Today in OpenGov: Under pressure


In today's edition, the federal government reopens, Facebook starts to face the facts, Ryan Zinke fails to disclose, varied interests boost their lobbying investment, we launch our crowdlaw guide, and more. 

states and cities

  • Making open data policy more participatory with our crowdlaw guide. The Sunlight Open Cities Team explained how crowdlaw comes into being when governments work with residents to draft, review, and weigh in on open data policies using online platforms. Crowdlaw has proved particularly well suited to open data policies. Now, to help more cities succeed with a crowdlaw approach, the team has released Participatory Open Data Policy, a new guide that cities can use to develop open data policies in the open. (Sunlight Foundation)
  • How Glendale, Arizona is improving procurement with Tactical Data Engagement. Building on the success of the first Tactical Data Engagement pilot project, Glendale, Arizona wanted to use data and evidence to improve the way it manages city contracts. The city would be working with Harvard’s Government Performance Lab (GPL) to implement results-driven contracting approaches, but also wanted to utilize open contracting data to improve the procurement process for vendors with the goal of improving public trust through transparency and improving the efficient delivery of goods and services through increased vendor competition and access to information. So, with the opportunity to combine Sunlight’s open data expertise with GPL’s procurement expertise, our second TDE pilot project has also been with Glendale. (Sunlight Foundation)
  • The FBI is looking into bribery allegations against Missouri Governor Eric Greitens. "The FBI recently opened an inquiry into Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, two US officials told CNN, as he fights an allegation of blackmail and faces calls to resign just a year into his job. " (CNN)
  • Montana moves forward with executive order requiring net neutrality for state contracts. "Montana will require Internet service providers to follow net neutrality principles in order to receive state government contracts. Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat, today signed an executive order imposing that requirement beginning July 1, 2018." (Ars Technica)

washington watch

  • Congress agrees on plan to temporarily fund government, ending brief shutdown. "Federal employees should plan to report back to work as normally scheduled on Tuesday, the White House said Monday as a bill to re-open the government passed Congress." (Government Executive) Meanwhile, numerous federal websites shutdown unnecessarily during the closure, inhibiting public access to public information. As Sunlight's Alex Howard told Daniel Oberhaus at Vice, the website shutdowns are the result of “20th century policies governing a 21st century government.” We considered this topic during the last shutdown in 2013 and are disappointed the government hasn't improved since then. 
  • Budget deal appears to limit Congressional oversight over intelligence spending. "Congressional intelligence-committee members lost a fight with appropriators Monday over a provision of the budget bill they say gives President Trump too much power to reshuffle funds the government spends on intelligence programs without first notifying Congress." (Washington Post)
  • The NSA deleted surveillance data it had pledged to retain as part of lawsuit. "The National Security Agency destroyed surveillance data it pledged to preserve in connection with pending lawsuits and apparently never took some of the steps it told a federal court it had taken to make sure the information wasn’t destroyed, according to recent court filings." (POLITICO)
  • Pennsylvania Supreme Court throws out state Congressional map. "The Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed out the state’s congressional map on Monday, throwing members and candidates into chaos and potentially boosting Democrats’ chances to win the House majority this fall." (POLITICO)


  • Despite pledge, Trump businesses have not donated any foreign profits to the Treasury. "Among the many promises Donald Trump made a year ago to assure people he wouldn’t profit off his presidency, one stood out for its boldness: a pledge to donate the profits from any foreign governments staying in his namesake hotels to the U.S. Treasury. Today, after a year in which groups associated with Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Kuwait have booked rooms, hosted events and spent thousands of dollars at the president’s hotel in Washington, no such payments to the Treasury have been made." (Associated Press)
  • FBI director threatened to resign amid pressure from Sessions, Trump to remove deputy. "Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the public urging of President Donald Trump — has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge." (Axios)
  • Secretary of Interior Ryank Zinke failed to disclose stake in gun company. "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is a shareholder in a private Montana company that manufactures and sells firearms and advanced weapons materials, a financial interest he did not disclose when nominated last year." (Huffington Post)

A full lobby

Image credit: Daniel Huizinga.
  • Business Roundtable quadrupled lobbying spending in tax bill push. "The Business Roundtable, a lobbying group for American chief executives that’s seeking to bolster its clout in Washington, quadrupled spending in the last three months of the year compared to the same period a year earlier as it threw its support behind President Donald Trump’s tax bill." (Bloomberg)
  • PhRMA boosts lobbying spending by 30% during Trump administration. "The pharmaceutical industry's top trade group responded to growing anger over rising drug costs in 2017 by upping its federal lobbying spending by 30 percent. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) increased its lobbying expenditures from $20 million in 2016 to $25.4 million in 2017." (The Hill)
  • Open Society Policy Center posts record spending on lobbying during Trump administration. "The Open Society Policy Center, the lobbying arm of liberal billionaire George Soros’ philanthropic network, reported spending a record sum to influence federal issues during the first year of the Trump administration. The group disclosed spending a total of $16.1 million on federal lobbying in 2017, with the majority of that coming in the last three months of the year, according to a report filed with Congress. The Soros group disclosed spending $10.3 million in the fourth quarter." (Roll Call)

facing the facts

Facebook, in a series of blogposts posted on Monday, acknowledged "the complicated effect its social network has on politics, admitting that it hasn't always been positive for democracy," reports Ali Breland. (The Hill)

We're glad to see Facebook asking questions about social media and democracy, but our biggest question remains. Why hasn't the company supported legislation and rules that would inform the public about who is paying for online political ads?

  • Meanwhile, recent changes to Facebook's newsfeed may actually make misinformation worse, not better. "There are good reasons to believe that Facebook’s recent News Feed changes not only won’t fix the problem of “fake news,” but could actually make it worse instead of better. And that looks to be even more likely after the company announced on Friday that the decision about which news sources to trust would be left up to users to vote on." (Columbia Journalism Review)


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