We've got one important reminder before you dig into today's roundup: Today is the final day to submit comments to the Federal Election Commission urging them to require disclosure for online political ads. We've been writing about the importance of disclosure for some time and think that online political ads should be at least as transparent as those on television and radio. We urge you to learn more about the proposed rule by reading the federal register notice and submit a comment to the FEC. Note that the FEC submission form appears to be experiencing issues right now, perhaps due to high volume of use. Be sure to check back throughout the day to submit your comment and let us know if you encountered a 404. We'll make sure to tell the FEC, which should know if its website isn't up to handling sustained public interest.
Read on for the rest of today's open government news including, the extent of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' potential conflicts of interest continues to grow, the GAO and agency Inspectors General weigh in on DATA Act implementation, Disney's attempts to freeze out a newspaper following critical coverage backfire, and more.
- Gas deal with China raises further conflict concerns for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. "On Sunday, thanks to a consortium of investigative journalists, the public learned that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross never fully divested himself of ownership in a big global shipping company — one with ties to Russia’s rulers — when he joined President Donald Trump’s Cabinet. But new reporting by NBC News shows that Ross’ potential conflicts of interest go even further. The shipping company’s own documents suggest that Ross’ company may benefit from an important initiative that he has led as commerce secretary: securing a trade agreement with China to increase U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG)." (NBC News) Meanwhile, David Dayen argues that the focus should be on Wilbur Ross' "unchecked" conflicts of interest, not just his business ties to Russia. (The Intercept)
- Judge issues gag order in Manafort case. "The federal judge overseeing the criminal case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates has issued a gag order limiting comments to the media and the public by lawyers, defendants and witnesses in the case." (POLITICO)
- Former Trump Advisor Icahn subpoenaed over conflicted regulatory push. "The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York has subpoenaed former White House adviser Carl Icahn for information about his push to change the federal biofuels program, according to a SEC filing issued by his company," writes Eric Wolff. Many viewed Icahn's efforts to alter the program as a conflict of interest that would have benefited his business interests if approved. (POLITICO)
- DeVos disclosures provide rare look at inner workings "family offices" for ultrawealthy. "Family offices—firms set up to manage investments and often the minutiae of daily life for ultrawealthy clans—are typically shrouded in secrecy. Disclosures filed by Betsy DeVos since her nomination as U.S. education secretary a year ago provide a rare look into one family office and into one of America’s greatest fortunes." (Wall Street Journal)
- President Trump isn't a fan of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Will his administration avoid enforcement? "President Trump has called it "ridiculous," a "horrible law" that made it difficult for U.S. companies to compete overseas. But the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars businesses from paying bribes to overseas officials, remains a key part of U.S. efforts to combat global corruption. Now one study is showing the Trump administration's use of the law may be declining, even as administration officials say they're committed to enforcing it." (NPR)
- GAO, agency Inspectors General, issue reports on DATA Act compliance and data quality. The GAO Report, which marks the first government-wide review of data quality under the DATA Act, found that agencies broadly complied with data submission requirements while identifying room to improve around completeness and accuracy of the data. You can read the entire report here. Meanwhile, individual agency Inspectors General also released reports as required under the DATA Act. You can track those reports on Oversight.gov.
- DHS watchdog removes misconduct documents from its website without adequate explanation. "Two documents cataloging hundreds of allegations of misconduct involving Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees have been removed from the agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG) website." Following a request for information from the Project on Government Oversight, an agency spokesman acknowledged that the documents were removed because one of the documents included a name that should have been redacted and that they would be replaced following a quality control process. The move is not necessarily problematic, but shares similar issues with a recent action by ICE. As Mia Steinle explains, neither office "posted clear information on their websites about why the information had been removed and when it would be available again. In the case of the IG, the office didn’t post any information at all about the missing documents, leaving the media and the public confused about why the material was removed." (Project on Government Oversight)
- Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) calls for algorithmic transparency from big tech companies. "Senator Al Franken called for more transparency into how Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. choose what news and products users see and said lawmakers should investigate the biggest internet platforms." (Bloomberg)
- Regardless of Jury's verdict, Sen. Menendez may stay in hot water. "Jury deliberations in the trial of Sen. Robert Menendez have begun, but even an acquittal may not be the end of the saga for the New Jersey Democrat. Whether or not the Senate Ethics Committee will pursue any disciplinary action on the matter remains an open question." As Joe Williams reports, the bar for the Ethics Committee to discipline the Senator will be lower than that for the Jury to find him guilty. (Roll Call)
- Speaker Ryan prefers his rules closed, limiting debate and amendment. Despite Speaker Paul Ryan's pledges to run the House of Representatives in a more open manner than that of his predecessor, "the House Rules Committee, which is controlled by the speaker, just set a record for the most closed rules in a session — barring lawmakers for the 49th time from offering amendments on a bill. Ryan has yet to allow a single piece of legislation to be governed by an open rule, which allows members to propose changes on the floor." (POLITICO)
- The Army, Navy, and Air Force academies keep their sports finances secret as they try to compete in the big business of college athletics. "U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis earns an annual salary of $207,800, according to public records. He oversees a department whose massive budget recently listed $8.2 billion for the Missile Defense Agency and $403 million for tactical Tomahawk cruise missiles. This national security information is not confidential. It is available by law because these positions and programs are paid for and accountable to U.S. taxpayers. By contrast, the Division I sports programs at U.S. military service academies are much more secretive about salaries and finances." (USA Today) Our take? The sports programs of the military service academies should be subject to public records law and disclose public tax returns.
- How Disney's efforts to freeze out the L.A. Times following critical reporting backfired. David Sims summarizes the story and provides some context. "Disney’s battle with the L.A. Times started over a series of investigative storiespublished in September about the company’s relationship with the city of Anaheim, which is home to Disneyland. The Times dug into Disney’s impact on local elections and the subsidies and tax rebates it had extracted from the city. Disney accused the paper of displaying a “complete disregard for basic journalistic standards” and decreed that L.A. Times journalists would be barred from seeing its movies at advance screenings—a fact that became public when the paper published an explanation last Friday. Within days, the company relented, announcing Tuesday in a statement to The New York Times that it would end the ban." (The Atlantic)
- Citizen collaboration can support fact-checking and the fight against misinformation. Ricky. J. Sethi, a professor at Fitchburg State University, explains that his "team conducts research on how critical thinking emerges in online communities and has recently developed a way for groups of people to engage in collective critical reasoning. This approach can help confirm or invalidate controversial or complex statements, and explain the evaluation clearly." (Government Technology)
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