Today in OpenGov: The K Street Shuffle


In today's edition, we watch representatives from major internet companies testify about Russian election interference on Capitol Hill, the fall out from Monday's indictments continues, activists improve access to California's election data, and much more. 

states and cities

  • Two decades  worth of California election data, now more open than ever. Thanks to the folks at the California Civic Data Coalition. In their own words: "After years of work, the Coalition is excited to release nearly two decades worth of data on California elections. The information, blocked from public release by state officials, is now published daily here on this site in open formats and according to a new open-source standard." (California Civic Data Coalition)
  • New report highlights civic tech funding struggles. A new report, Scaling Civic Tech: Paths to a Sustainable Future, by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation along with the Rita Allen Foundation found "that technology has opened new paths for citizens to contribute to democracy, and that interest in doing so surged after the 2016 presidential election. While organizations in the civic tech space are experimenting with revenue sources and business models, few have found reliable financing that fully covers costs. A shortage of capital and funders is also limiting civic tech's ability to scale." (Government Technology)
  • Four ways for cities to modernize and leverage their data. A recent report by the Brookings Institution looked "at the changes needed to modernize data use in transportation and planning, but the lessons can be applied to just about any city or county activity." In this column, Tod Newcombe broke the lessons down into 4 steps. (Governing)
  • System to purge duplicate voter registrations across states is more likely to automatically remove legitimate voters. "A database system that will now be used by Indiana to automatically purge voter registrations that have duplicates in other states is 99 percent more likely to purge legitimate voters, according to a paper published last week by researchers from Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Yale, and Microsoft Research." (Ars Technica)

washington watch

Image Credit: Ryan J. Reilly
  • Sunlight joins with Cause of Action Institute, other open government groups to push Justice Department on new FOIA policy. Following months of ambiguity, opacity, and deflection from the justice department the Sunlight Foundation, Cause of Action Institute​, and our open government allies wrote a letter asking The United States Department of Justice​ and the The White House​ Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to finalize and publish a new Freedom of Information Act policy that makes “release-to-one, release-to-all” the official stance of the United States government. Sunlight and Cause of Action also teamed up on an official Petition for Rulemaking, calling on OMB and OIP either to finalize the pending draft guidance creating a “release to one, release to all” policy or to commence an informal rulemaking, complete with the notice–and–comment procedures of Section 553 of the Administrative Procedure Act. Meanwhile, when asked for comment by FedScoop's Tajha Chappellet-Lanier, OMB responded that "transparency and open government are important to Director Mulvaney and the Office of Management and Budget. We appreciate the Cause of Action Institute’s and the Sunlight Foundation’s petition letter and we will we give their request appropriate consideration." (FedScoop) We have not yet heard back from OMB. You can read up on the issue, including all the history behind our actions, on the Sunlight Foundation blog.
  • Tech companies talk to Congress about Russian election interference. "Facebook, Google and Twitter officials were grilled on Tuesday by lawmakers from both parties on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who expressed frustration with the companies’ response so far to the use of their platforms by Russia in last year’s election." (The Hill) Unsurprisingly, all three declined to support the Honest Ads Act. "Facebook, Twitter and Google on Tuesday all declined to endorse a bill intended to bring more transparency to online political ads on their platforms," although they indicated a willingness to work with Congress on legislation. (The Hill) As we've pointed out previously, efforts by the companies to self-regulate, while welcome, will never adequately replace legislation.
  • Open Government Partnership National Action Plan delayed. We can report that the acting US CIO informed The Open Government Partnership that the publication of the 4th US National Action Plan will be delayed until early 2018. We'll be keeping our eyes on this and considering what it means for open government. 
  • New rules will keep some scientists off EPA advisory boards, paving way for more corporate influence. "Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, stripped a half-dozen scientists and academics of advisory positions Tuesday and issued new rules barring anyone who receives E.P.A. grant money from serving on panels that counsel the agency on scientific decisions…Mr. Pruitt was expected to appoint several industry representatives to the panels. He did not impose any new restrictions to prevent them from offering advice on environmental regulations that may affect their businesses." (New York Times)
  • Supreme Court's McDonnell decision will play heavily into Menendez jury instructions. "Judge William Walls is keeping the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 decision that overturned former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s corruption conviction foremost in his mind while deciding how to instruct the jury in U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez’s corruption case." (POLITICO) Sunlight has regularly expressed our concerns that the McDonnell decision will open up new horizons for political corruption. The Menendez case is the latest highlighting those concerns. 


  • In wake of Manafort indictment and Podesta resignation, K Street scrambles to comply with foreign lobbying rules. "Washington lobbyists who represent foreign powers have taken comfort for decades in the fact that the Justice Department rarely goes after them for potentially breaking the law. That all changed on Monday. The news of Tony Podesta’s resignation from his namesake firm and indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates sent K Street scrambling, as lobbyists rushed to make sure they’re in compliance with the rules." (POLITICO) Our friends at the Project on Government Oversight have a useful explanation of how those rules, as written, are ineffective. 
  • Meanwhile, GOP Senator, Representative introduce bills to reform foreign lobbying law. "Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) to propose identical bills they said would address ambiguous requirements for those lobbying on behalf of foreign governments. That ambiguity has, over the years, led to a sharp drop in the number of registrations and the prospect of widespread abuses, they said." (POLITICOFor years, Sunlight has pushed for reforms to the Foreign Agents Registration Act and we will be keeping a close eye on these developments. 
  • Indictments also highlight need for visitor log transparency. "One of the targets of the first criminal indictment to come out of the investigation into alleged Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election made multiple visits to the White House reportedly as recently as this summer. But those visits, as well as visits by others, are still largely shrouded in mystery because President Donald Trump’s administration rolled back an important transparency reform: the public release of White House visitor logs." (Project on Government Oversight) As we've written recently, visitor log transparency for all federal agencies would be a good step towards rebuilding public trust in our government. 
  • Conservative paper funded opposition research firm behind Trump-Russia dossier. "Representatives for the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online news site, informed congressional investigators Friday the outlet had originally funded the research firm that created the salacious dossier containing allegations of ties between Donald Trump's campaign and Russian operatives, the publication said in a statement." The Democratic National Committee and the Clinton Campaign have also come under scrutiny for funding the firm, Fusion GPS. (POLITICO)

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