Today in OpenGov: A flood of money in Alabama


Before we dig into a weekend's worth of open government news, a quick reminder: On Thursday, December 14 we will be joining with Global Integrity, the Open Gov Hub, and Transparency International to launch the new Defending Democracy: Lessons From Around the World program.

The launch event will feature Democracy Defenders from Transparency International, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Sunlight Foundation, and the Project on Government Oversight sharing lessons from investigative journalism and anti-corruption advocacy partnerships around the world. If you will be in Washington, DC on Thursday please consider joining us for this panel discussion and catered reception. Learn more and register to attend here

washington watch

A chart highlighting the growing flood of outside spending into the Alabama Senate race since 9/27.
  • High profile Alabama Senate race flooded with mystery money as election day approaches. Ashley Balcerzak explains how a "last-minute infusion of cash is deluging the already unpredictable special Senate election in Alabama, and outside political groups backing both candidates — Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones — are exploiting legal loopholes to hide their donors until after the Dec. 12 vote." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Inspector General reports highlight significant issues with DATA Act spending data accuracy and completeness. Sean Moulton at the Project on Government Oversight reviewed 41 audits of federal agency spending data conducted by agency Inspectors General as part of DATA Act oversight requirements. The review found significant issues with the completeness and accuracy of the first quarter's worth of spending data submitted by federal agencies under the DATA Act. We highly recommend reading the full report, which goes into detail on the highlighted problems and outlines potential fixes.
  • Department of Defense prepares for first-ever audit of its finances. "The Defense Department is finally beginning an audit of its finances, following years of calls for greater transparency and failed attempts to make its accounts fully reviewable. Defense Comptroller David Norquist made the announcement Thursday, saying the department’s inspector general would begin the audit in December. Starting in 2018, Norquist said, the IG will issue reports on the Pentagon’s finances annually. The first audit will be released in November of next year." (Government Executive)
  • The Supreme Court adds a second, more narrowly focused, partisan gerrymandering case to its workload. "The U.S. Supreme Court expanded its review of partisan gerrymandering, agreeing to consider arguments that a Maryland congressional district was unconstitutionally drawn to ensure the ouster of a Republican lawmaker…The Maryland case adds several twists to the fight, including a reversal in which party was seeking to benefit." (Bloomberg
  • Tax bill may create a new avenue for wealthy to channel political money while avoiding taxes. "Wealthy Americans may get a new conduit for political money in the tax overhaul bill now being reconciled on Capitol Hill. A small provision in the House version of the bill would let big donors secretly give unlimited amounts to independent political groups — and write off the contributions as charitable gifts." (NPR)


  • Trump administration wins fight over DACA documents, for now. "A sharply divided Supreme Court on Friday lifted orders the Trump administration was facing to turn over more records detailing the decision to terminate the Obama-era program that offers quasi-legal status and work permits to so-called Dreamers." (POLITICO)
  • Under President Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency has slowed enforcement significantly when compared to Obama and Bush. As reporter Danielle Ivory explained on Twitter a review of documents "show that a slowdown of enforcement coincides with policy changes ordered by Mr. Pruitt's team in response after pleas by oil and gas industry executives." Read the whole story from the New York Times
  • The FBI told Jeff Sessions he didn't have to disclose foreign contacts while Senator for security clearance. "A newly released document shows that the FBI told an aide to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that Sessions wasn't required to disclose foreign contacts that occurred in the course of carrying out his government duties when he was a senator. The FBI email from March bolsters the explanation by the Justice Department for why Sessions didn't disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador in his application for a US security clearance." (CNN)

around the world

President Trump shakes hands with Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines who has regularly vilified the media. 
  • Authoritarian governments around the world are using one of President Trump's favorite attack lines to quell dissent. "Authoritarian rulers across the globe are adopting President Donald Trump’s favorite phrase to limit free speech, with prominent leaders or state media in at least 15 countries using his “fake news” line to denounce their critics, according to a POLITICO review. By aligning themselves with Trump’s words, despots have been able to use the U.S. president as a shield for their attacks on press freedom and human rights, said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists." (POLITICO) Our take? The President's statements matter. Instead of defending journalists and the importance of journalism in democratic states, vocal attacks on the press embolden autocrats around the world, undermine the State Department, and put Americans at risk. 
  • Global Anti-corruption day highlights hard work being done around the world. Transparency International celebrated Anti-Corruption Day 2017 by highlighting the difficult, unglamorous work done by TI chapters around the world "to make the state more accountable to its citizens." (Transparency International)
  • Romanians take to the streets in protest of controversial judicial reforms. "Thousands of Romanians resumed protests in Bucharest and cities across the Black Sea nation, demanding the ruling party scraps a judicial overhaul that’s been criticized for its potentially damaging effects on anti-corruption efforts." (Bloomberg)

states and cities

  • Court rules in favor of transparency around police records in Massachusetts. "In a potentially far-reaching ruling, a Suffolk Superior Court judge ruled this week that law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts can’t use the state’s criminal records law to withhold lists of people jailed, mug shots of police officers who are arrested, and police reports involving public officials accused of breaking the law." (Boston Globe) Our take? This is an important victory for transparency and accountability in the criminal justice system. 
  • New study of police body cameras in Las Vegas shows progress on misconduct complaints, cost savings. "The study, conducted by Virginia-based CNA Corporation, in cooperation with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) and the University of Las Vegas' Center for Crime and Justice Policy, found a 37 percent reduction in the number of officers involved in use-of-force incidents and a 30 percent decrease in the number of officers with at least one complaint filed against them. Among the control group, officers not equipped with a camera, use-of-force increased 4 percent." The results differ from several similar studies of body camera programs around the country. (Government Technology)


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