Today in OpenGov: Disclose, disclose, disclose


DISCLOSE: A new Senate bill would mandate the presidential nominee of major parties to disclose their tax returns. The Sunlight Foundation called on Congress two weeks ago to pass such a bill into law.

86 NYC LLCs? Eight different bills outlined by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo would treat limited liability companies (LLCs) like traditional corporations when it comes to campaign contributions. If enacted, the bill would close New York state’s infamous “LLC loophole”.

PROGRESS! The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee unanimously voted to pass the OPEN Government Data Act, signaling broad bipartisan support for the landmark open data bill. We and our allies hope the full Senate takes it up and passes it soon — and that the U.S. House does, too.

FEC IMPASSE: A troubling campaign finance issue — political coercion — was dropped at the Federal Election Commission without the regulator even opening an investigation. As Yeager notes, three commissioners were sharply critical of the decision. The others have yet to issue a statement.


  • Journalist Patrick Gavin sat down with Sunlight’s executive director, John Wonderlich, to get a “primer about governmental transparency and the current state of things.” They talk first about the Obama administration’s record on open government and then transparency in Washington more broadly. You can watch both interviews in the videos embedded below.

  • Speaking of transparency, former New York Times public editor-turned-Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan took the Obama administration to task in her newest column. In addition to secrecy over the use of drones, poor compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and prosecution of whistleblowers, Sullivan calls attention to a measure of accountability that doesn’t get enough attention: how much the President of the United States sits down with the beat reporters who cover his administration day in and day out:

    Remarkably, Post news reporters haven’t been able to interview the president since late 2009. Think about that. The Post is, after all, perhaps the leading news outlet on national government and politics, with no in-depth, on-the-record access to the president of the United States for almost all of his two terms. I couldn’t get anyone in the White House press office to address this, despite repeated attempts by phone and email — which possibly proves my point.” [Washington Post]

  • Good government groups — including Sunlight — are calling on President Obama to deliver the transparency he promised. []

  • A new GAO report on federal information technology found federal agencies still using 8-inch floppy disks for nuclear command software, running the Treasury Department’s “individual master file” and “master business file” as assembly language code on an IBM mainframe, and that the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Treasury and Commerce all  “reported using 1980s and 1990s Microsoft operating systems that stopped being supported by the vendor more than a decade ago.” The GAO also reported that the Social Security Administration is rehiring retired employees to maintain systems that run on use COBOL. Modernization can’t come to these systems quickly enough. [CNBC]

  • The Chronicle for Higher Education relaunched its Title IX sexual assault investigations, which uses records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act to create some technology-infused transparency on an issue neither the colleges nor the government are proactively disclosing open data around. [Chronicle]
  • Speaking of open data, Tyler Dukes used open influence data to show readers more information about every sitting lawmaker in North Carolina. [WRAL]
  • Apparently Congress is dealing with many “impactful issues” right now. [Christian Science Monitor]
  • Good news: Cornell is going to host the Oyez Project, keeping audio of Supreme Court hearings free to the public online. [National Law Journal]
  • Crafting a national water policy to ensure communities across the country have clean, safe drinking water is…not one of them. [Politico]
  • Open question: What value does the U.S. Patent Office’s new open data portal provide the public that and Google’s patent engine do not? Gray Achiu, a government contractor who works on open data at the Patent Office, shared some thoughts on Twitter.

State and Local

  • OpenGov Foundation director Seamus Kraft encouraged the country to “turn democracy up to eleven, asserting that ” you have more leverage over government outcomes now than at any time in American history.” Spinal Tap, meet civics. [OpenGov Foundation]
  • Speaking of democracy, the people most affected by new photo ID laws at the ballot box are elderly citizens, African Americans, Hispanics and low-income residents — and it’s not as easy to get a photo ID as many people think. [Washington Post]
  • West Virginia’s recent state supreme court election was flooded with money from outside of the state. [Southern Studies]
  • State regulators and watchdogs are objecting to potential changes that would reduce disclosure requirements by nonprofits. [Nonprofit Quarterly]
  • A U.S. House bill that would change these disclosure requirements is setting off alarm bells among people who use Form 990s to detect nonprofit fraud. [WSJ]
  • Governments are using more algorithms to make important decisions about citizens every month, raising critical questions of bias and assumptions in the data and the code. [Govtech]
  • Boston hired Andrew Therriault, the former director of data science for the Democratic National Committee, as its first chief data officer. []
  • Lawrence Grodeska blogged about what’s happening with San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation’s 2016 Startup in Residence Program. [Medium]
  • A multinational business owned by Toshiba is demanding that MuckRock remove documents about them disclosed through a FOIA request. “We believe that these legal threats are a chilling attack on free speech and we will not be complying with their demands,” says founder Michael Morisy, a former grantee of Sunlight. [MuckRock]


  • How can open data and journalism beat corruption? As always, by following the money — and hoping that government institutions and law enforcement agencies that they inform are responsive, effective and aren’t corrupt themselves. [GIJN]
  • The Web Foundation is teaming up with All Voices Count to foster open data in cities in Indonesia. [Web Foundation]
  • It’s Information Awareness Month in Australia. [Futureproof Records]
  • Seoul, Korea appears to be publishing open government data on Github. [Github]


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