Today in OpenGov: Navigating controversy


In today's edition, we dig for open data use cases in the Badger State, the Menendez jury starts to deliberate, Wilbur Ross tries to navigate through controversy, mySociety collects research on the state of civic tech, and much more. 

states and cities

Kicking off research for the first Tactical Data Engagement pilot in Madison, Wisconsin. 
  • Looking for open data use cases in Madison, Wisconsin. Over the next two weeks, Sunlight's Open Cities team will be in Madison, Wisconsin home to the first-ever pilot of Tactical Data Engagement (TDE), our four-step approach to help cities actively facilitate the use of open data to improve communities. Our goal is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the experts and organizations who are working on comprehensive neighborhood issues, gather ideas for how open data might support their work, and share our findings with you. Read more on the Sunlight Blog.
  • Leveraging open data to improve neighborhood services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Sunlight's Alex Dodds reports that "the City of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, wants to make it easier for residents to see and understand what’s happening in their city. A new open data policy, a major component of that work, is now open for public comment." Read more about Sioux Falls' engagment with the What Works Cities program on the Sunlight Blog.
  • Atlanta airport vendors wield major influence over local politics. "With more than 104 million passengers last year, Hartsfield-Jackson is the most trafficked airport on the globe, followed by Beijing and Dubai. The city of Atlanta owns it, and controls the billions in contracts tied to it — for engineering, construction and design work, parking, shuttle service, advertising along its concourses and the concessionaires who run its shops and restaurants." As Margaret Newkirk and Michael Sasso report, companies vying to retain or win those concessions aren't afraid to pour money into Atlanta politics. The implications have been significant for this year's mayoral race. (Bloomberg)
  • Spending in this New Jersey State Senate race could top $20 million. "Steve Sweeney, the president of the New Jersey Senate, is seeking re-election on Tuesday. Sweeney, a Democrat, is being opposed by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the primary teachers union in the state. Given NJEA's deep pockets — and the amount of money Sweeney has raised from other unions and allies — spending in the race could top $20 million. The union is on track to spend upwards of $8 million in the race. Sweeney and his backers, including a super PAC and the carpenters union, are expected to spend more than $11 million." (Governing)


  • Seven law professors back suit against President Trump for blocking Twitter critics, calling his tactics "authoritarian". "Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of seven professors Monday in support of the Columbia Knight First Amendment Institute’s lawsuit challenging Trump’s ability to block opponents from his @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed." (The Hill)
  • Commerce Secretary may drop stake in shipping company in wake of Paradise Papers revelations. "The commerce secretary, Wilbur L. Ross Jr., indicated on Monday that he would probably sell his stake in a shipping company with business ties to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s inner circle, amid fallout from publication of a vast leak of offshore files that documented the connection." (New York Times) Meanwhile, a top adviser to Ross maintained a seat on the board of that company while also serving in the Trump administration. (POLITICO)
  • Prominent Trump backer would benefit from DOE plan to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants. "A proposal by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to alter the nation's electricity markets would provide a windfall for a small group of companies — most strikingly one owned by coal magnate Bob Murray, a prominent backer of President Donald Trump. Perry's plan would force consumers to subsidize ailing coal-fired and nuclear power plants with billions of dollars, in what he calls an effort to ensure that the nation’s power network can withstand threats like terrorist attacks or severe weather. But his narrowly written proposal would mostly affect plants in a stretch of the Midwest and Northeast where Murray's mining company, Murray Energy, is the predominant supplier, according to a POLITICO analysis of Energy Department data." (POLITICO)

washington watch

Image via the National Parks Service.
  • As the jury begins to consider the corruption case against Sen. Bob Menendez one major question looms. Will he leave the Senate if convicted? "Menendez has refused to say whether he'd resign if convicted. If he is found guilty, Senate Republicans are expected to quickly try to expel him from the Senate, giving GOP Gov. Chris Christie a chance to name a Republican replacement for the Democratic lawmaker." However, according to this report by John Bresnahan, Democrats have significant incentive to delay any potential expulsion until after a new Governor takes office in January. (POLITICO)
  • Pentagon retroactively classifies Afghanistan reconstruction data. "The Department of Defense (DoD) is refusing to publicly release information measuring the strength and progress of Afghanistan’s security forces, even as it is asking for a big increase in troop levels and financial support for that war-torn country." The data, which was originally schedule for release, was retroactively classified following a request from the Afghan government. (Project on Government Oversight)
  • Sunlight joins 44 other organizations in opposition to misguided surveillance reform approach. The groups "wrote to the Senate to urge opposition to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bill to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S. 2010). Section 702 permits the government to collect the content of communications of targets who are foreigners located abroad, including communications they may have with Americans. The bill…would not enact any of the meaningful and reasonable reforms that Congress has been debating for years and that many organizations within the coalition have supported. Instead, it would reauthorize Section 702 for eight years without any reform, and would, in several respects, make the law worse." Read more via the Open Technology Institute and find the full letter here

around the world

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets President Donald Trump. Image via the White House.
  • Saudi Crown Prince removes political opposition amid "corruption" probe. "Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Saturday removed a prominent prince who headed the National Guard, replaced the economy minister and announced the creation of a new anti-corruption committee. The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel also reported late Saturday that 11 princes and dozens of former ministers were detained in a new anti-corruption probe headed by the kingdom’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was also named to oversee the new committee." (POLITICO) Kristian Coates Ulrichsen explains the moves in the context of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmen's ongoing efforts to centralize his "authority to a degree unprecedented in recent Saudi history…" (POLITICO Magazine)
  • British cabinet secretary apologizes for undeclared meetings in Israel, shares details. "International development secretary Priti Patel has apologised for meeting a string of Israeli politicians – including the prime minister – while on a family holiday. The cabinet minister broke Whitehall convention by attending 12 separate meetings and engagements without telling the Foreign Office in advance and with no government officials present. On Monday, she published a list of who she had met during her August holiday." (BuzzFeed) Our take? Secrecy regarding meetings on behalf of a public is undemocratic, but transparency is the right response to outrage.
  • Researching the impacts of civic technology? mySociety is gathering submissions ahead of April conference. The conference, TicTec 2018, is slated for April 18 and 19 in Lisbon Portugal. As for submissions, they write "We invite individuals and organisations to submit abstracts or workshop proposals of no more than 300 words by 2nd February 2018. We encourage submissions to focus on the specific impacts of technologies, rather than showcase new tools that are as yet untested. We will prioritise proposals that can demonstrate data or evidence of how civic technology has been impactful in some way. We encourage presentations that examine negative results as well as research evidencing positive outcomes!" Learn more and submit your work here

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