Today in OpenGov: The writing’s on the law

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In today’s edition, the Senate passes a tax bill under less than transparent circumstances, Congress hosts a hackathon, President Trump takes a fight over documents to the Supreme Court, Canada needs to walk-the-walk on access to information, and more.

Write-offs

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) showed off the handwritten changes to the tax bill passed by the Senate late last week.
  • Senate passes tax bill featuring handwritten amendments. Some Senators got the final draft from lobbyists before official sources. “The legislation, covering nearly 500 pages, finally surfaced well after the sun had set. It appeared first in the lobbying shops of K Street, which sent back copies to some Democrats in the Senate, who took to social media to protest being asked to vote in a matter of hours on a bill that had yet to be shared with them directly.” (New York Times)

    Our take? We’ve been in DC long enough to remember both Democrats and Republicans calling for legislation to be put online, in its final version, so that the public has time to read the bill and let their representatives know where they stood. Good public policy can withstand public scrutiny.

  • More than half of the registered lobbyists in Washington, DC worked on tax reform this year. “In all, 6,243 lobbyists have been listed on lobbying disclosure forms as working on issues involving the word “tax” through the first three quarters of 2017, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of a massive data download provided by the Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org). That is equal to 57 percent of the nearly 11,000 people who have reported engaging in any domestic lobbying activities at all in 2017.” (Public Citizen)

washington watch

  • Congressional Hackathon focuses on transparency, efficiency, and bipartisan cooperation. Chase Gunter reports from the third Congressional Hackathon, which took place last Thursday in Washington, DC. At the event “House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and member of the White House Office of American Innovation and former McCarthy aide Matt Lira emphasized the importance of tech in promoting bipartisanship in the name of government efficiency and institutional reform.” Other highlights included an announcement by the House Clerk’s Office that they will start posting the redlining and markup history of legislation in the new year. (Federal Computer Week)

    We have been hoping to see these features ever since bill data became available and were very excited to hear the Clerk’s announcement. For more, check out our livestreams from the event.

  • Despite conservative arguments, bipartisan support appears to exist for more transparency around online political ads. Eliza Newlin Carney explains the bipartisan nature of the current push for more online ad transparency. Despite the GOP’s usual opposition to this type of reform she writes, “in the case of Russia’s interference in last year’s election, which spread disinformation via Facebook alone to 146 million Americans, conservatives’ knee-jerk alarmism may be falling on deaf ears. The Supreme Court has long upheld the principle that Americans should know who is paying for political ads. And a growing number of Republicans, alarmed by the seriousness of the threat posed by foreign election meddling, are joining in calls for new internet rules.” (The American Prospect)
  • House Ethics Committee seeks documents on sexual harassment claims. “The House Ethics Committee requested information on all claims of sexual harassment or misconduct against current members of the chamber and their employees, suggesting the panel is conducting a broad probe of congressional misconduct.” (Bloomberg)
  • Meanwhile, the Office of Compliance acknowledges more than $350,000 in settlements since 2013. “The Office of Compliance’s Awards and Settlement Fund has paid out $359,450 since fiscal 2013 to address six claims made against House-member led offices, $84,000 of which was for a sexual harassment claim, according to data released Friday by the House Administration Committee.” (Roll Call) The Office of Compliance did not disclose more detail about any of the settlements, but POLITICO has reported that Rep. Blake Farenthold settled a 2014 sexual harassment claim with a former employee for $84,000.
  • The U.S. Army is conducting a multi-year study to understand and combat online disinformation attacks. A team of Army researchers will work with scientists from the Ukraine and Bulgaria on a project to better understand and fight online disinformation attacks. As Dave Gershgorn reports, the “work is theoretical, and will span three years, meaning it will likely end after the US presidential election in 2020.” (Government Executive)

trumpland

  • Michael Flynn pleads guilty of lying to the FBI as Russia probe gets closer to Oval Office. “Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Donald Trump reached into the president’s inner circle as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to a criminal charge and agreed to cooperate with the probe.” (Bloomberg)
  • Meanwhile, the Washington Post informed the American public about the operations, personnel, progress and focus of the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department investigate Russian government attempts to influence the 2016 election.
  • The Trump Administration will take a fight over DACA documents to the Supreme Court. “The Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to block a judge’s demand that the government compile a broad set of records about how officials decided to shut down the program offering quasi-legal status and work permits to so-called Dreamers.” (POLITICO)
  • Some Trump properties are suffering, but not the ones that he visits frequently. Jackie Northam reports that “revenues from a variety of…Trump projects are…down, including his golf courses in the Bronx and near Los Angeles. Two of Trump’s prized golf courses in Scotland also lost money. The Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen lost close to $2 million, while Turnberry posted a loss of $23 million in 2016.” However, Mar-a-Lago and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC and several Trump golf courses frequented by the President have performed unexpectedly well. (NPR)

around the world

  • Canadian leadership might not be living up to its pro-transparency rhetoric. “The federal access-to-information system, a favourite tool of journalists and all others who hope to pry undisclosed information from the government, has been lamented for years, becoming infamous for the long delays and blacked-out pages it regularly produces.” (CBC)

    Our take? Domestic reforms are key to credibility. If Canada is to be an international leader on open government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should redraft and enact the world’s strongest access to information law, connecting proactive disclosure of public records to ATI demand.

  • China’s former anti-corruption chief may be tapped as next vice president. “Wang Qishan, China’s formidable former anti-corruption tsar, will continue to wield political influence in new Communist Party and state roles carved out for him by president and party chief Xi Jinping…he is also expected to be named vice-president – a less significant role in the Chinese hierarchy – at the annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, in March, according to several sources.” (South China Morning Post)
  • New report explores how Global Open Data Index translates to policy. “We are pleased to announce our latest report Governing by rankings – How the Global Open Data Index helps advance the open data agenda. The Global Open Data Index (GODI) is one of the largest worldwide assessments of how well governments publish open data, coordinated by Open Knowledge International since 2013. Over the years we observed how GODI is used to monitor open data publication. But to date, less was known how​ ​GODI​ ​may​ ​translate​ ​into​ ​open​ ​data​ ​policies​ ​and publication​. How does GODI mobilise support for open data? Which actors are mobilised? Which aspects of GODI are useful, and which are not? Our latest report provides insights to these questions.” (Open Knowledge)

save the dates

The first in a series of “democracy dialogues” cohosted by Global Integrity, the OpenGovHub, and the Sunlight Foundation takes place on December 14th.
  • December 6th – 7th: HHS Opioid Code-A-Thon in Washington, DC. “Calling all computer programmers, public health experts, data scientists, researchers, and innovators! We need your help to develop data-driven solutions to combat the opioid epidemic, building on HHS’ five-part strategy.” Learn more here.
  • December 6th – 7th: The corridors of power — where money meets politics conference in Brussels, Belgium. “On December 6th and 7th, Transparency International EU will bring together Transparency International chapters, policy makers, EU officials, international organisations such as OECD and UNDP, as well as civil society organisations from around the globe working to discuss the influence of money in politics.” Learn more and register to attend here.
  • December 14: Democracy Defenders in Dialogue from 4:30 – 6:00 pm in Washington, DC. “The Open Gov HubGlobal IntegritySunlight Foundation, and Transparency International are pleased to present this launch event for the new Defending Democracy: Lessons from Around the World program. Join us to learn from powerful efforts to uncover and counter the international linkages between corruption and kleptocracy across boundaries/ borders, as we hear from visiting civil society leaders from Russia and Tunisia and leaders from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which was heavily involved in the recent Paradise Papers leak.” Learn more and register to attend here.

 

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