FILE - PA Joe Scarnati

Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati.

(The Center Square) – A top Republican lawmaker threatened legal action Friday against two Pennsylvania news media outlets that published an investigation linking his campaign to a controversial gambling bill that’s stalled behind closed doors.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, denied advocating for a measure that would allow video game terminals (VGTs) – currently only allowed in truck stops – to operate in bars, taverns and other establishments with liquor licenses eager for a new revenue stream amid ongoing economic restrictions. 

“While I rarely push back on media coverage, there comes a point when the truth must be heard,” Scarnati said in a written statement Friday. “The recent media reports from The Caucus and Spotlight PA that have attempted to draw links between donations to my campaign and potential gambling legislation are appalling.” 

SpotlightPA and The Caucus reported on June 19 that Scarnati, the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, received thousands in campaign contributions from gaming lobbyists to cut the deal. Although some Republicans support gambling expansion as a way to generate revenue for the state’s massive budget deficit – estimated to be as high as $5 billion – the proposal faces fierce opposition from the casino industry over fears that it will cut into their profits.

Scarnati said he’s not encouraging fellow senators to support expanded video gambling and that he’s actively worked against similar legislation in past sessions. In his statement, he questioned the news outlets’ objectivity, noting that “these publications actively solicit contributions from donors, which raises questions as to the bias of their reporting.”

SpotlightPA describes itself as an independent, nonpartisan newsroom supported by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/The Patriot-News. 

The Caucus is likewise an "independent watchdog publication" of the LNP Media Group, owner and publisher of LNP, a daily newspaper, and LancasterOnline.

“The spread of false information on this issue can in no way be considered fair and balanced ‘journalism,’” Scarnati said. “Over my years in office I have received numerous campaign donations – often from competing interests – and my legislative and policy decisions cannot and do not take contributions into account.”

Scarnati concluded his statement by noting that all of his campaign contributions are publicly available, saying "any further false media statements will be met with appropriate legal action."

The Caucus Editor Tom Murse and Spotlight PA Editor in Chief Chris Baxter released a joint statement Friday defending the investigation.

"We at The Caucus and Spotlight PA stand firmly behind our reporting on this story,” Murse and Baxter said. “Our reporters remain undeterred in their commitment to fearless journalism that serves Pennsylvania citizens and holds their elected leaders accountable."

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.