelling and hard-to-stop-reading and must-look-at-the-web-links way.” Another judge commented, “This is how journalism, especially print journalism, must evolve: There must be web elements and data visualization this way.”
“Without media watchdogs, Oregon’s campaign finance system would have almost no controls at all,” said Rob Davis, The Oregonian investigative reporter who wrote the series. “It took months of painstaking reporting and analysis to show that Oregon was one of the nation’s biggest political money states and reveal the impact on Oregonians and the environment they treasure. To see that work recognized with the inaugural Collier Prize is an incredible honor.”
Judges identified two additional projects as honorable mentions. A joint project between the Center for Public Integrity and the USA Today Network, “Copy, Paste, Legislate,” followed a two-year effort to track the scale and impact of copycat legislation – bills written by corporations and special interests – in states across the U.S. It examined nearly 1 million bills in all 50 states and Congress using a computer algorithm developed to detect similarities in language. That series also won this year’s $25,000 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
The Philadelphia Inquirer’s series, “Beaten, then Silenced,” detailed decades of widespread abuse of delinquent boys at a now-closed school and the cover-up by those entrusted to care for them. That series won the George Polk Award for Justice Reporting and the top award from Investigative Reporters and Editors.