In today’s edition, there’s trouble in (the) Paradise Papers, Steve Bannon’s ongoing relationship with the President of the United States might cause him some legal headaches, lobbying on tax reform is a sprint, not a marathon, local media gets some bad news, and more.
trouble in paradise
Over the weekend, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) launched the Paradise Papers, “a global investigation into the offshore activities of some of the world’s most powerful people and companies.” The ICIJ worked with 95 media partners in dozens of countries to explore 13.4 million files, originally obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, that offered unprecedented insights into a combination of offshore tax havens and company registries in countries around the world. As ICIJ explained, “the Paradise Papers files expose offshore holdings of political leaders and their financiers as well as household-name companies that slash taxes through transactions conducted in secret. Financial deals of billionaires and celebrities are also revealed in the documents.”
Unlike the Panama Papers, however, the Paradise Papers include information on at least 31,000 U.S. citizens, residents, and corporations, including a number of revelations about close associates of President Donald J. Trump and his administration:
- Russian interests with close Putin ties invested in Facebook and Twitter via a Kushner associate. “Two Russian state institutions with close ties to Vladimir Putin funded substantial investments in Twitter and Facebook through a business associate of Jared Kushner, leaked documents reveal. The investments were made through a Russian technology magnate, Yuri Milner, who also holds a stake in a company co-owned by Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser.” (The Guardian)
- Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross maintains an investment in a shipping company with ties to Russians. “U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. has a stake in a shipping firm that receives millions of dollars a year in revenue from a company whose key owners include Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law and a Russian tycoon sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department as a member of Putin’s inner circle. Ross, a billionaire private equity investor, divested most of his business assets before joining President Donald Trump’s Cabinet in February, but he kept a stake in the shipping firm, Navigator Holdings Ltd., which is incorporated in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific.” (ICIJ)
- A number of close advisors to President Trump have relied on offshore tax havens. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump pledged to put “America First” while fighting the power of global elites, but as the Paradise Papers illustrate, a number of his close associates have used offshore tax havens to conduct business. (ICIJ)
- Steve Bannon still talks to the President a lot. Is he violating any laws? Ethics experts Norman Eisen, Richard W. Painter, and Virginia Canter dig into the former White House strategist’s ongoing relationship with his former boss, noting that “these latest alleged Bannon-Trump communications come on top of other reported contacts between the two since Bannon left the White House. And it all raises serious questions as to whether Bannon is violating federal ethics laws and perhaps other statutes, including those concerning obstruction of justice.” (POLITICO Magazine)
- At least nine Trump associates had contact with Russia during 2016 campaign. “In all, documents and interviews show there are at least nine Trump associates who had contacts with Russians during the campaign or presidential transition. Some are well-known, and others, such as Papadopoulos, have been more on the periphery.” (Washington Post)
- Interior Department cites legal conflicts while withdrawing U.S. from international transparency initiative. Do those conflicts exist? The Project on Government Oversight doesn’t think so. Mia Steinle explains, “The EITI Standard requires that companies publish what they pay to governments and that governments publish what they receive for the extraction of natural resources from public lands. A key piece of data that governments and industries are required to disclose are tax payments. This, according to a report from earlier this year by the Interior Department’s Inspector General, is the main “provision” standing in the way of U.S. success in EITI because the majority of U.S. oil, gas, and mining companies have refused to disclosure their taxes. But while there’s no law that forces companies to disclose their taxes—thanks largely to industry lobbying—there’s also no law that prevents them from doing so.” (Project on Government Oversight)
- Sen. Mitch McConnell is skeptical about online ad transparency. “I’m a little skeptical of these disclosure-type proposals that are floating around, which strikes me would mostly penalize American citizens trying to use the Internet and to advertise,” he said on Sunday. In response, we’d note that disclosures of political ads on TV, radio & satellite have not penalized Americans tuning in, nor restricted their speech. (Roll Call)
