Today in OpenGov: Weaving a web of accountability


In today's edition, we attempt to trace the web of accountability surrounding President Trump's conflicts, pressure is growing for more transparency around sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, how one small-town newspaper reacted to fake news coming out of its community, Nordic countries gather to talk open data, and much more. 


BuzzFeed‘s massive network analysis traces connections between individuals and organizations within an orbit it calls “TrumpWorld.”
  • Weaving a web of accountability around President Trump's conflicts. Hilary Niles reflected on Sunlight's efforts to catalogue President Trump's conflicts of interest and shared some of the hard work by other watchdogs and journalists that we’re tracking to keep our own database complete and up-to-date. Check out the full roundup on the Sunlight Foundation blog and if you notice something we’re missing, please let us know at
  • The White House may ban staff from using personal mobile phones. "The White House may ban its employees from using personal mobile phones while at work, raising concerns among some staffers including that they’ll be cut off from family and friends, according to seven administration officials. President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained about press leaks since taking office, but one official said the potential change isn’t connected to concerns about unauthorized disclosures to news organizations." Instead, as Jennifer Jacobs and Justin Sink report, the move is being spurred by cybersecurity concerns. 
  • White House ethics lawyer steps down. Josh Gerstein reports, the "ranks of former White House ethics lawyers available to comment on the ongoing controversies engulfing President Donald Trump's administration has just grown by one — an attorney who's certain to offer a much different perspective than the most prominent figures now ensconced as seemingly permanent fixtures on cable news. After almost a year in the White House counsel's office tackling a raft of ethics and financial disclosure issues, James Schultz resigned last week and is returning to private practice at the Philadelphia-based law firm where he previously worked, Cozen O'Connor." (POLITICO)
  • Walter Shaub weighs in on the White House's failure to collect financial disclosures from departing staff. The former director of the Office of Government Ethics argues that, contrary to a statement made by deputy press secretary Raj Shah, the White House has plenty of recourse while dealing with outgoing employees. Shah's statement, according to Shaub, "is as illuminating as it is seemingly befuddled. It's a bright red flare revealing the White House ethics office to be either inept or indifferent. That office's failure to fulfill as basic an ethics function as collecting financial disclosures indicates either alternative is possible, but my money is on malignant indifference to ethics." (CNN)

washington watch

  • Pressure is growing for more transparency around sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill. "Congress is under increasing pressure to open up the secretive process it uses to handle sexual harassment cases brought against its members and its use of taxpayer money over the past two decades to quietly resolve such disputes." (Washington Post) Meanwhile Melanie Sloan, a top ethics lawyer and former staffer who has publicly accused Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) of sexual misconduct, called the House Ethics Committee "a black hole where allegations go to die…" (The Hill)
  • Supreme Court considering case with repercussions for digital privacy. "The U.S. Supreme Court confronts the digital age again on Wednesday when it hears oral arguments in a case that promises to have major repercussions for law enforcement and personal privacy. At issue is whether police have to get a search warrant in order to obtain cellphone location information that is routinely collected and stored by wireless providers." (NPR)
  • Online political ads need transparency. Movement by the FEC is a welcome step forward. The Washington Post editorial board weighed in on this important topic, writing "the Federal Election Commission took a rare unanimous vote to begin drafting regulations that would require greater transparency in online political advertising. The motion is a welcome sign of life from a group long paralyzed by partisanship. And it’s a reminder that Russia’s use of online ads to meddle in the 2016 presidential election should be a matter of concern across political parties." The editorial also recognizes Congress' role and the Honest Ads Act. (Washington Post)

states and cities

Image Credit: Robert Scoble.
  • Tax returns reveal stark differences among Tennessee gubernatorial candidates. Three of the seven top candidates for governor in Tennessee provided financial information in response to a request from USA Today. Sunlight's deputy director Alex Howard explained why it is so valuable for voters to be able to see candidates' tax returns, explaining "disclosure provides insight into income, debts, investments and the candidate's fiscal health that can be trusted more than a public assertion". (USA Today)
  • Sunlight joins coalition urging New York Governor to sign bill strengthening state Freedom of Information Law. "Twenty prominent New York and national transparency groups are publicly calling on Governor Cuomo to sign a bill that strengthens the Freedom of Information Law. The bill makes it easier for the public to win attorneys’ fees when they have won a court order instructing agencies to release public records." Read the full statement via Reinvent Albany.
  • How a local newspaper reacted when "fake news" took over this Idaho town. Ryan Bell looks at how the Twin Falls Times-News, a daily newspaper covering Twin Falls Idaho, reacted when a "fake news" story sprang out of the small town, attracting national media coverage. Bell writes that a close look at the Twin Falls Times-News "shows a surprisingly nimble newsroom that quickly found its footing after having been caught off guard by a 'fake news' story. The newspaper’s journalists doggedly reported the facts of the case while the editor used the opinion section to foster a dialogue with its readers." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Did your town try to lure Amazon's much-touted second headquarters? MuckRock found out how much they spent. "Towns across the nation aren’t just offering Amazon decades of property tax-free residency. Some also spent taxpayer dollars to put together the bids for Amazon’s second headquarters, according to an analysis of documents provided under the Freedom of Information Act. Fresno, California spent $1,000 for the promotional video it made. Camden County, New Jersey authorized spending up to $40,000 on the bid’s design, renderings, videos, and more from an architecture firm. On the other hand, many places, like Boston, spent nothing at all." (MuckRock)

around the world

A presentation at the Nordic Open Data Forum.
  • Nordic Open Data Forum spells new cooperation in the region. The "Nordic Open Data Forum attracted attendees from across the Nordic, setting a new beginning for closer cooperation on open data matters. The two-day event saw intensive discussions, workshops and seminars on open data. The 80 attendees arrived from Iceland in the West, Finland to the East, Denmark in the South, and Norway in the North." (iiS)
  • A data-driven approach to identifying tax havens highlights several EU members. "The EU is due to publish its list of tax havens on 5 December, but analysis by the Tax Justice Network, using the EU’s own criteria, suggests that the UK and 5 other EU countries would find themselves on that list if the criteria were applied equally to them. The EU has stated that the list will only apply to non-EU member states and with the UK set to leave the Union in 2019, this could mean sanctions being applied to the UK unless it changes course and ends policies which make the country a tax haven." (Open Knowledge)
  • Brazilian corruption investigation increasingly engulfing Peruvian politicians. "Officials from Peru’s four governments since 2001, as well as several mayors and regional governors, are under investigation as part of the Carwash bribery scandal that erupted in Brazil." Politicians implicated include Lima's former mayor, Peru's current leader, and many more according to this report by John Quigley. (Bloomberg)


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