Today in OpenGov: On weaponized disclosures, Trumpian ethics and more


In today’s edition, we decry weaponized disclosures, share new data about gun murders across the country, highlight Judge Gorsuch’s testimony on dark money, ask about Ivanka Trump’s new job in the White House, and more.


On Tuesday, Sunlight joined a coalition of organizations dedicated to government transparency and accountability, privacy, human rights, civil rights, and immigrant rights in a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly raising substantial concerns about recent executive actions on immigration and refugees. As we all noted in the letter, the White House’s memoranda include provisions inconsistent with federal privacy protections and information quality guidelines.

These actions treat data disclosure as a tool for division and public intimidation, not a means for achieving transparency and accountability. Weaponized disclosures must not erode public trust in government.

States and Cities

  • Michigan Senate resists new transparency requirements. “Despite the Michigan House of Representatives’ unanimous vote last week to expand the state’s public records laws under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the outlook for improving transparency — in one of the least transparent states in the country — is questionable.” Sunlight’s Stephen Larrick weighed in: “It is absolutely necessary to have the executive branch and the chief of the executive branch be subject to FOIA…And I think the overwhelming majority of states that have those provisions are showing that democratic norm that transparency should be proportional to power” (StateScoop)
  • A new way to track gun violence at the hyper-local level. The Guardian worked with data from the Gun Violence Archive to create a “new set of nationwide data for 2015 that maps gun murders at the micro level – down to the local census tract. You can use this data to do analysis of how gun murder clusters within neighborhoods in your city or state.”  (The Guardian)
  • State legislatures are likely to tackle five tech-centric issues in coming sessions. “State legislatures are fairly predictable creatures when it comes to the bills they propose each session. A thing — in this case technology — becomes a major focus in the public eye for one reason or another, and a flood of potential legislative solutions pour out of capital offices, each meant to address, improve or regulate some aspect of the larger issue.” This article details five tech-centric issues that look poised for attention across state legislatures. (Government Technology)

Money, money, money

  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse grilled Judge Neil Gorsuch on Citizens United and money in politics at confirmation hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee has been considering Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court Nomination. Yesterday, Senator Whitehouse “rattled Gorsuch with a series of increasingly tough questions about corruption, corporate spending, and Citizens United.” He specifically focused on the millions of dollars in dark money being spent to support Gorsuch’s nomination. (Slate)
  • Paul Manafort accused of laundering $750,000. “President Trump’s former campaign leader Paul Manafort is being accused of laundering money from the party of Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed former president, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing documents from a Ukraine lawmaker.” (The Hill)
  • Philadelphia District Attorney facing federal corruption charges. “A grand jury on Tuesday indicted Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams on federal corruption charges, including allegations that he” exchanged official favors for tens of thousand of dollars in bribes, defrauded a nursing home, and more.  (Wall Street Journal)

Ethics in Trumpland

  • Ivanka Trump’s increased role at the White House raises ethics concerns. Ivanka Trump, a close adviser to her father, is taking her role a step further with a White House office and security clearance. But her role as an unpaid, unconfirmed adviser with no official title “has historians and ethics experts questioning the appropriateness of having one of the president’s adult children serving directly in the administration, especially while continuing to own a business.”  (NPR)
  • Precedent may push the President to give Ivanka an official position. Ivanka is taking on increased responsibility, but she won’t be “sworn into a formal role, despite Justice Department legal opinions that urge the president to make sure that individuals engaged in government work hold some type of official federal post, in part to guarantee that they are clearly subject to nepotism and conflict-of-interest rules.” (POLITICO)
  • Trump’s global business partners are looking to cash in. “A previously little-known batch of billionaires and tycoons from around the world suddenly find themselves in an unprecedented position: How do you cash in on a partnership with the president of the United States of America?”(Forbes)

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