Today in OpenGov: Divest and disclose, for America


DIVEST AND DISCLOSE, FOR AMERICA: Sunlight joined a bipartisan group of dozens of governance experts arguing that President-elect Donald Trump’s continued ownership of business enterprises will cause serious problems for his presidency and the country. The letter addressed to the President-elect in New York City is clear:

We believe you need to act now to ensure that as president you will not have conflicts of interests or the appearance of such conflicts. It must be clear to all that any domestic and foreign policy decisions you make are not being influenced by your business arrangements and family relationships or by your investment holdings, and that the policy decisions of foreign governments with respect to the United States are not unduly influenced by a desire to curry favor with you and your family in your business enterprises.
We also believe that you need to take the steps necessary to ensure that your appointments to the cabinet and the other senior executive branch officials eliminate any conflicts of interest they may have regarding their financial and business interests, and investment holdings. Republicans and Democrats called for
similar strong measures regarding the Clinton Foundation if Hillary Clinton were

elected president. It is no less important for you to take the steps set forth in this letter with The Trump Organization now that you will be entering the Oval Office.

We urge you to protect the integrity and credibility of the presidency by divesting your business interests and investment holdings into a true blind trust with an independent trustee. Trump is filling his cabinet with generals and corporate titans. Sunlight’s Libby Watson looked at the money, influence and donations behind the billionaires who set to head up the nation’s federal agencies. [READ MORE]

FOR YOUR FILES: In a new paper published by the Brookings Institution assessing the impact of open government, Vanessa Williamson and Norman Eisen conducted a literature review of hundreds of peer-reviewed academic studies, articles and reports that consider the effectiveness of programs. [READ MORE]

FOR YOUR OUTBOX: The Justice Department published an official Request for Comments on the draft of proposed “release to one, release to all” policy for the Freedom of Information Act today. It includes a “release to all presumption” and a draft memorandum for federal agencies. We encourage you to comment. We certainly will. [Federal Register]

THINKING AHEAD: Some thoughts and more questions for the weekend posed by Sunlight’s John Wonderlich:

Public outrage at Trump’s side gigs is in no way proportionate to the risk they pose to democratic integrity. “He’ll enrich himself” is only the first risk. “He’ll be distracted” or “He’ll make unsteady decisions.” Getting warmer. “He may be leveraged by his debtors.” Bigger risk. “Use direct corporate influence for political leverage.” Manipulating legislators is easier when you can, say, threaten jobs by district. How would Trump respond to a real constitutional crisis? With the aplomb Obama’s trying to model, or frantically pull every lever he can? The fight over Trump’s conflicts of interest is over how much impunity his Presidency can claim as a baseline. His campaign already gutted norms. Has anyone even started talking about all the corporate contributions that are going to start raining on the Trump Foundation? Trump could say, now, that his Presidential library will be a paean to American commerce, and take unlimited corporate contributions to a foundation. What kind of leverage will Trump use when facing: Congress, courts, foreign power, public sector union? What constraints does he respect?



  • The White House Office of Management and Budget and Treasury issued guidance on the DATA Act but agencies are still having problems adopting standards and preparing data for submission. [GAO]
  • In a new report, the General Accountability Office found progress on implementation of the DATA Act but plenty of challenges ahead. [GAO]

FOIA Lawsuits over time [FOIA Project]

  • The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University found that total amount of FOIA litigation has increased by 35 percent during the past five years. The cases left unresolved in the federal courts also rose 43 percent over this same period.┬áthe backlog of FOIA suits waiting to be decided rose to its highest recorded level According to TRAC, there are “693 cases pending before the federal district courts at the end of the fiscal year.” [FOIA Project]


  • After two months of protests, the president of South Korea was impeached. [AP]
  • As week’s end, Open Government Partnership (OGP) has expanded, with more to come:
    • 5 new countries are officially joining OGP with letters of intent: Germany, Jamaica, Pakistan, Burkina Faso and Luxembourg
    • 2 new countries were found eligible and have announced that they will join soon: Portugal and Afghanistan
    • 5 non-eligible countries have announced that they will work towards eligibility and plan to join: Morocco, Haiti, Guinea, Madagascar and Senegal
    • There should be a healthy debate about what membership in an “open government” means in the wake of these announcements, particularly with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past five years, OGP has been challenged by a set of criteria that put the bar for an open government at a lower level than may have been wise. We’ll see how joining membership actually moves the bar on corruption, access to information and freedom of the press in the countries in the years ahead.