Today in OpenGov: Emoluments, fundraising fallout, and VP-Elect Pence’s record



[President-Elect Donald. J. Trump meets with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan at Trump Tower, with Ivanka Trump looking on.]

CONFLICTS: Since we last wrote to you, a cascade of stories has shown that the President-Elect of the United States is mixing the business of the Trump Organization with the public’s business. Last week, as Trump paused his transition work to meet with India businessmen. His daughter, Ivanka, sat in on his first meeting with a foreign head of state. On Saturday, the new Trump hotel in DC hosted an event for a hundred foreign diplomats. The New York Times reported — and confirmed, in a conversation with Trump today — that the president-elect discussed urged British politician Nigel Farage to opposed wind farms.

There are several approaches that the president-elect could take to avoid conflicts of interest, ensure public trust in his presidency, and avoid corruption. The one that has historical precedent is to form a true blind trust operated by an independent agent, as Sunlight and our allies have suggested. Trump could also liquidate assets, as the Wall Street Journal suggested. If public trust in government is not to fall further, a Trump presidency should take steps to be free of business entanglements, foreign or domestic, to avoid corruption on a global scale. As Adam Liptak pointed out, if Trump does not shift, soon, he could be faced with litigation upon inauguration for engaging in unconstitutional actions.

To date, however, the president-elect has made vague commitments to address any of this. According to the New York Times, in his meeting with the paper today, Trump said that “the law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest,” suggesting that “In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.” On that count, he appears to be correct: a president and his family mixing public and private business on this scale is a dynamic that we’ve previously only seen in other countries where corruption is accepted as, well,  the cost of doing business.

ET TU, VP?: Drew Doggett dug into Vice President-Elect Mike Pence’s record on open government, from election integrity to press freedom to campaign finance to transparency. One of our favorite quotes: “Without the free flow of information from sources to reporters, the public is ill-equipped to make informed decisions,” said Pence in 2011. “Compelling reporters to testify, and in particular, compelling them to reveal the identity of their confidential sources, is a detriment to the public interest.” [READ MORE]

A TALE OF TWO CAMPAIGNS: Doggett: “Clinton and her allies raised nearly twice as much as Team Trump — yet, he still emerged victorious despite this massive cash gap. In one of the most winding and unpredictable presidential campaigns in modern history, it seems the impact of money in politics is just another campaign convention that’s been turned on its head. [READ MORE]


  • David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, announced today that Alina Se will be the new Director of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), as for December 11, 2016. OGIS acts as the federal ombudsman for the Freedom of Information Act.  In his announcement, Ferriero noted that Semo has been the Director of Litigation in the Office of General Counsel (NGC) at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) since March 2014, where she participated in rewriting NARA’s FOIA regulations. Prior to NARA, Semo led the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s FOIA Litigation Unit in the Office of the General Counsel for over a decade and served as a trial attorney in the Federal Programs Branch of the Civil Division in the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Sunlight has been watching this appointment closely. On the one hand, hiring a general counsel who spent the last decade at the FBI working on FOIA litigation and the Department of Justice for eight years before that means that she definitely knows the issues and people involved. Simo’s recent tenure at NARA means she has institutional relationships there that will help with declassification and records management challenges ahead. On the other, Simo spent the last two decades taking government’s side in litigation, half of that time at an agency that has been, by any reasonable measure, not a leader in proactive disclosure, embracing the “presumption of openness,” or adopting new technologies for FOIA. We’re glad to see the federal FOIA ombudsman has a director again. “Alina’s extensive experience with FOIA at both the administrative stage and in federal court litigation, knowledge of NARA, and commitment to open government will serve her well in her position as Director of OGIS,” wrote Ferriero. We hope so, and that she and her office speak up for the interests of the FOIA requestors community, as the FOIA officers and agencies already have an institutional ally in the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy.


  • Justin Arenstein: “The new innovateAFRICA Fund is offering media pioneers on the continent $1 million in support for leapfrog technologies or digital innovation.” The deadline is December 1. [Medium]


  • The Open Government Partnership’s Global Summit will be Dec. 7-9 in Paris, France.
  • The Public Interest Declassification Board will hold a public meeting to “discuss recommendations for improved transparency and open government for the new Presidential Administration” in DC on Dec. 8. [RSVP].
  • What events will YOU be attending over the next six months? Write to

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