Today in OpenGov: Shut it down?


In today's edition, Washington inches closer to a government shutdown, several Trump administration figures face conflict questions, Idaho lawmakers opt out of disclosing their finances, attempts to remove a key anti-corruption official face backlash in Portugal, and more. 

washington watch

  • A government shutdown is seeming more and more likely as Senate Democrats threaten to block deal approved by House. "The House approved a stopgap spending bill on Thursday night to keep the government open past Friday, but Senate Democrats — angered by President Trump’s vulgar aspersions and a lack of progress on a broader budget and immigration deal — appeared ready to block the measure." (New York Times)
  • Controversial surveillance reauthorization heads to President Trump's desk."The Senate voted Thursday to reauthorize the government’s warrantless-spying program through 2023, overcoming bipartisan opposition over concern for Americans’ privacy rights…Senate critics of the bill, led by Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, nearly blocked the measure in a procedural vote Tuesday. Opponents of the program say it doesn’t offer enough protection for Americans who get swept up in the surveillance of foreigners." (Bloomberg
  • Surveillance bill restores whistleblower protections for intelligence community contractors. "The Senate’s approval on Thursday of a controversial six-year reauthorization of the National Security Agency’s surveillance authority means that contractors in the intelligence community will regain protections that encourage responsible whistleblowing." The response from the whistleblower community was mixed, according to this report by Charles S. Clark. (Government Executive)
  • Representatives go on record supporting the return of earmarks, despite Speaker Paul Ryan's opposition. "The majority of lawmakers who testified at Wednesday's hearing on the earmark ban did so in support of bringing earmarks back, with limits. It signaled a potential coming clash between the will of the House and the will of the speaker in a midterm election year when Republicans face increasingly strong headwinds." (NPR)
  • Foreign Agents Registration Act filings soar in wake of Manafort, Flynn indictments. First time FARA filings "rose 50 percent to 102 between 2016 and 2017, an NBC News analysis found. The number of supplemental filings, which include details about campaign donations, meetings and phone calls more than doubled from 618 to 1,244 last year as lobbyists scrambled to avoid the same fate as some of Trump's associates and their business partners…The uptick, legal experts say, comes from a new awareness that a failure to disclose overseas political work could lead to federal charges." (NBC News)


The gates of Mar-a-Lago. Image credit: Ebyabe.
  • President Trump to celebrate his first year in office with gala at Mar-a-Lago. "President Donald Trump will mark the first anniversary of his inauguration on Saturday with a celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, with tickets starting at $100,000 a pair." The gala is hosted by the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee along with casino mogul Steve Wynn. (Bloomberg) The gala will benefit Trump's reelection campaign, the RNC, and of course, the Trump family's business interests. 
  • Conflicts causing problems for the director of the Centers for Disease Control. "Brenda Fitzgerald is the top public health official in the country, but she is unable to speak before Congress about much of what her agency is doing because of financial conflicts of interest still unresolved after seven months on the job…Her limitations are leading lawmakers of both parties to pressure her to unload the holdings — and in recent days, Fitzgerald has told three senior Senate Republicans that she would find a way, the lawmakers said." (POLITICO)
  • White House Counsel shares personal lawyer with Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus sparking potential conflicts. "A battle over what President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist can tell Congress has thrown a glaring spotlight on the potential conflicts of interest surrounding White House Counsel Don McGahn and how long he will remain in that job. McGahn’s office was deeply involved in instructing Steve Bannon on which questions from the House Intelligence panel’s Russia probe he shouldn’t answer, according to a person familiar with the matter. But McGahn was interviewed by investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller looking into Russian election meddling — and he shares a lawyer with Bannon." (Bloomberg)
  • A year later, we still don't know what happened to the $107 million raised for Trump's inauguration. "Nearly a year after President Trump’s inauguration, the committee that raised a record $106.7 million for the event has not disclosed how much surplus money it still has or provided a final accounting of its finances." (USA Today)
  • Did a Russian banker funnel money to the NRA in support of Trump? The FBI is looking into it. "The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy. FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said." (McClatchy DC)

states and cities

The new and improved D.C. Code website. 
  • Washington, D.C. Council is making its laws more accessible with automated tools. "The Council of the District of Columbia launched a new website that contains the legal code for every law in the city. For anyone who doesn't know how codification works, that may sound unremarkable, but because it usually takes the Council three to five months to turn each new law into properly formatted legal code, there have always been active laws missing from the books. That's no longer the case." (StateScoop)
  • Idaho lawmakers reject bill that would have required them to disclose their personal finances. "Idaho lawmakers shot down legislation Wednesday that would have required them to disclose their personal finances, leaving the state as just one of two holdouts remaining in the country. Idaho Republican Rep. Thomas Loertscher, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, grudgingly introduced the bill that had been unanimously endorsed by a campaign finance and ethics reform work group in December." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Finalists for Amazon's second headquarters announced. most haven't publicly released their bids. "The growing global retailer Amazon has announced the 20 finalists for its challenge to secure homefield rights to its second headquarters…Four of the 20 finalists have released their bids to MuckRock. Another three have rejected the requests, denying disclosure in the hopes of improving their competitive advantage. The other 13 requests continue to await fulfillment, thought some, like Washington DC, have released their bid elsewhere." (MuckRock)

around the world

  • New resource for those investigating "fake news" and other misleading content. Jonathan Gray shares that "last week saw the launch of A Field Guide to “Fake News and Other Information Disorders, a new free and open access resource to help students, journalists and researchers investigate misleading content, memes, trolling and other phenomena associated with recent debates around 'fake news'. The field guide responds to an increasing demand for understanding the interplay between digital platforms, misleading information, propaganda and viral content practices, and their influence on politics and public life in democratic societies." (Open Knowledge)
  • Backlash in Portugal over decision to remove corruption-fighting prosecutor. "The Portuguese government is under fire over plans to oust a prosecutor with a reputation for rooting out corruption among the political and business elite." (POLITICO)
  • South Africa moves to tackle corruption as president loses influence. "South African prosecutors moved to freeze the assets of suspected allies of the politically connected Gupta family more than a year after the nation’s top graft ombudsman outlined the depth of state looting in the country." (Bloomberg)


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