As of Monday morning, the U.S. federal government is officially shut down. The Senate has a vote scheduled for 12 PM EST, but it is still unclear if there is a deal in place to fund the government.
Despite the closed government in Washington, it was a busy weekend for open government news. Read on for all the latest, including an attempt to undermine Congress' independent ethics office, a look at how President Trump handles his political money, renewed anti-corruption protests in Romania, and more.
trying out tactical data engagement
On Friday, Sunlight's Open Cities Team put out a call for the next city to pilot the Tactical Data Engagement framework.
The selected city will receive in-person and online technical assistance from Sunlight staff. Specifically, we’ll help the selected city (1) Analyze demand for city information, (2) Research potential open data users and use cases, (3) Plan and user-test, and ultimately (4) Implement a project to support impactful community use of city open data.
- 6 ways to free the Freedom of Information Act. Sunlight's new intern Briana Williams reported from last week's United States Freedom of Information Act Advisory Committee meeting. The meeting, the first of the year for the committee, touched on a range of topics and the group approved a number of proposals "including recommendations for proactive disclosure of categories of records, criteria to consider, publication of FOIA logs, document accessibility under Section 508, search, and efficiencies and resources." There was no substantive update on the "release to one, release to all" FOIA policy, which Sunlight and Cause of Action have petitioned the the Department of Justice to release or or begin a formal rulemaking. (Sunlight Foundation)
- House plan to reform sexual harassment procedures undermines Office of Congressional Ethics. "A bipartisan House bill to strengthen protection for congressional employees who file sexual-harassment complaints would bar review by Congress’s outside ethics watchdog." (Bloomberg) Our friends at Issue One weighed in against the proposal with Executive Director Meredith McGehee explaining "the proposed streamlined process would require the new Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to refer cases to the House Ethics Committee without the transparency applicable to investigations conducted by OCE. This is alarming given the Committee’s poor track record when it comes to committing to a timely, publicly accountable process."
- Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) removed from House Ethics Committee after details of harassment settlement emerge. "Representative Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican who has taken a leading role in fighting sexual harassment in Congress, used thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct complaint after a former aide accused him last year of making unwanted romantic overtures to her, according to several people familiar with the settlement." According to this report by Katie Rogers and Kenneth P. Vogel, Speaker Paul Ryan's office confirmed that Meehan "was being removed immediately from the House Ethics Committee, where he has helped investigate sexual misconduct claims, and that the panel would investigate the allegations against him." (New York Times)
- Justice Department plans to retry Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on corruption charges. "Two months after a jury failed to reach a verdict in the federal corruption case against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and co-defendant Salomon Melgen, the Justice Department on Friday said it wants to retry them — and soon." (POLITICO)
- More than half of 2016 campaign cash came from only 16,000 donors. "More than 3.2 million Americans contributed to federal candidates in the 2016 elections, but fewer than 16,000 of them provided half the donations— a sign of the increasing concentration of donor activity in the United States, according to a new report." (Washington Post)
- Despite reformist rhetoric, President Trump has embraced the campaign finance playing field as-is. On the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump touted his ability to self finance and bashed super PACs and big money donors, but his actions have spoken louder than his words. His not-insignificant "self-funding represents less than one-fifth of the more than $333 million his campaign raised from all sources, including individual donors, party committees and political action committees. And the president so far hasn’t donated a dime to his re-election efforts, which include staging campaign-style rallies across the country and otherwise promoting himself." (Center for Public Integrity)
- Mapping all 270 individuals connected to the Russia probe. "A POLITICO analysis of court documents, congressional letters, public testimony and media reports reveals that the investigations into the 2016 election and its aftermath now involve hundreds of people in Washington, Moscow and around the world." (POLITICO)
- A year into the Trump administration, at least five top staffers are working without certified financial disclosures. "A year into Donald Trump’s presidency, records show five of his top staffers still have not secured final approval of their financial reports — disclosures that are required by law to ensure Americans that these senior officials aren’t personally benefiting from their White House jobs." (McClatchy DC)
around the world
- Romania saw a renewed wave of anti-corruption protests over the weekend. "Tens of thousands of Romanians marched in Bucharest and other cities Saturday evening to protest against legal changes they believe will allow political corruption to go unpunished…Protesters called out the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD) over changes to judicial laws passed by the Romanian parliament in December which include new sanctions against judges and prosecutors thought to have acted in bad faith." (POLITICO)
- Settlements in Saudi corruption crackdown may top $100 million. "Saudi Arabia is winding down a controversial anti-corruption drive that led to dozens of princes and billionaires being detained at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. Talks with suspects are expected to end this month and authorities will likely recover more than $100 billion in settlements, a senior government official said, asking not to be identified because the details are private. Those who don’t reach deals will be referred to prosecutors, the official said." (Bloomberg)
- Mini-grants help to celebrate Open Data Day around the world. Oscar Montiel explained how a mini-grants program helped Open Data Day efforts last year; "To make sure some of those events had everything they needed to be great for their communities, we had the support of Hivos, Article19, SPARC and Hewlett to provide mini-grants for their organizing.This effort resulted in more than 200 applications for mini-grants that followed one of the four tracks we supported last year." This year Open Knowledge is looking to expand the program even further. (Open Knowledge)
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