Today in OpenGov: Defending the Free Press


In today’s edition, we defend the free press, highlight emolumental issues, praise Cambridge, take a look at the beachhead teams, and explore the state of digital government…


10/1/1981 President Reagan Helen Thomas Sam Donaldson Lesley Stahl Fred Barnes John Palmer Press Conference in East Room

  • The White House should protect and defend the essential role of journalism in democracy. Sunlight joined over 80 free speech, civil liberties and press associations signing an open letter decrying the Trump administration’s attacks upon the free press as a threat to our democracy.

    “Our Constitution enshrines the press as an independent watchdog and bulwark against tyranny and official misconduct. Its function is to monitor and report on the actions of public officials so that the public can hold them accountable.  The effort to delegitimize the press undermines democracy, and officials who challenge the value of an independent press or question its legitimacy betray the country’s most cherished values and undercut one of its most significant strengths.” (READ THE LETTER)

  • While Vice President Mike Pence’s record on open government includes support for a free press and the First Amendment as a talk show host, Member of Congress and Governor of Indiana, his stances on the public’s right to know have become less clear. (Washington Post)
  • Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of the public’s right to access government information, is next week. (CELEBRATE WITH SUNLIGHT)

States and Cities


  • The City of Cambridge is encouraging residents to help solve problems using open data. As Stephen Larrick noted, this is a great way to connect meta data with real-world issues.  [Civic Innovation Challenge]
  • San Diego, CA unveiled their new open data website last month. The portal is based on JKAN, open which was built in 2016 by City of Philadelphia Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski.” ( Philly)
  • Indiana public records laws need reform. “The revelation that Vice President Mike Pence used a private email address to conduct state business during his tenure as the governor of Indiana prompted swift condemnations and a rush of coverage,” reported Jackie Spinner. The IndyStar’s investigation “exposed gaps in the state’s public records laws and ways that officials can use those gaps to manipulate access to information.” (Columbia Journalism Review)



  • The San Francisco Chronicle looked at Ann Ravel’s rocky tenure at the Federal Election Commission and the partisan gridlock that goes beyond any one member.  After Ravel arrived from a previous position leading California’s Fair Political Practices Commission many were optimistic that she could shake up the agency.“After all she had done in California, we were really excited to see someone who was clearly a champion for disclosure and transparency appointed to FEC,” Sunlight Foundation Executive Director John Wonderlich told the Chronicle. “The hope was that maybe it would help with the FEC’s increasing dysfunction and deadlocks and paralysis.”Unfortunately, that was not to be, as Joe Garofoli observed: “The agency’s business ground to a halt. With three members nominated by each party, the commission couldn’t agree on anything except the most routine matters. The panel that is supposed to protect Americans by shining a light on how wealthy interests are trying to manipulate the system couldn’t even get four votes to investigate when they think somebody is doing something wrong.”
  • The enforcement of federal lobbying disclosure laws needs work. “President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was fired from his prominent White House job last month, has registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for $530,000 worth of lobbying work before Election Day that may have aided the Turkish government.” (Associated Press)
  • While the White House has not to sent hundreds of key appointments to the Senate for confirmation, the Trump administration has hired at least 400 staffers at every major federal agency. Members of the so-called “beachhead teams” include “obscure campaign staffers, contributors to Breitbart and others who have embraced conspiracy theories, as well as dozens of Washington insiders who could be reasonably characterized as part of the “swamp” Trump pledged to drain.”  (ProPublica)


Billboard in China. Credit: BBC

  • Trump trademarks in China are highlighting potential foreign emoluments for the president. Senate Democrats are concerned that “China’s preliminary approval of dozens of new trademarks for businesses and products owned by President Donald Trump and his family” could represent a conflict of interest. (Bloomberg)
  • Advocates are calling the Department of Justice’s attention to domestic emoluments issues. “With Congress showing no signs of taking action, a group of ethics watchdogs is turning to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to look into whether President Trump’s many business interests violate the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.” The group, including representatives from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Democracy 21, and Campaign Legal Center as well as former Obama and Bush ethics advisers Norm Eisen and Richard Painter sent a letter to Bharara yesterday. (NPR)
  • Financial disclosures by President Trump’s nominee to head up the Securities and Exchange Commission offer the public an unusual look at his client list and wealth. The filings may “reinforce a view among consumer groups and Democratic lawmakers that he could have conflicting interests as a Wall Street Regulator.” (New York Times)

ON THE ROAD TO digital government


  • Good news: people are using digital services more and feeling more satisfied, according to a new report by Forrester Research. (NextGov)
  • Bad news: citizens are still running into difficulties using government websites and finding the information that they need, sometimes at higher rates than in previous years. (FedScoop)
  • Best news: Members of Congress from both parties have introduced bills that aim to “keep electronic government records from being altered or disappearing outright.” The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will consider separate bills with similar goals from Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD). (Federal Computer Week)

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