- While urging the “lightest touch possible,” Sen. Mark Warner continues to support new disclosure rules for political ads online. (So do we!) Speaking on CBS’ Face The Nation, the Democrat from Virginia said “the basic requirement that there ought to be the same disclosure for political ads on the internet that exist for ads that appear on your show, I think makes sense.” (The Hill)
- It’s a sprint to the finish for lobbyists hoping to influence tax reform legislation. “The Republican tax rewrite unveiled on Thursday has set off a scramble among lobbyists and interest groups desperate to preserve prized tax breaks that are suddenly at risk in the sweeping bill moving through the House. Yet the ability of K Street to prevent longstanding tax provisions from getting the ax is running headfirst into Republicans’ own mad dash as they attempt to quickly pass the tax rewrite and get it to President Trump’s desk by Christmas.” (New York Times)
- Schock trial delayed as former Rep. asks appeals court to drop corruption charges. “A federal judge in Illinois has agreed to delay the trial of former GOP Rep. Aaron Schock while the ex-lawmaker attempts to persuade an appeals court to dismiss the indictment against him. Schock was indicted in November 2016 on a range of corruption charges, including wire and mail fraud, filing false federal tax returns, submitting inaccurate reports to the Federal Election Commission, making false statements and theft of government funds.” (POLITICO)
- The U.S. is an increasingly popular location for anonymous shell companies and financial secrecy. “All told, over the past few years the United States has transitioned into one of the most prominent jurisdictions hawking outright financial secrecy internationally. While traditional tax havens and other Western governments alike have tightened regulations pertaining to financial transparency, the United States has instead lurched in the opposite direction.” (The Hudson Institute)Our take? Secrecy and opacity about who owns companies in the USA enables corruption & kleptocracy globally. It should end.
states and cities
- Boston’s new 311 crowdsourcing model includes open data and machine-learning model. “Boston has launched a new crowdsourcing effort to gather data for its 311 interface, deploying a machine-learning model that takes a description of the user’s issue and then suggests case types that are most likely to fit what they need.” Zach Quaintance reports that “the city plans to release its data and model code on its Analyze Boston open data hub, so that other jurisdictions can potentially use it to create their own systems.” (Government Technology)
- Philadelphia launches new mapping tool combining zoning, assessment, 311 and other data sources. “Open data is turning a corner in Philadelphia with the launch of a new city platform, Atlas. The new Web-powered platform uses mapping to bring a property’s deed information, value assessment, 311 call history, zoning and other data into one location, accessible by just a few mouse clicks.” (Government Technology)
- Network of local news sites shut down with little warning last week following vote to unionize. DCist, Gothamist, and other local news sites were “shut down on Thursday afternoon by billionaire owner Joe Ricketts. All sites in the…DNAInfo/Gothamist network redirected to a letter from Ricketts announcing the closure, leaving the news and features that the sites offered inaccessible. This leaves writers unable to access their clips.” While Ricketts cited lack of business progress, “the abrupt shutdown came a week after the staff of the network’s two New York–based sties voted to unionize, which played a role in the decision.” (Technical.ly DC)
- It’s tough to track how much the State of California is spending to settle sexual harassment claims. “Representatives of California’s key financial and personnel agencies told The Bee they have no master list of sexual harassment settlements – and no easy way to get one –since each department is responsible for its own budgeting, including legal resolutions.” (Sacramento Bee) It’s worth noting that some states track lawsuit judgments and settlements, and disclose that info to the public. California isn’t one of them.
save the dates
- 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 here.
- November 13th – 15th: The Public Good App House Festival in Washington, DC. “The top experts in Public Good Technologies are coming together for the Public Good App House Festival of the Americas in Washington, DC from November 13th – 15th, 2017. The festival will be centered around the UN Sustainable Development Goals, showcasing Public Good Technologies that are helping to mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.” Events tied to the festival will be held in public libraries across DC! Learn more here and register to attend here.
- November 17th – 19th: Data 4 Black Lives, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Community members, organizers, academics, technologists, educators, artists, policy makers, and public servants will come together for the inaugural Data for Black Lives conference at the MIT Media Lab. Learn more and check out the agenda right here.
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