Today in OpenGov: Is the best offense a good legal defense fund?


The city of Arlington, Texas is currently accepting comments on their draft open data policy. We encourage you to head over to their page on Madison, read the policy, and consider weighing in with your feedback. 

Once that's done, read on for all the day's open government news, including a highly questionable decision by the Office of Government Ethics, a nominee for the FEC, social media censorship in India, and much more.


  • Office of Government Ethics will allow lobbyists to anonymously contribute to legal defense funds. "The U.S. Office of Government Ethics has quietly reversed its own internal policy prohibiting anonymous donations from lobbyists to White House staffers who have legal defense funds. The little-noticed change could help President Donald Trump’s aides raise the money they need to pay attorneys as the Russia probe expands — but raises the potential for hidden conflicts of interest or other ethics trouble." (POLITICO) Our take? This is a dangerous decision that begs the question, when will Congress step up and exercise proper oversight of shady executive branch ethical actions?
  • In other OGE news, the office published results from its Trump Administration data call. You can read the full report here. Our biggest takeaway? There is no such thing as a retroactive ethics waiver. Meanwhile, our friends at the Project on Government Oversight have sent a letter to the OGE "urging it to require agencies to issue more comprehensive ethics agreements."
  • Trump's pick for #2 spot at FEMA withdraws amid questions over falsified records. "President Donald Trump's nominee for the No. 2 spot at the Federal Emergency Management Agency withdrew from consideration on Wednesday after NBC News raised questions about a federal investigation that found he had falsified government travel and timekeeping records when he served in the Bush administration in 2005." (NBC News)
  • The White House renews its war on leaks. "The top US national security official has directed government departments and agencies to warn employees across the entire federal government next week about the dangers and consequences of leaking even unclassified information. The Trump administration has already promised an aggressive crackdown on anyone who leaks classified information. The latest move is a dramatic step that could greatly expand what type of leaks are under scrutiny and who will be scrutinized." (BuzzFeed News)
  • Treasury Secretary Mnuchin wanted Air Force to provide honeymoon transportation. Justin Fishel, Brian Ross, and Jordyn Phelps report that "Secretary Steven Mnuchin requested use of a government jet to take him and his wife on their honeymoon in Scotland, France and Italy earlier this summer." While the request was eventually dropped, it reportedly led to an inquiry by the department's Inspector General. (ABC News

washington watch

  • Trump nominates Texas lawyer to fill spot on the Federal Election Commission. "The White House announced late Tuesday that the president has nominated James E. 'Trey' Trainor III, a partner in the Austin office of Akerman LLP, to fill the remainder of a six-year FEC term that will expire in April 2021." The spot is currently filled by Republican Lee Goodman, who has publicly discussed stepping down by the end of this year. (Washington Post) Our take? Trainor was opposed to transparency in Texas and keeps his tweets secret, not a great sign for how he's likely to behave on the FEC. 
  • Former Debbie Wasserman Schulz IT aide banned from House network for hiding secret server. Former Sunlighter Luke Rosiak has the latest scoop in the ongoing saga of Imran Awan, a former Democratic IT aide who is now facing indictment by the FBI. It turns out that Awan had been routing "data from numerous House Democrats to a secret server," which he tried to hide when police requested a copy of the server in question. Awan appears to have had access to the email and files of 45 members of Congress. (Daily Caller)
  • Sunlight joins broad coalition calling for more transparency on federal weapons sales to local police. The coalition expressed its deep disturbance over " the Trump administration’s revocation of President Obama’s 2015 Executive Order 13688 and its ensuing recommendations, which placed critical limits on federal programs that provide military equipment to law enforcement agencies." Read the full letter at
  • New report urges adoption of non-proprietary unique entity identifier. "A new report has found that the U.S. government, as well as state and local agencies, should adopt a universal identifier system for the companies and nonprofits it does business with, citing tangible benefits that range from increased transparency on spending to quicker identification of corrupt or low-performing contractors." (Government Executive) Read the full report at the Data Foundation. Disclosure: Matt Rumsey, who collaborates with us from Paris to build this newsletter every morning, co-authored the new report. 

