Today in OpenGov: The NRA’s true influence, why Goldman Sachs banned political donations and more

The National Rifle Association logo in front of drawings of small firearms.
(Photo credit: Democracy Chronicles/Flickr)

TAKING AIM: Melissa Yeager and Josh Stewart dug into the National Rifle Association’s influence, going beyond the campaign contributions that have drawn a lot of media attention this past year. Their findings? “The group’s two political arms, the NRA Institute for Legal Action and the NRA Political Victory Fund, have spent $14.5 million opposing and supporting federal candidates, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by the Sunlight Foundation.” [READ MORE]

DISINFECTED: Over the past year, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “has been brazen in asserting that he has used political donations to buy influence,” observe Steve Eder and Megan Twohey. The record of those donations, reported out through disclosures, settlements, campaign finance data and public records requests, is finally getting mainstream scrutiny, amidst the din of the campaign. “In recent years, Mr. Trump has made tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to at least four state attorneys general — Ms. Bondi of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, both Republicans, and the Democrats Eric Schneiderman of New York and Kamala Harris of California — whose offices have looked into complaints about Trump University. Mr. Abbott, whose office considered a lawsuit against Trump University before the company left Texas in 2010, is now supporting Mr. Trump — who donated $35,000 to Mr. Abbott’s successful 2014 campaign for governor.” [New York Times]

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  • Trump stopped denying media credentials to several publishers — but their absence didn’t prevent the press from covering his campaign. [Poynter]
  • If you donate to a candidate, you can’t secure a financial contract from that government official for two years. That helps explain why Goldman Sachs has banned donations to state political campaigns. [Marketplace]
  • Rick Klein: “The amount of information Trump has not provided about his own finances and personal health remain unprecedented in modern politics.” To put it another way, this is an unprecedented lack of transparency by a modern major party presidential candidate. [ABC]


  • At MuckRock, Mike Morisy explains why government email should be subject the Freedom of Information Act. This is a must-read. [MuckRock]
  • Terrence Dopp: “FBI files on the firms that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis should be released to help the public understand why no senior executives were charged, a U.S. congressman from New Jersey said.” [Bloomberg]
  • The White House released the public comments it received on artificial intelligence, “downloadable in human-readable PDF or machine-readable JSON,” and shared next steps on Medium. Releasing public comments on government policy online in machine-readable form may be humdrum in 2016, but we must preserve it as a norm in 2017. []
  • The National Archives published its 2016 Open Government plan online and asked for feedback. We’ll have more to say, but for now we’ll note that it’s beautiful. [Github]
  • In a new paper, former White House official Cass Sunstein argued for a cost/benefit analysis of transparency, as opposed to viewing the issue through a public’s right to know. [EFF]
  • As we noted yesterday, Matt Ygelesias penned a column that echoed Sunstein’s paper in a way that suggested he wasn’t familiar with the deliberative exemption in FOIA nor recent reforms in Congress. Today, Kevin Drum wrote a followup that seriously considered Yglesias’ argument and then floated some ideas for reforming FOIA. Drop by any time for detailed policy ideas, Mr. Drum, and please inform your readers about the proposed changes to FOIA that are on the table right now. [Mother Jones]

State and local

  • Daniel Castro, the director of the Center for Data Innovation, weighed in on a near-miss for open government in California. “As governments increasingly recognize the value of open data and adopt sound open data policies that ensure open data is truly “open,” the potential for AB 2880-style legislation cropping up elsewhere may decrease. But as of now, only a small fraction of city, county and state governments in the U.S. have open data policies, and it is likely that some lawmakers will again fail to recognize that government data is a public resource and attempt to restrict public access. When they do, open data advocates, the private sector, other policymakers and the public as a whole should firmly resist.” [GovTech]



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