Today in OpenGov: Can’t Stop the Sunshine


It may be snowing on the east coast, but we are here to make sure the sunshine breaks through. In today’s edition, we share a fresh batch of Sunshine Week news, look at the costs of ignoring transparency requirements, and more…

Sunshine week

  • A one stop shop to learn about the federal FOIA. Interested in the federal Freedom of Information Act? Looking for information about the law or a specific agency? Check out FOIA Wiki, a “free and collaborative resource on the U.S. Freedom of Information Act…provided by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, with contributions from The FOIA Project at TRACMuckRockThe National Security ArchiveFOIA Mapper, and users like you.” (FOIA Wiki)
  • FOIA Audit finds 3 out of 5 agencies failing to follow the latest updates to law. According to a new report from the National Security Archive released this week only 33 out of 98 agencies have updated their rules to comply with the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. (National Security Archive)
  • How can we solve challenges to FOIA? “But the things people build — be they bridges, roads or freedom of information laws — wear out without regular maintenance. That’s why Sunshine Week exists, to remind us that it takes effort to keep freedom working.” (David Cuillier and Eric Newton via RCFP)
  •  A new way to explore foreign influence. The Center for Responsive Politics is celebrating Sunshine Week with a new tool called Foreign Lobby Watch. The tool, a descendent of Sunlight’s Foreign Influence Explorer project, provides an easy way to “search filings required under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).” CRP plans to add additional functionality in the future, making the tool even more powerful. (
  • The Department of Justice’s digital disclosure of foreign lobbying makes progress. For the first time, DOJ will be proactively posting “informational materials” filed by foreign lobbyists online. The materials, previously available only in hardcopy, “include things like draft legislation, speeches, and press releases, and show how the lobbyists, in their own words, attempt to wield influence on behalf of their foreign clients.” (Project on Government Oversight)

sunshine in the states

  • Avoiding compliance with open government laws is expensive for states and citizens. Government organizations need a new approach to dealing with rapid technology change and increased expectations of openness. “Circling the wagons is not a bad idea. However, it should be done around the inadequate laws, policies and practices, and not around the content in which the public has a right to access.” (National Freedom of Information Coalition)
  • Minnesota faces a growing list of exemptions to its transparency law. “Exceptions to government transparency are growing in Minnesota as lobbyists for local officials, law enforcement and businesses gain exemptions under the state’s public records law.” The law, which was 29 pages when passed in 1982, has ballooned to 176 pages. (The News Tribune)
  • Liberating data from legacy systems. Municipal governments around the country are trying to figure out how to best “liberate operational data from” legacy systems and “there are some common lessons that can be derived from cities that have gone down this road already for those that are still trying to figure out the right approach.” (Mark Headd)

Ethics in trumpland


  • Trump’s “Winter White House” poses espionage, transparency risks. “President Donald Trump relishes the comforts of his Mar-a-Lago estate for repeated weekends away from Washington, but former Secret Service and intelligence officials say the resort is a security nightmare,” noting the lack of background checks for visitors among other issues. It’s not possible to disclose visitor logs if the Secret Service doesn’t do background checks for people visiting the “Winter White House” in the first place. The Trump administration appears not to be doing due diligence the public can and should expect of securing Mar-a-Lago, given that the president has  gone there four times and is planning to travel there again this weekend. Espionage and influence concerns aside, we still don’t know how much each trip itself costs the public, with estimates ranging from $800-$3 million each trip, as the White House is not disclosing travel. (POLITICO)
  • Fast Company goes deep on President Trump’s ties to the embattled ex-president of Panama. “Ricardo Martinelli, the ex-president of Panama facing extradition on corruption charges, helped [Trump] launch his first international property.”
  • Sonny Perdue’s history of conflict. “President Donald Trump’s nominee for Agriculture secretary, agribusiness tycoon and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, has long mixed personal and political business to benefit his friends and business associates — and he’s on track to do it again, even before he’s confirmed to the Cabinet post.” (POLITICO) Meanwhile, after a long delay, Purdue has submitted ethics forms detailing how he plans to avoid conflicts of interest in his new job. (The Hill)
  • American Oversight will track Trump administration conflicts of interest.  The new 501(c)(3) organization led by the co-founder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a former State Department lawyer,  “will primarily use Reid Collins Tsai litigation and open records laws” in its mission. (The Hill)


  • Biden talks health data at South By Southwest. Former vice president Joe Biden echoed a common theme at this year’s South By Southwest conference with a speech that touched on “data transparency, especially for digital interactions between, and within, government agencies and the private sector.” (Ars Techinca)
  • Lobbyists search for new approaches to influence in China. “Multinational companies have spent decades mastering the art of government relations in China. Now, as President Xi Jinping extends the Communist Party’s reach over policy making, they are starting to shift course.” (Bloomberg)


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