Today in OpenGov: What lobbyists lurk in the shadows of Washington?


In today's edition, we look at shadow lobbying, share some good news from DC, explore what's working in cities, and collect dispatches from Trumplandia. Read on for more of the latest open government news from Washington and around the United States.


In 2013, we documented the prevalence of shadow lobbying in DC. A new analysis published by the Center for Responsive Politics confirmed what we and our allies have seen in recent years in DC: despite campaign rhetoric about the influence of money on politics and draining the swamp, the shadow influence industry is growing.

In "Out of the Swamp, Into the Shadows?",  Dan Auble and Sarah Bryner show "that many lobbyists are not leaving their field but instead continuing their work off the record. In 2017, the trend of lobbyists remaining with the same employer but no longer showing up on lobbyist disclosure forms appears to be on the rise."

The team cites new disclosure numbers that found 58% of the roughly 2,100 registered federal lobbyists who were active in 2016 but did not report undertaking lobbying activities in the first quarter of 2017 continued to work for the same employer."

The shift appears to be part of a larger trend towards "lobbyists deliberately moving into the shadows to avoid the consequences of registration," that started under President Obama and has continued into the Trump Administration.  The report digs into much more detail and is worth a read. It helps cement the conclusion that despite "rhetoric by both Presidents Obama and Trump about reducing the influence of lobbyists and the fact that publicly reported lobbying spending is diminishing, we show that many lobbyists are not leaving their field but instead continuing their work off the record."

washington watch

  • A Roll Call analysis shows that Members of Congress prefer to keep their taxes secret. On the Sunlight Blog Alex Howard broke down a recent Roll Call analysis of Congressional tax return transparency, calling it "the most comprehensive reporting we’ve seen on the availability of Congressional returns…this year". He asked the reports authors some questions and shared their database.
  • Big step forward for opening Congressional Research Service reports! A legislative appropriations bill that includes a provision that would direct CRS to beging the process of opening reports passed the House Appropriations Committee. Thank you for your help, all! (@SunFoundation)
  • DATA Act sponsors are optimistic about laws continuing implementation. "The federal government and U.S. citizens alike are seeing the initial benefits of the transparent federal spending data provided by the first reports under the Data Act, according to federal agency and congressional officials." (Federal Computer Week)
  • Revenue-neutral CBO report is great news for the OPEN Government Data Act.  In its new report on S.760 the CBO would not affect revenues or increase net direct spending. That clears the path for Congress to pass legislation that has broad bipartisan support!  (USCBO)
  • CMS unexpectedly didn't release highly-anticipated Medicare payment data. Citing issues with data accuracy, officials at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services canceled a planned release of data about "privately run health plans paid for by Medicare, which often come with lower out-of-pocket costs and some enhanced benefits." The data on so-called Medicare Advantage plans would have been available to researchers, who already have access to "data on the 38 million patients in the traditional Medicare program, which the government runs." (ProPublica)
  • Dark money deluge in the most expensive congressional race in history. "In Georgia, the campaigns of Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel were hardly the only ones taking to the airwaves. Here are some of the ways voters were in the dark about the ads that deluged them." (Issue One)

What's Working in Cities

Participants in Sunlight's What Works Cities On Tour workshop in Scottsdale, Arizona.

As Sunlight open cities analyst Katya Abazajian explains our our blog, our open cities team has been improving our new Tactical Data Engagement (TDE) approach to opening up public information, integrating feedback from cities on how public servants would actually apply it.

As part of that effort, we’ve been asking city staff of the What Works Cities initiative to brainstorm projects that apply lightweight, tactical ways of using open data to address challenges in their communities. At our workshops, civil servants share exciting ideas that prove catalyzing innovation around open data is possible without breaking the bank.

"For many city governments, opening public data to the public online sounds like an expensive, difficult goal, if not a far off dream. In Scottsdale, Arizona last month, Sunlight got to talk to the open data champions who think the next wave of progress is just around the corner." (Sunlight Foundation Blog)

states and cities

  • Wisconsin Supreme Court sides with open government advocates in open meetings case. "The court ruled that the Appleton school district improperly closed the meeting of a committee charged with reviewing course material. A parent in the district who had wanted to attend the meetings sued and lost in lower courts before the state Supreme Court sided with him." (Star Tribune via NFOIC)
  • Data that could help fight the opioid epidemic is disappearing. "Most major researchers believe that source, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, vastly understates the increase in heroin use. But many rely on the survey anyway for a simple reason: It’s the best data they have. Several other sources that researchers once relied on are no longer being updated or have become more difficult to access." (FiveThirtyEight) This lack of public knowledge about what's happening, where, and to whom will hobble national and state responses to the opioid epidemic. 
  • Vermont Secretary of State calls for creation of Open Government Ombudsman. In an op-ed for VTDigger, Jim Condos writes: "The time has come for Vermont to create an Open Government Ombudsman with the authority to make decisions about contested public records requests and open meeting violations…You only need to read the news to see what a difference an Ombudsman could make to improve transparency and access to public records. Let’s remember that the media is the public, and serves an important role keeping us all informed and keeping our government accountable."

