It’s been a busy week in Washington, capped by a dramatic showdown in the Senate late last night that featured an abnormal legislative process. In today’s newsletter, we look back at the new White House communications director’s first week in Washington, share a read out from our trip to the White House to discuss open data, endorse bipartisan call for an email privacy overhaul, worry over an increasingly dire situation in Venezuela, and much more.
I can’t stop watching this: the moment McCain votes no with a 👎🏻. Watch Bernie notice what’s happening. Then Look at McConnel’s grim reax pic.twitter.com/Bniamtvs80
— David Mack (@davidmackau) July 28, 2017
Last night, in a dramatic moment, Senator John McCain cast the deciding vote to prevent a “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act from moving in the Senate.
Putting the policy aside, the legislative process itself has been anything but open, as former Sunlighter Paul Blumenthal noted. We share his assessment: this has been one of the most opaque processes in the modern era. Unprecedented secrecy in the Senate has been bad for our democracy.
“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people,” said Senator McCain. “We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”
We hope the Senate returns to regular order soon…
Newly appointed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci had a busy first week in his new job as he tries to fight the scourge of “leaks” coming from the White House.
On Wednesday, Lorraine Woellert reported details from Scaramucci’s financial disclosure forms in POLITICO. He responded by threatening to push the FBI and Department of Justice to investigate how the documents where “leaked.”
As Woellert pointed out on Twitter, however, the document in question was publicly available upon request from the Export-Important Bank, where Scaramucci has been serving. Their release to a reporter is neither a leak nor a felony, as the White House communications director had asserted in a now-deleted tweet.
That night, Scaramucci called New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza and vented his frustrations over leaks and push for Lizza to give up his sources in some of the foulest language we’ve seen in any on-the-record quote by a White House official in the modern era.
Among a litany of “Not Safe For Work” quotes, Scaramucci threatened to fire the entire White House Communications staff, explaining “what I’m going to do is, I will eliminate everyone in the comms team and we’ll start over.”
On Thursday morning, Scaramucci called into a morning CNN show, where Lizza was talking about the call. You can watch the show in the tweet embedded below.
It’s not clear if this is what voters intended, but the spectacle of a White House that’s like a full reality TV show is a new low watermark in our politics.
The biggest issues on display should not be obscured by the drama. “Two incidents over the past 24 hours have made glaringly obvious what has been hinted at for the past two years,” Phillip Bump reported in the Washington Post, “President Trump and his loyalists potentially find the release of nearly any information about what they’re doing to be offensive, no matter how mundane.”
Our view matches the Post on this count: This isn’t about leaks. It’s about the White House questioning or repudiating basic transparency norms.
“Asset disclosure and freedom of information laws are two of the strongest anti-corruption measures,” said John Wonderlich, Sunlight’s executive director. “That the White House should support them should go without saying. President Trump has made an enemy of each of the pillars of democratic accountability: election integrity, the free press, judicial independence, and government ethics. This is not a novel point, but it’s one that will take effort for our politics to really process. A credible ‘Election Integrity Commission’ would immediately condemn Trump’s baseless claims about fraudulent voting, not embrace them.”
sunlight at the white house
On Wednesday, Sunlight’s deputy director went to the White House for a roundtable on open data hosted by the White House Office of Management and Budget. What we heard affirmed the Trump administration’s support for the ongoing public disclosure of public records to the public online, which will no doubt surprise some people.
According to OMB, the Trump administration is doubling down on open data relevant to economic growth through its IT modernization efforts. We thank the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for the invitation, robust support for the ongoing implementation of the DATA Act, and for soliciting meaningful feedback on the administration’s open data collection, use and disclosure policies from an organization that has been critical of their open government record.
You can find our full read-out on the event, including recommendations to increase the value and business use of open data for economic growth, in the notes on the open data roundtable on the blog.
Elsewhere in trumpland
- Trump’s temporary OGE head has sought ethics roll backs in the past. Eric Lipton reports that “David J. Apol, named by President Trump last week as the new head of the Office of Government Ethics, has repeatedly clashed with colleagues over his career at the agency as he sought to roll back or loosen ethics requirements on federal employees, including those in the White House, three former senior officials at the agency said.” (New York Times)
- Bannon’s shadow press operation may violate federal law. “In an arrangement prominent ethics experts say is without precedent and potentially illegal, the White House is referring questions for senior presidential adviser Stephen K. Bannon to an outside public relations agent whose firm says she is working for free.” (The Center for Public Integrity)
- State and local investigations move forward on Trump. President Trump is reportedly investigating all available options to slow down or stop federal investigations into connections between his campaign and Russia, but, as Stephanie Akin reports, “Trump has no control over state and local-level probes looking into the financial interests of his businesses, his family and his aides. And he can’t fire state and local prosecutors or issue pardons for state crimes.” (Roll Call)
- House denies attempt to decimate Congressional Budget Office. This week, the House of Representatives rejected a foolish amendment to eliminate roughly one-third of the CBO on a 309-116 vote. The amendment would have gutted the Office’s 89-employee budget analysis division. (Roll Call) We supported this call by the R Street Institute and Demand Progress for Congress to support the agency and were glad to see the House stand up for this nonpartisan institution.
