Today in OpenGov: A new age for political corruption?


In today's edition, you can become a citizen cosponsor of the HONEST Ads Act, WikiLeaks might cause more trouble for the extended Trump family, Colorado Springs is looking for feedback on its open data policy, journalism is risky in Thailand, and more. 

washington watch

  • A new golden age for political corruption. David A. Graham argues that a trend is emerging, with people "around the world, and Americans in particular, seem to be living through a golden age of corruption." Graham dates the shift "inside the U.S. to June 2016, when the Supreme Court overturned the corruption conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. It’s not that the justices found that McDonnell hadn’t done the things for which he was convicted; it’s that they decided that his favors on behalf of a friend who gave him more than $175,000 in gifts didn’t constitute legal corruption." (The Atlantic) We agree and have been expressing our concerns on this topic ever since the McDonnell decision. 
  • Following Menendez mistrial ruling, McConnell calls for a Senate ethics probe. "The Senate Ethics Committee will resume its investigation into Sen. Bob Menendez, a move that came just hours after a mistrial was announced in the New Jersey Democrat's bribery and corruption case. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had called for an ethics probe of Menendez as soon as a mistrial was declared by U.S. District Judge William Walls." (POLITICO)
  • Tech companies, in comments to the Federal Election Commission, asked for clarity and outlined steps towards transparency. "Facebook and Google told federal election officials they are open to greater oversight over the lucrative business of online political advertising, a shift for the tech giants who acknowledged recently that their ad platforms were exploited by Russian operatives during and after the 2016 election." (Washington Post)
  • Meanwhile, you can push for more transparency around online ads by becoming a citizen sponsor of the HONEST Ads Act. Along with our friends at Issue One, we are urging you to become a citizen co-sponsor of the Honest Ads Act and demand immediate hearings in Congress on protecting our political system from foreign interference. You can learn more and add your voice here.
  • More than 50 tech experts advise against DHS' plan to use Machine Learning for "extreme vetting". "A group of experts from Google, Microsoft, MIT, NYU, Stanford, Spotify, and AI Now are urging (pdf) the Department of Homeland Security to reconsider using automated software powered by machine learning to vet immigrants and visitors trying to enter the United States." (Government Executive)


Donald Trump Jr. tweeted following private correspondence with WikiLeaks. 
  • Could Donald Trump Jr.'s correspondence with WikiLeaks violate campaign finance law? Bob Bauer, former White House counsel to Barack Obama, argues that it's possible. He writes, "Donald Trump Jr.’s private Twitter correspondence with WikiLeaks adds significant detail to the emerging picture of a political alliance between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016. It provides evidence of criminal violations of federal campaign-finance rules, which prohibit foreign spending in U.S. elections." (The Atlantic)
  • Jared Kushner failed to disclose emails related to WikiLeaks, Russian overtures, to Senate Judiciary Committee. Karoun Demirjian reports, "President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner received and forwarded emails about WikiLeaks and a 'Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite' that he kept from Senate Judiciary Committee investigators, according to panel leaders demanding that he produce the missing records." (Washington Post)
  • Interior Department Inspector General knocks Zinke on lack of travel documentation. "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke failed to properly document his travel, the agency's watchdog said Thursday, preventing it from determining whether he had violated government rules." (POLITICO)
  • President Trump's pick to lead DHS draws scrutiny from legal watchdog. The Campaign Legal Center "filed an ethics complaint alleging that Kirstjen Nielsen, President Trump's nominee for Homeland Security secretary, has been guided through her Senate confirmation process by a consultant representing clients with business before the Department of Homeland Security." (The Hill)

states and cities

  • Colorado Springs, Colorado is taking comments on its open data policy. If you live or work in Colorado Springs, weigh in with your thoughts by December 1st. You can read the draft policy and weigh in here
  • Florida county to pay $12 million after circumventing public records laws. "Circumventing Florida’s public records law, and destroying public documents, has cost Martin County commissioners more than $12 million — and the toll keeps rising. The commission on Tuesday agreed to a $12 million payout to Lake Point, a rock quarry company that has plans to become a water company, sued the county for breach of contract and for violating the state’s Sunshine Law." (Tampa Bay Times via NFOIC)
  • Looking back on two years of open data in Pittsburgh, PA. "In joining forces with surrounding Allegheny County and the University of Pittsburgh, the City of Pittsburgh launched the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center (WPRDC), the country’s first truly regional open data platform, which has emerged as a national model for open data collaboration among municipalities, public authorities, nonprofits, and community groups. This week, in celebration of two years of open data in the region and one year since the launch of its popular Burgh’s Eye View mobile web application, the city’s Digital Services Team released an open data progress report, detailing its accomplishments and efforts to make its data an accessible public asset." (Data-Smart City Solutions)

around the world

Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk has been jailed numerous times. Image via Columbia Journalism Review.
  • Since taking power in Thailand, a military junta has cracked down on free speech and opposition. Ethan Harfenist explains, "since the Thai military took power in May 2014, it has cracked down on politiciansopposition activists, and students while suppressing free expression on social media. Detentions stem mostly from activities that are considered 'anti-military,' though the junta has also ramped up enforcement of Thailand’s draconian lese majeste law, which prohibits criticism of Thailand’s royal family." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Amid government and economic turmoil, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin show their value. "Zimbabwe, where the price of bitcoin spiked to double the international rate after this week’s military takeover, shows Jamie Dimon, Axel Weber and other cryptocurrency skeptics where the real-world use of bitcoin, and possibly its future, lies. It’s becoming the preferred way for residents of failing economies to transfer money without dealing with banks, protecting their savings from political turmoil, and avoiding the local currency when its value declines due to inflation." (Bloomberg)
  • How "impolite" advocacy helped open up Finnish politics. "Over the past few years, a public struggle took place in Finland regarding information about who influences legislation. Open Knowledge Finland played a part in shifting the debate and agenda by managing to make public a part of the information in question. The story demonstrates both the value and limitations of opening up data as a method of advocacy." (Open Knowledge)
  • Top judge quits institution dedicated to building rule of law in Kosovo, alleging corruption. "The chief judge at an EU organization tasked with improving the rule of law in Kosovo quit and accused other senior members of the mission of corruption and malpractice, Le Monde reported Thursday." (POLITICO)


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