DIspatches from trumplandia

A screenshot of the letter sent to state election officials by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
  • @POTUS IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS: Last night, President Donald J. Trump hosted a $35,000 a plate fundraiser at Trump Hotel in DC for his presidential campaign and the Republican party. After waffling on access, it was closed to press — but the Intercept obtained and published audio of the RNC fundraiser this morning. On the recording, the President of the United States criticized CNN staff by name, calling them "horrible human beings" and asked the Republicans in his hotel ballroom if he should sue them. The president had begun the day by tweeting roundly criticized remarks about an MSNBC host. This morning, he tweeted that he's sending "Federal help" to Chicago to address an epidemic of crime and killings. We don't know what that means yet, but we expect the FBI in Chicago are on it.
  • President Trump's "election integrity commission" quietly demands state voter data, but some secretaries of state are saying no. "On Wednesday, all 50 states were sent letters from Kris Kobach — vice chair for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity — requesting information on voter fraud, election security and copies of every state’s voter roll data." The request was met with skepticism by experts and some state officials who "reacted with a mix of alarm and bafflement. Some saw political motivations behind the requests, while others said making such information public would create a national voter registration list, a move that could create new election problems." (ProPublica) For more, follow this thread on our Twitter. 
  • Bipartisan heads of House Russia investigation threaten subpoena's related to Trump-Comey conversations. "The leaders of the House investigation into Russia’s election meddling are threatening to subpoena the White House for records of President Donald Trump’s conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, saying a Tweet from the president isn’t enough to clear things up." (POLITICO)
  • Many Trump business partners face investigations related to bribery, corruption, and money laundering. A Trump organization business partner in Indonesia is being investigated for allegedly threatening an investigator in that country's attorney general's office. This investigation "is just the latest of many involving both current and former Trump business partners for crimes such as bribery, corruption and, most commonly, money laundering." (HuffPost)

save the dates

  • July 5th, 10am EST: ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement: Voice or Chatter? Webinar. "In this webinar, IT for Change will present the results of eight empirical case studies of citizen engagement through ICTs they undertook. This research, funded by Making All Voices Count, explored in each case how new forms of participation were shaped by IT, how IT affected power relations between government and citizens, and how the interactions between different actors continuously shape governance. More information here:"
  • July 19th, 5:30 PM EST. Book Discussion: When Your Job Wants You To Lie in Washington, DC. "Join us for a discussion that will help us deal with the kinds of situations we all encounter. Presented by the American Society for Public Administration, National Capital Area Chapter (ASPA NCAC). Refreshments start 5:30, and the discussion starts 6:00. Space is limited, so you must RSVP in advance." Learn more and RSVP here
  • July 27th, 10 am: Chief FOIA Officers Council Meeting in Washington, DC. "OGIS and the Department of Information Policy (OIP) at the Department of Justice are happy to announce that the next meeting of the Chief FOIA Officers Council will be held on Thursday, July 27th from 10 am to noon. You can register to join the audience in the William G. McGowan Theater beginning on July 26. You can also plan on watching the livestream via the National Archives’ YouTube Channel."
  • 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.
  • September 13th: Civic and Gov Tech Showcase in San Jose, California. "Innovate Your State, in partnership with Microsoft and the City of San Jose, is bringing the 3nd Annual Civic & Gov Tech Showcase to the Capitol of Silicon Valley. The Civic & Gov Tech Showcase is an opportunity to connect with civic minded entrepreneurs, potential investors, and government leaders to showcase the great work that is being done to improve government and governance. The goal of the event is to encourage collaboration and the support of new technologies to improve government and public participation." Learn more and get your tickets here.
  • September 14th – 16th: Digital Humanities and Data Journalism Symposium, in Miami, Florida. "Digital humanists and data journalists face common challenges, opportunities, and goals, such as how to communicate effectively with the public. They use similar software tools, programming languages, and techniques, and they can learn from each other. Join us for lectures and tutorials about shared data types, visualization methods, and data communication — including text visualization, network diagrams, maps, databases and data wrangling. In addition to the scheduled content, there will be opportunities for casual conversation and networking." Learn more and register here.


Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to We would love your feedback!