Today in OpenGov: A chilling trend for state and local FOI laws


In today's look at open government news, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn continue to struggle amid scrutiny over their Russian ties, we look at the good that can be created with neighborhood level data, the drum continues to beat for improved disclosure of online political ads, and much more. 


Former advisors to President Trump Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. Image via
  • The U.S. government had an on-and-off wiretap on Paul Manafort for years. "US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe." Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz, and Pamela Brown report that "a secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014." (CNN)
  • Michael Flynn's family launches legal defense fund. "The family of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn has set up a legal defense fund for him, soliciting donations to ease the 'tremendous financial burden' from the ongoing investigations into his actions and the 2016 presidential campaign." (POLITICO)
  • Government charges at Trump properties raise new emoluments questions. "The White House’s National Security Council paid $1,092 in March for a two-night stay at the Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, according to…documents obtained through a public records request by [the watchdog group] Property of the People. Also in March, the State Department’s embassy in Panama paid $632 for a stay at Trump’s hotel in Panama City, while the Coast Guard in June paid $186 for a stay at Trump ‘s Las Vegas hotel. Coast Guard employees also charged to their government cards $62 worth of food or drink at the federally owned, Trump Organization-operated hotel in Washington, D.C." (Government Executive)

states and cities

A map of affordable housing production in Philadelphia between FY13 and FY16.
  • Governments are increasingly filing suit against public records requesters. Ryan J. Foley of the Associated Press reports that multiple local and state governments are suing people and institutions that make public records requests. This practice has been ongoing for years, unfortunately, but the chilling effect upon the American public's use of laws that give us the right to know what is being done in our name is real and of great concern.
  • Leveraging data for good at the neighborhood level. Matt Stempeck highlights the good work being done by "the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), a collaboration of the Urban Institute and local partners in 32 cities to further the development and use of neighborhood-level information systems for community building and local decision-making." (Civicist)
  • Philadelphia opens up data on housing built to accessibility standards. The Philadelphia Department of Housing and Community Development "provides funding to developers building or renovating affordable homes for sale or rent. DHCD requires some of these homes to serve residents with disabilities. DHCD’s Housing Production FY13-FY16 dataset shows the number of accessible units by development added to the housing stock, with metadata available here." (City of Philadelphia)

washington watch

  • New search engine makes it easier to parse government documents. Sqoop, a new search engine that is free for journalists to use compiles documents from the SEC, patents, information from various court dockets, Department of Justice Releases, and U.S. Attorney's offices releases. The goal is to make it easier for journalists to monitor and use public records. (Poynter)
  • Ann Ravel on the FEC's failure to act on online ad disclosure. Ravel, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, explains how "policymakers for years have ignored or outright opposed the need to hold the internet advertising industry to the same standards the country has already agreed on for television and radio. Our campaign finance rules are outdated for the internet age, and rules on the books aren’t enforced. Now, with the revelation that Russia, too, sees the political value in America’s online advertising market, the chickens have come home to roost." (POLITICO)
  • New group aims to help whistleblowers find legal pathways to report abuse. Whistleblower Aid "will help federal investigators gather evidence of alleged crimes, file complaints with inspectors general and the Office of Special Counsel, meet with lawmakers and congressional staff, publicize court complaints and file qui tam (False Claims Act) suits to recover damages." (Government Executive)
  • President Obama takes his talents to Wall Street. Despite the trouble that it has caused for his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a broader debate within the Democratic Party over corporate power, former President Barack Obama is heading to Wall Street for a series of paid speeches. (Bloomberg)

save the dates

  • TODAY. 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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