around the world

The Open Data Institute's new Open Data Canvas
  • Mauritian attorney general steps down amid money laundering probe. "Mauritian Attorney General Ravi Yerrigadoo stepped down to allow an investigation into allegations of money laundering, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said." Kervin Victor has the full story of allegations that "Yerrigadoo helped set up a financial structure to enable the transfer of gambling winnings to bank accounts in Dubai and Switzerland." (Bloomberg
  • Indian government requests Twitter censorship of Kashmir content. "Dozens of people who have tweeted about the conflict in Indian-administered Kashmir or shown sympathy for Kashmiri independence movements online may soon be censored on Twitter, at the request of the Indian government." (Global Voices)
  • Open Data Institute launches effort to improve data ethics. The ODI's new paper and tool are aimed at encouraging ethical decisions about data collection and use that do not lead to unfair, discriminatory, or deceptive practices. (Open Data Institute)

save the dates

  • September 14th – 16th: Digital Humanities and Data Journalism Symposium, in Miami, Florida. [UPDATE: Due to Hurricane Irma the symposium has been canceled]"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."
  • September 19th, 1:00 pm EST: Tactical Data Engagement Kickoff Discussion, Webinar. Join the Sunlight Foundation for the official launch of Tactical Data Engagement, a guide to help cities facilitate the impactful use of open data by collaborating with communities. As part of the launch we’ll be hosting a kickoff conversation about the guide and the tactical engagement process. Join us on September 19 at 1 PM EDT for a free webinar. Hear from Sunlight's Open Cities experts, who have worked with dozens of cities on the ideas outlined in the guide. Participants are welcome and encouraged to bring questions about the ways open data could be used to help solve their own city's challenges. Register for the Webinar here
  • September 23rd: Populist Plutocrats, lessons from around the world, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "This one-day conference, co-sponsored by Harvard Law School and the Stigler Center, will focus on an important and dangerous political phenomenon: the “populist plutocrat.” The populist plutocrat is a leader who exploits the cultural and economic grievances of poorer, less-educated voters against traditional elites in order to achieve and retain power, but who, once in office, seem substantially or primarily interested in enriching him- or herself, along with a relatively small circle of family members, cronies, and allies." Learn more here
  • September 26th: Data Transparency 2017, in Washington, DC. Hosted by the Data Foundation, "Data Transparency 2017 is Washington's largest open data event, bringing together government leaders, transparency advocates, and the technology industry to explore how technology can transform government, compliance, and the private sector." Learn more and get your tickets 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 on the event website. If you're interested, but can't attend the event will be broadcast live on the web.
  • September 28th – 30th: CityCampNC, Raleigh, North Carolina. "CityCampNC, part of NC Open Pass, is an annual event that brings citizens, public servants, academia, and businesses together to openly innovate and improve our communities in partnership with government." This year, Sunlight's Open Cities Director Stephen Larrick will be giving the keynote address at CityCampNC. Learn more and register to attend here
  • 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
  • November 7th and 8th: The Harvard Summit on Data-Smart Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The "first-ever Harvard Summit on Data-Smart Government [is] presented by the Civic Analytics Network (CAN), a peer group of leading Chief Data Officers from America’s largest cities working to advance the use of data analytics in municipal government. At the Summit, you will learn about the ways data is reshaping how cities across the country work and hear from expert speakers including CAN Director Stephen Goldsmith, author of The Responsive City and Director of Harvard’s Innovations in Government program. Conference participants will be able to take part in training and workshops to gather practical knowledge about how to transform city services and government through the use of data and attend sessions on topics including how cities can leverage data for public safety, mobility, inspections, and more." You can learn more and register here, note that registration closes on October 6th. 


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