Watchdog City Press reporter wins first place for special service to the First Amendment award for on-going Florida pension investigation “Secret Deals, Public Money”
Naples, Fla. — Watchdog City Press reporter Gina Edwards has been recognized for her work to open public records related to Florida’s pension fund investments by the Florida Press Club. Edwards won first place and was given a Freedom of Information award and recognized for “special service to the First Amendment” by the 62-year-old Florida Press Club. The award was one of three special awards given by the club as part of its Excellence in Journalism contest that recognized the work of more than 100 journalists.
The staff of the Lakeland Ledger was named as a finalist for the Freedom of Information Award in the statewide contest. The award was announced at a Florida Press Club banquet on Nov. 2 in Malabar, Florida.
Edwards pursued public access to pension fund investment records for six months as part of her on-going investigation, “Secret Deals, Public Money” available at WatchdogCity.com
Florida lawmakers voted to make vast amounts of information about private equity investments of the Florida pension fund — taxpayer money — secret and shielded from public record. But Edwards requested the small amount of information that is public record and met with major resistance. Pension managers dragged out producing the public records for more than six months.
With help from Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, Edwards called attention to public records law violations by pension managers withholding disclosure documents that were designed to prevent pay-to-play public corruption in awarding pension fund business.
Edwards appealed to Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to release the records.
"I am grateful for the recognition because it may increase awareness of this issue. The public's right to know is under assault by this law that's been passed and upheld in Tallahassee.These are billions in public dollars and the public, both taxpayers and pensioners, have a right to know how this money is being diverted to benefit private companies," Edwards said.
After obtaining a batch of records, Edwards reported that Florida pension managers lost an estimated $1 billion on six private equity deals compared to the performance of the stock market as a whole during the same time frame. Managers of these types of investments pitch them as outperforming the stock market to justify the high-fees and high risks associated with the secret deals that are obscured from public scrutiny. Her investigation into these secret deals with public money is ongoing.
Gina Edwards is the founder of Watchdog City.com. Watchdog City is a cutting edge new journalism platform that supports the creation and production of new voices of investigative and watchdog journalism by providing journalists with the technology to sell their stories directly to the public via digital subscriptions and single story sales.
A national award-winning investigative reporter, Edwards specializes in reporting on financial crime and public corruption. She received a prestigious Green Eye Shade award from the Society of Professional Journalists earlier this year for her pension and private equity stories at Watchdog City: “Trusting Wall Street’s Wizard’s Behind the Curtain: More than $240 billion in public pension money locked in secretive private deals.”
Edwards has received honors from numerous journalism organizations including a top national prize from Investigative Reporters and Editors for her public corruption investigation work at the Naples Daily News. She has also received awards for investigative and beat coverage from the Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Press Club and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. During her career, she has uncovered evidence of fraud involving hundreds of millions of dollars related to stock market manipulation, mortgage and real estate fraud, mortgage backed securities, hedge funds and Ponzi schemes.
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