Today in OpenGov: Data-driven justice, revamping procurement guidelines, foreign lobbying, civic bots and more


ANALYZE THIS: Sunlight’s Emily Shaw dug into the investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division, teasing out the insights that are relevant to open government and justice in every city. She’s a must-read if you’re interested in the intersection of data and democracy.

“While data helped to demonstrate characteristics of Baltimore’s policing, the investigation also showed another critical thing about open data: where poor data collection, management and access practices can fail to support transparency and accountability. As with all forms of data, the way police data is collected, maintained and made available for external and internal access determines how accurate and useful it can be. When important data or elements of data aren’t collected, when important data are poorly maintained and left open to tampering or loss, when data aren’t checked for accuracy, and when data can’t be easily accessed for public or internal examination, data can’t be used to create accountability. In the case of the DOJ Baltimore investigation, a dataset documenting police-civilian interactions was in such poor condition that investigators had to recreate it to use it, manually inputting 14,000 police reports. Meanwhile, officers never recorded many critical facts about police-civilian interactions — including any use of force where officers did not use a gun, taser or baton, or the injury status of arrestees before and after their police van transport — and for these cases, even though we have important cases to examine, we cannot use aggregate data to hold police accountable.

With the data they did have, and the hundreds of interviews that they conducted, DOJ investigators documented how Baltimore’s law enforcement system targeted African American residents for regular harassment and abuse. The report demonstrated how supervisors permitted and encouraged officers to use their power indiscriminately and failed to hold officers accountable for violations of policy and law. The length and depth of the report does not lend itself to full analysis here. However, what we can explore more briefly here is the methods investigators used to analyze data for the purpose of achieving police accountability. These approaches can be used in every community to investigate the quality of police practice, providing groups seeking police accountability a way to bring a DOJ investigative technique to their own town.” [READ MORE]

WEIGH IN: The Open Contracting Partnership and Sunlight Foundation are collaborating to revamp our Procurement Open Data Guidelines and will be relaunching the resource as Policy Guidelines for Municipal Open Contracting. Please comment on our draft policy guidelines for municipal open contracting! [READ MORE]

REMINDER: Sunlight is investigating political “dark money” in states this cycle — but we need you to tell us what you’re seeing and reading. [HELP US]


  • The Boston Globe editorial board says the Clinton Foundation should stop accepting donations. Good idea. [Boston Globe]
  • GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump said that he does not trust U.S. intelligence agencies, offering a novel angle on low trust in government. [The Hill]
  • The Associated Press reported the Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is tied to over $2.2 million in undisclosed foreign lobbying while he worked in the Ukraine.

    “Manafort and business associate Rick Gates, another top strategist in Trump’s campaign, were working in 2012 on behalf of the political party of Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych. People with direct knowledge of Gates’ work said that, during the period when Gates and Manafort were consultants to the Ukraine president’s political party, Gates was also helping steer the advocacy work done by a pro-Yanukovych nonprofit that hired a pair of Washington lobbying firms, Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury LLC. The nonprofit, the newly created European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, was governed by a board that initially included parliament members from Yanukovych’s party. The nonprofit subsequently paid at least $2.2 million to the lobbying firms to advocate positions generally in line with those of Yanukovych’s government.” [AP]

  • Separately, Fusion journalists dug into Manafort’s significant spending on real estate and lobbying during that time period. While the reporting is significant, what it tells us about weak adherence to lobbying disclosures and a lack of resources for enforcement is also instructive.

    “There are a lot of very high-profile insiders who go to the Hill and to government agencies and you will not find them in the lobby disclosure forms,” [Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center] told me. “There’s very little incentive to do so since no one ever gets prosecuted for violating the rules.” She said she’s been shopping a package of tougher lobby disclosure rules drafted by an American Bar Association panel— the last full reform took place in the mid-1990s, after more than 50 years without any significant revision — but “there’s very little appetite for reform.”

