Today in OpenGov: Governors get secret support, a House committee tries to avoid records release, and more…


In today's edition, we track some shadowy political funding, Eric Trump shares an interesting detail about his family's golf course funding, Congress can't stop trying to keep its dealings with agencies secret, and more…

Money talks

Image credit: Center for Responsive Politics
  • Two anonymous donations provided nearly all of the funding for a pro-Rubio nonprofit. "A politically active nonprofit that supported Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) failed 2016 presidential bid raised nearly $22 million in two years, 93 percent of which came from either one or two anonymous donors, tax documents obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics show." (Open Secrets)
  • Governors around the country are getting help from dark money groups. "Many 501(c)(4)s were created over the years to help push specific issue or ideological causes. But more recently, the state-based nonprofits came to life to help individual candidates. Since most states don't require 501(c)(4) to reveal much about what they're doing, they've become increasingly popular fundraising mechanisms to help governors." (NPR)
  • Special election in Georgia is the most expensive House race ever. "Candidates and outside groups have aired or reserved more than $29.7 million worth of TV ads in the race to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in Congress, which will break a five-year-old record for House spending — highlighting the outsize importance a sliver of the Atlanta suburbs has taken on in national politics." (POLITICO)

washington watch

  • Multiple House committees tell agencies not to share correspondence via FOIA. Last month, the "chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services sent a letter…to the head of the Treasury Department instructing him to decline Freedom of Information requests relating to communications between the two offices" (BuzzFeed) Earlier this year a House Ways and Means staffer told the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that its correspondence with Congress is not subject to FOIA. (BuzzFeedIn both cases, the assertion is in error: federal agency communications to Congress are subject to disclosure to the press and public under the FOIA. Our take? If the Members of Congress and staff who signed these communications wish to change the nation's public records law, they should do in open hearings with reform proposals, not send letters to agencies that create secrecy around oversight where there was none before.
  • A record number of FOIA requests were filed in 2016, but processing backlogs improved. "Document requesters used the Freedom of Information Act in record numbers in fiscal 2016, but agency offices still managed to reduce the long-standing backlog, according to the latest annual report from the Justice Department." (Government Executive)
  • NOAA's new chief data officer weighs in on preserving open data, plans for the future. "Recent articles in the popular press and across various social media platforms have raised concerns over the continued preservation and utilization of federal data holdings, particularly NOAA’s climate-related data.  These concerns have produced a number of coordinated efforts to download and store significant volumes of NOAA’s data outside of the federal data systems. While I do not share those same concerns about preservation, as NOAA’s new Chief Data Officer I recognize that the essential idea that enables these efforts —  easy public access to all of NOAA’s open data — is a laudable one that NOAA’s data stewards are striving to achieve."  (Libraries+ Network)
  • Obama's presidential center, novel approach to records release could change presidential libraries for better. "The notion that a federal presidential library would contain no papers, and not actually be federally operated, is astonishing. But to those like myself who have advocated for years—without much success—that it’s time to reform the broken presidential library system, it’s also an important positive development, and one that could be revolutionary." (POLITICO Magazine)


  • Golf writer James Dodson revealed Eric Trump's insight on how his family funded their golf empire during the recession: Russian investors. "Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.", Dodson quoted Trump as saying during a conversation on the links. (WBUR)
  • Kushner family event in China raises new conflict questions. "There's new scrutiny being directed towards senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner and his family's business interests overseas. The story flared up because of something that happened in Beijing yesterday. Chinese investors filled a ballroom to listen to Kushner's sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer. She was asking investors to help finance a real estate project in New Jersey and suggested, in return, investors could get American green cards." (NPR)

save the dates

  • #TCampAZ is coming up on May 22 in Phoenix. Learn more on Facebook and get your tickets hereThis one-day unconference will bring together the government representatives, developers and journalists to solve problems relating to civic data access. TCamp participants design the agenda, present their ideas and dive into the challenges, success stories and new possibilities during morning and afternoon breakout sessions. It is being hosted by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting with key partners including Sunlight, Galvanize, and the Institute for Digital Progress.
  • May 17th and 18th: Reboot Congress 2017 and the Kemp Forum in Washington, DC. "Held in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, Reboot Congress 2017, is an invite-only conversation that will bring together a dynamic mix of problem solvers – civic tech innovators, engineers and designers, elected officials, senior staffers, policy experts, and other stakeholders working to modernize Congress." Learn more here.
  • May 17th: The 2017 Door Stop Awards in Washington, DC. "Lincoln Network and The OpenGov Foundation are joining forces to present the 2017 Door Stop Awards for Congressional Innovation and Transparency. Awards will be presented on May 17, 2017 in Washington, D.C. at an evening party as part of Reboot Congress." Learn more here.
  • May 19th and 20th: Global Legislative Openness Conference in Kyiv, Ukraine. "This 2-day event is hosted by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, organized by the Legislative Openness Working Group of the Open Government Partnership and Open Parliament Initiative in Ukraine. The event will convene leading legislators, government officials, and civil society representatives to consider how legislative openness can strengthen public trust in representative institutions and build a responsive, 21st century legislature. In addition, the conference will explore how parliaments can best leverage the Open Government Partnership's new legislative engagement policy to develop and implement legislative openness plans and commitments." Learn more here. 
  • June 8th and 9th: Personal Democracy Forum 2017 in New York City. "The annual flagship conference brings together close to 1,000 top technologists, campaigners, hackers, opinion-makers, government officials, journalists, and academics for two days of game-changing talks, workshops, and networking opportunities to celebrate the power and potential of tech to make real change happen." Learn more about #PDF17 and get your tickets here.
  • June 27th: Legislative Data and Transparency Conference in Washington, DC. "The Legislative Data and Transparency Conference 2017 (#LDTC17), hosted by the Committee on House Administration, will take place on Tuesday, June 27, 2017in the Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium. The #LDTC17 brings individuals from Legislative Branch agencies together with data users and transparency advocates to foster a conversation about the use of legislative data – addressing how agencies use technology well and how they can use it better in the future." Learn more here
  • June 29th: DATA Act Summit 2017 in Washington, DC. "The fourth annual DATA Act Summit, hosted by the Data Coalition and Booz Allen Hamilton, will bring together supporters of the open data transformation from across government and the private sector." Learn more and get your tickets here.
  • September 11th and 12th: TicTec@Taipei in Taipei. "TICTeC@Taipei is the first ever conference about the influence of civic tech to be held in Asia. We’ve invited members of academia, business, politics, NGOs, education to participate, and discuss their research. We hope through this event, we can build a global network of civic tech enthusiasts." The event is being held during #CivicTechFest 2017. Learn more, submit a session proposal, and register to attend here.


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