- Senators to introduce bipartisan legislation to boost email privacy. “Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) are expected to unveil legislation Thursday that will force the government to obtain warrants to look at Americans’ emails, according to three sources with knowledge of the bill.” (The Hill) We support this bill. Americans should be secure in our private papers. in 2017, that means email. Law enforcement should need a warrant to look at our messages.
- FCC sued over failure to share details of its conversations with ISPs. American Oversight, a Washington, DC based nonprofit, sued the FCC this week, saying “the commission failed to comply with a public records request for communications about net neutrality between FCC officials and Internet service providers,” according to Jon Brodkin. (Ars Technica)
- A bipartisan call for stronger foreign lobbying rules. “Lawmakers called for strengthening laws on how the Justice Department (DOJ) regulates foreign lobbying efforts at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. The hearing comes with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in the spotlight amid probes into potential Russian interference in the 2016 election and as former Trump campaign officials register retroactively as foreign lobbyists.” (The Hill)
- New tool helps federal whistleblowers know their rights. The Project on Government Oversight has released a new tool to help potential whistleblowers understand the patchwork of legal protections available to them throughout the federal government. The tool “can be used o learn more about the legal protections and disclosure rights for the various types of federal sector employees, who are covered by different legal authorities.”
- Yesterday, the Chief FOIA Officers Council held a regular meeting in Washington, DC. You can watch archived video on YouTube and check out Twitter for our updates from the meeting.
states and cities
- Syracuse, NY launches new data portal. “Mayor Stephanie A. Miner today unveiled DataCuse, the city’s new open data portal. This new tool is part of the mayor’s recently-enacted open data policy, to make more data about city government operations open and accessible for the public.” (City of Syracuse) We’re glad to see Syracuse increase public access to public information and have played a role in that effort. Check it out at http://data.syrgov.net
- Pittsburgh, PA launches new property data map. “To aid its neighborhood-level transformation and make its property data truly accessible to practitioners and residents alike, today the City of Pittsburgh unveiled Burgh’s Eye View: Parcels — the latest in its popular series of “one stop shop” maps for viewing and interacting with the city’s data. The Parcels map allows public users to view, by neighborhood, delinquent properties, city-owned properties, and properties in a tax abatement program.” (Data-Smart City Solutions)
- New Mexico is planning tougher rules on dark money disclosure. “New Mexico campaign finance regulators are making some adjustments as they move forward with a proposal for more detailed financial disclosures from nonprofit advocacy groups that attempt to influence elections.” (Associated Press via US News)
around the world
Protests in Venezula. Image: Voice of America
- U.S. announces Venezuela sanctions amid deepening political crisis. “The Treasury Department targeted on Wednesday 13 current and former Venezuelan government officials with economic sanctions ahead of the country’s upcoming election, widely feared as a power grab by the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.” (The Hill) Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government has banned nationwide protests “just days before a referendum to elect a constituent assembly capable of rewriting the nation’s constitution.” (The Atlantic)
- Pakistani prime minister ousted amid corruption probe. “Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the country’s top court Friday amid a corruption investigation into his family wealth triggered by a data dump known as the Panama Papers.” The five judge panel moved unanimously. (NBC News)
- Spanish leader testifies in corruption trial. “Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday became the first sitting Spanish prime minister to give witness testimony in a court case…” when he testified in front of a tribunal hearing “a massive corruption investigation into alleged kickbacks for public contracts involving local administrations under the control of Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) and the illegal financing of the same party.” (POLITICO)
- New tool aims to boost access to information in Colombia. “To make accessing information easier for citizens and public authorities alike, a group of journalists in Bogotá including DataSketch, have recently set up the Freedom of Information request platform QueremosDatos (the name of which translates as ‘We want data/information’).”(mySociety)
- Top data journalism stories from around the world. The Global Investigative Journalism Network rounded up 10 great data based stories from last week, including our look at a Georgia journalist’s efforts to map and open previously closed data on affordable housing.
save the dates
- Today, 2:00 – 3:00 PM: The Office of Special Counsel and Merit Systems Protection Board: Past, Present, and Future Analysis in Washington, DC. As part of the annual Whistleblower Summit. Learn more here.
- August 1st: DKAN Summit in Washington, DC. Part of Drupal GovCon 2017, the DKAN Open Data Summit will feature open data leaders discussing how DKAN can be used to facilitate government open data efforts. Learn more and register here.
- September 11th and 12th: Civic Tech Fest and 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. The agenda is up now and you have until July 21st to sign up for early bird tickets!
- 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.
- September 28th: Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information, Paris, France. “The ‘IPDCtalks’ will be held to highlight and elaborate on the importance of Access to Information for all sustainable development efforts around the world. It will consist of a series of attractive and dynamic talks from global public leaders, top journalists, young intellectuals and community leaders. While some of the speakers will elaborate on the key role of Access to Information for the achievement of a particular Sustainable Development Goal, others will reflect on the essential role of Access to Information for our society and future.” You can learn more and request an invitation on the event website. If you’re interested, but can’t attend the event will be broadcast live on the web.
- October 13th – 14th: 2017 FOI Summit, Nashville, Tennessee. “Music City USA becomes home for NFOIC, state FOI coalitions and open government advocates for the 2017 FOI Summit on Friday and Saturday, October 13-14, 2017.The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and our host, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government will convene the annual summit at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University.” You can learn more and register here.
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