Today in OpenGov: Congress should mandate tax return disclosure for presidential candidates


TOP NEWS: The Sunlight Foundation called on Congress to mandate tax return disclosure for presidential candidates. Here’s Sunlight’s director, John Wonderlich, explaining why:

Recent questions about when and whether candidates will publicly disclose their returns, however, have raised new doubts about the strength of our political norms. A detailed public view of candidates’ financial backgrounds can’t be taken for granted.

Congress can and should fix this. Just as presidential candidates are required to submit personal financial disclosure forms to the Federal Election Commission, they could be required to submit their tax returns for public review. An orderly, enforceable, rule-based process would let us skip the drama and doubts, and ensure access to what we already expect of our candidates: a reasonably clear view into their financial lives. Tax return disclosure for presidential candidates can inform the public without creating a significant risk of abuse. Decades of experience have taught us that the finances of presidents and candidates are essential to our public understanding and political dialogue.

LET THE SUNSHINE IN: Maplight launched, “a hub for information about dark money in U.S. elections.”  The project’s goal is “to support investigations of dark money in order to help the public understand how hidden donors can influence our political system. ”


  • The United States made a series of commitments at the global anti-corruption summit.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry wrote that it’s time to treat corruption seriously in an op-ed. When he turned to domestic issues, however, he did not mention the White House Open Government Directive or the nation’s commitments to the Open Government Partnership. [USA TODAY]
  • Kerry also commented on corruption in a talk at Oxford yesterday:

    When governments are fragile and leaders are incompetent, or worse, dishonest, when the gap between rich and poor grows and the space for basic freedoms shrinks, when corruption is not an aberration but an entrenched part of society, the needs of citizens cannot be met. Weak or corrupt governance invariably leaves young people caught up in the race between hope and frustration. And it’s absolutely essential that hope wins that race.

  • After a judge ruled in favor of releasing Alison Young’s Freedom of Information Act request, she reported showed that laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have repeatedly faced secret sanctions for mishandling dangerous biological pathogens. [USA TODAY]
  • Speaking of FOIA, here’s 7 other new lawsuits. [FOIA Project]
  • FBI Director Jim Comey told the New York Times that his agency’s database of police shootings and confrontations with the public is at least years from completion. The “viral video effect” the FBI director described is at odds with the evidence. [New York Times]
  • A federal judge ruled that the FBI does not have to disclose how its exploit of the Tor Browser works. [Brad Heath]
  • RevUp wants to revolutionize political and nonprofit fundraising. In theory, that could free up legislators from spending hours dialing for dollars, leaving them time to focus on oversight, legislation and constituent services. In practice, well, we’ll see. [Bloomberg]
  • Google Analytics revealed that people are querying ProPublica’s database to look for doctors who likely to prescribe widely abused drugs, including opioids. Here’s what the nonprofit news outlet is doing in response:

    …we are adding a warning to the pages of all narcotic drugs that reminds readers of the serious health risks posed by taking opioids for pain relief. We will also link to advice on their use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and have written a story on the growing public health crisis arising from the abuse prescription pain medication. We will continue to report on this issue, as we’ve done previously. Data journalism gives readers access to a stunning array of information on everything from healthcare to election results. As data sets grow ever larger, they also introduce ethical questions that journalists will be weighing for many years to come. We hope the actions we’ve taken contribute to that conversation. [ProPublica]

State and Local

  • Kansas passed an update to its public records law, extending disclosure requirements to private email. [The Olympian]
  • The reform was spurred by the watchdogged reporting of Bryan Lowry at the Wichita Eagle. who “reported that Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, had used a private e-mail account to send two lobbyists a draft of the state’s budget several weeks before it was unveiled to lawmakers.” [Wichita Eagle]
  • There is a mysterious government truck with a Google Maps logo and license plate scanners in Philadelphia that no one has identified yet. [Vice]
  • Ex-New York State Senate leader Dean Skelos was sentenced to 5 years in prison for corruption. []
  • New York City launched a searchable open budget for New York City. [Ben Kallos]
  • Kate Rabinowitz used open data to analyze who gets the most parking tickets in DC. Kudos to her for linking to data sources and the code for her analysis on Github. [Washingtonian]
  • The Capital Food Bank is using predictive analytics to optimize distributing food in the District of Columbia. [Guardian]


  • 14 countries pledged to making open contracting “open by default.” We’ve heard that somewhere before, but the commitment is worth making. Let’s see how they follow through. [Open Contracting]
  • The United Kingdom published its next National Action Plan for Open Government. []
  • Here’s how that action plan matches up against civil society priorities. [Open UK]
  • As we noted yesterday, Nigeria announced its intention to join the Open Government Partnership. “We welcome Nigeria to a partnership of 69 governments and thousands of civil society organizations committed to improving accountability and transparency in government,” OGP CEO Sanjay Pradhan said. “Through OGP, collective ambitions are raised, ideas and innovations are shared, and lasting policy response can be secured. Nigeria has taken a huge step forward in signaling its intention to put tackling corruption at the heart of its reform agenda.” 
  • Nigeria has now published a national action plan for open government. Unfortunately, the commitment includes no plans to do anything about Nigeria’s abysmal record on freedom of information. The country ranks 136 out of 168 in Transparency International’s corruption perception index.
  • Ontario has a good looking open government tracker. []
  • Audrey made a case for Paris being the new “Tech for Good Capitol. [Medium]


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