Today in OpenGov: Sunshine laws under pressure in state legislatures

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Today, Townsville commercial lawyers wrap up a busy weekend in the open government world with the latest intersections between President Trump's businesses and his official duties, another attempt by Congress to block public knowledge into its correspondence with federal agencies, lessons in tactical urbanism on PARK(ing) Day, and much more. 

Before you jump in, don't forget that tomorrow at 1:00 PM EST we'll be hosting a kickoff discussion for  the Tactical Data Engagement guide. The discussion will feature speakers from Sunlight, Reboot, the city of Madison, Wisconsin, and more. Register for the webinar here
 

states and cities


PARK(ing) Day 2013. Image Credit: Aimee Custis
  • FOI laws are under pressure in state houses across the United States. "Lawmakers across the country introduced and debated dozens of bills during this year’s legislative sessions that would close or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings, according to a review by The Associated Press and numerous state press associations. Most of those proposals did not become law, but freedom-of-information advocates in some states said they were struck by the number of bills they believed would harm the public interest, and they are bracing for more fights next year." (Associated Press)
  • Seattle, Washington looks to tech to help its aging population. "The city will host a hackathon dubbed A City for All, which begins Sept. 22 and spans three days. The event will include technologists, of course, as well as input from national accessibility experts and the release of new data sets that provide insights into how Seattle supports residents as they age." (Government Technology)
  • What can open data advocates learn from tactical urbanism? Stephen Larrick celebrated "PARK(ing) Day, the annual, global event where artists, designers, and residents transform parking spots into temporary public parks," by sharing five lessons that open data advocates can learn from it and other tactical urbanism efforts. (Sunlight Foundation

trumpland

Mar-a-Lago.
  • Mar-a-Lago visitor records release found wanting. "A government transparency group vowed on Friday to continue a court battle to open up visitor logs at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, after the administration provided only the names of Japanese staff who attended a February visit from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe." The Justice Department declined to release a broader set of visitor records, arguing that they related to the President's schedules and thus are not subject to disclosure under FOIA. (Bloomberg
  • Excess inaugural funds remain a mystery, but it's certain that nothing has gone to charity yet. "President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised an unprecedented $107 million for a ceremony that officials promised would be 'workmanlike,' and the committee pledged to give leftover funds to charity. Nearly eight months later, the group has helped pay for redecorating at the White House and the vice president’s residence in Washington. But nothing has yet gone to charity." (Associated Press)
  • Trump moves to dismiss emoluments suit filed by more than 200 members of Congress. "President Trump has moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed by more than 200 Democratic lawmakers alleging that the president has violated a constitutional prohibition on taking gifts from foreign governments." (The Hill)
  • Trump's presidency is reshaping business at his properties. "Trump-owned hotels and clubs have long made money by holding galas and other special events. Now, their clientele is changing. Trump’s properties are attracting new customers who want something from him or his government." But, David A. Fahrenthold, Amy Brittain, and Matea Gold report that "they’re losing the kind of customers the business was originally built on: nonpolitical groups who just wanted to rent a room." (Washington Post)
  • President Trump's "voter fraud" commission can't quit using private email, despite questionable legality. "President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission came under fire earlier this month when a lawsuit and media reports revealed that the commissioners were using private emails to conduct public business. Commission co-chair Kris Kobach confirmed this week that most of them continue to do so." This, despite the fact that, as Jessica Huseman reports, "experts say the commission’s email practices do not appear to comport with federal law." (ProPublica)

washington watch


 
  • Congress goes to court to keep correspondence with federal agencies secret. In a legal filing on Friday, the U.S House General Counsel argued congressional correspondence with federal agencies are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. (POLITICO) Our take? If Congress wants to further reform the FOIA statute to include this category of public records, they should do so, not attempt to create new interpretations through the courts that enable public business to be hidden from the public.
  • OGE appears to reverse change on lobbyist donations to legal defense funds. "The head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics said on Friday that the agency is sticking with its long-standing stance prohibiting anonymous donations to White House legal defense funds, despite recently putting forward language that appeared to undercut that position." (POLITICO)
  • Former challenger will plead guilty to stepping aside in exchange for $90,000 from Democratic Rep. Brady. "Lawyers for a former Democratic primary challenger to Pennsylvania Rep. Robert Brady said his client plans to plead guilty to hiding a $90,000 payment from Brady's campaign after dropping out of the primary in 2012." Brady's attorney's have denied any wrongdoing by the Congressman. (Roll Call)
  • Members of Congress rely on powerful friends for personal loans. "A review of mandatory personal financial disclosure forms filed by all current members of the House and Senate reveals at least 19 have accepted loans from organizations or moneyed individuals instead of a bank or traditional financial institution. Often, these organizations and individuals rank among the lawmakers’ key political supporters." (Center for Public Integrity)

save the dates


 
  • TOMORROW, 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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