Today in OpenGov: Bills, bills, bills.


In today's edition, how a Trump-branded project in Panama became a money laundering machine, who signed on to cosponsor the Honest Ads Act, how open city data can help promote justice, what a corruption scandal means for upcoming elections in Costa Rica, and more.  


A graphic from the Global Witness report: "Narco-a-Lago"
  • How a Trump-branded tower in Panama turned into a money laundering machine. Separate, but symbiotic,  reports by Global Witness and NBC News and Reuters tell how the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama ended up serving as a conduit to launder money from drug cartels and the Russian Mafia. As the Global Witness report outlines, "Trump may not have deliberately set out to facilitate criminal activity in his business dealings. But, as this Global Witness investigation shows, licensing his brand to the luxurious Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama aligned Trump’s financial interests with those of crooks looking to launder ill-gotten gains. Trump seems to have done little to nothing to prevent this." These reports have sparked calls for Congress to investigate President Trump's finances. As Sunlight's deputy director Alex Howard told Newsweek, "The government can investigate a company, even the president’s company. The problem here is that it’s about the president, and Congress is not holding him accountable for what he has done in this context. They aren’t holding hearings about the Trump Organization, and the president himself is not being transparent."
  • President Trump is paying his own Russia related legal bills, may do the same for staff. "President Donald Trump has started paying his own legal bills related to the Russia probe, rather than charging them to his campaign or the Republican National Committee, and is finalizing a plan to use personal funds to help current and former White House staff with their legal costs." (Bloomberg) Meanwhile, those close to Trump are "increasingly divided in their assessments of the expanding probe and how worried administration officials and campaign aides should be about their potential legal peril," according to this report by Ashley Parker and Carol D. Leonnig. (The Washington Post)
  • What happened to the money leftover from President Trump's inauguration? Nobody knows. "Trump's inaugural committee made several vows to the media throughout 2017 that it would release the remaining funds to charity organizations, including a promise of $3 million for hurricane relief efforts after several storms ravaged Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Newsweek did not find a single charitable donation the group provided to any of the charities Barrack named as candidates for those funds, including the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse." (Newsweek)

washington watch

The Pentagon's list of types of information that they exempt from FOIA. Via MuckRock.
  • Pentagon avoids explaining what information they consider exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, by exempting the list from FOIA. "Earlier this year, Emma Best filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the Department of Defense’s most recent declassification guide, with the goal of better understanding what the Pentagon believes can or can’t be released to the public. Just this week, the guide came in…The Pentagon exempted their list of information that’s exempt from FOIA under FOIA’s b(7)e exemption." (MuckRock)
  • Honest Ads Act adds bipartisan cosponsors. On Friday, "eight House lawmakers — four Republicans and four Democrats — signed on to sponsor the Honest Ads Act (H.R. 4077), the best first step to combat the problem of hidden foreign disinformation campaigns targeted at the United States by implementing a disclosure system for paid, online political advertising." (Issue One)
  • Controversial contract for Puerto Rico reconstruction highlights broader oversight issue. Scott Amey digs into so-called "commercial item" contracts explaining that they "strip oversight protections and restrict the government’s access to cost or pricing data; as a result, these contracts frequently lead to Uncle Sam being overcharged. Unfortunately, commercial item contracts are increasingly being used." (Project on Government Oversight)

states and cities

The Leadership Conference’s analysis of cities’ police body worn camera policies.
  • How opening up city data can support racial justice. Sunlight's Noel Isama looked forward to attending the Data for Black Lives conference by exploring the ways that open data from city governments is part of the conversation around "how data science can create concrete, measurable change in the lives of black people and marginalized communities." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • New York police will now need a warrant to snoop on your phone via spoofed cell phone towers. "A New York state judge has concluded that a powerful police surveillance tool known as a stingray, a device that spoofs legitimate mobile phone towers, performs a 'search' and therefore requires a warrant under most circumstances." (Ars Technica)
  • New data dashboard shows record construction in New York City. "The city issued a record 88,838 construction permits over the last six months, eclipsing the previous high set in the spring and summer of 2016, according to new Department of Buildings data…The department published a new interactive feature Wednesday, called the NYC Construction Dashboard, which includes graphics and maps showing how many permits for new buildings, demolitions and alterations have been issued in various communities." (Government Technology)

around the world

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís. Image credit: UN Women.
  • Corruption scandal looms over Costa Rican elections. "Costa Rica is just months away from a presidential election, set to take place on February 4, 2018. However, the road to the polls seems to be growing darker due to a complex political scandal that reveals the presence and extent of corruption in Costa Rica. The scandal, popularly known as 'Cementazo' (roughly translated as 'huge cement blow'), is a puzzle with various pieces: an alleged import deal of cement from China, a dubious loan structure, an amendment of the import rules, and a complex network of people that goes all the way up to the Presidency." (Global Voices)
  • The political situation remains uncertain in Zimbabwe as Mugabe refuses to resign. "Despite mounting calls for his resignation, Robert Mugabe has vowed to stay on as president of Zimbabwe, further extending his nearly four-decade reign in office. The next 48 hours will be crucial, as Mugabe could be impeached when parliament reconvenes on Tuesday." (The Atlantic)
  • Cambodia's opposition party dissolved ahead of elections next year. Last Thursday, "Cambodia's Supreme Court ordered the country's main opposition party to be dissolved…, dealing one of the most crushing blows yet to democratic aspirations in the increasingly oppressive Southeast Asian state." (Bloomberg)


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