    Meanwhile, one lobbyist with extensive overseas experience — and who does file with the U.S. government regularly — expressed resentment that Manafort and some of his competitors do not disclose their work.

    “It’s a pain in the ass to file, there’s a lot of paperwork and it makes you an open book for your clients’ political enemies, but you’re supposed to do it,” he said. “But the guys in the stratosphere can just ignore the rules and get away with it. That’s Washington.”


  • The FBI is defending its decision not to charge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as it submits documents from its investigation of her use of a private email server in office. [Washington Post]

    “The documents released were turned over to several House committees, including Oversight and Government Reform, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Judiciary panels. The bureau said in a statement the materials were provided to “assist [lawmakers] in their oversight responsibilities in this matter,” and they were turned over “with the expectation it will not be disseminated or disclosed” unless the agency agrees.Chaffetz (R-Utah) said his staff had informed him that among the materials turned over was a “heavily redacted” 302 from Clinton herself, and he was not sure that any of the information could be released publicly. Chaffetz, who had not yet reviewed the materials personally, said his office was “putting every precaution in place” to prevent leaks and criticized Clinton for her spokesman’s assertion that if the material were being released to Congress, it should be disseminated more widely.

    “Hillary Clinton is calling on this all to be publicly released, but she knows that can never happen,” Chaffetz said in an interview.

    Chaffetz added, though, that he hoped the public would get a more complete window into the FBI’s investigation, and he planned to spend the weekend reviewing the materials himself. He said he was “grateful” to the FBI for turning over the material, though the redactions would make his work more difficult.

  • Advocates for civil liberties have filed a complaint and asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the use of cellphone tracking devices — so-called “Stingrays” — by the Baltimore Police Department. [Washington Post]
  • The Library of Congress published the papers of John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States, as a digital collection online. [Library of Congress]
  • The U.S. Census Bureau appears to have blocked Google, Yahoo and Bing from crawling their site in their robot.txt file. We’ll circle back on this one.

State and local

  • Thanks to StateScoop for covering Open Data Policies Decoded, our expanding database of open data policies! Seamus Kraft told Alex Koma that the project has the potential to lead to long-term change in cities by “inculcating that open spirit” within municipal governments themselves. “It’s the difference between giving somebody an open fish and teaching them how to be open,” Kraft said. [StateScoop]
  • Think differently about libraries: “An American Library Association report assessing the impact of public programming in libraries describes public libraries as “community barometers” and envisions them as “models for listening to the community.” Closer partnerships between librarians and local government could prove mutually beneficial, ensuring that libraries become hubs for inclusive civic engagement. Ultimately, greater civic engagement creates better communities.” [Knight Foundation]


  • An analysis of open data on property found that 1% of homeowners in Sao Paulo, Brazil own 45% of the real estate. [Estadão Dados]
  • The 19-year-old creator of a chatbot that helped people beat thousands of parking fines is now exploring how the technology might help with homelessness. I, for one, welcome our new civic bot overlords. [Guardian]


  • The “Civil Society Stakeholder Session” originally planned for this spring has been rescheduled for Aug. 23 in D.C., at the National Archives. [RSVP]
  • Public Citizen is hosting a forum focusing on the ongoing presidential transition teams at the National Press Club in D.C. on Sept. 7. [RSVP]
  • The annual Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) Summit will be in New York City, Sept. 15–16. [RSVP]
  • Etalab and Civic Hall are co-organizing an Open Government Partnership Toolbox sprint in New York City on Sept. 21. [RSVP]
  • Collections as Data, at the National Archives in D.C. on Sept. 27. [RSVP]
  • There will be an Open Data Research Symposium in Madrid on Oct. 5. [RSVP]
  • The International Open Data Conference will be in Madrid from Oct. 6–7. [RSVP]
  • The Code for America Summit is in Oakland, Calif. on Nov. 1–3. [RSVP]
  • There will be a workshop on Data and Algorithmic Transparency at Columbia University on Nov. 19. Proposals due Sept. 9. [RSVP]

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