Today in OpenGov: Where FOIA doesn’t go


In today's edition, the Wisconsin Senate disapproves of the State's ethics and elections leaders, MuckRock explains why it's not worth trying to FOIA the White House and where your efforts would be better directed, tech giants make 2017 a big year for lobbying, bad news for a Russian opposition leader, and more. 

States and cities

Participants in the OGP Local pilot program.
  • The Open Government Partnership is looking to expand their local program. "The Open Government Partnership (OGP) Local program recognizes and supports the role that municipal, city, metropolitan, state, regional, and provincial entities play in advancing open government, due to their close proximity to citizens and the crucial public services they provide. OGP launched a Subnational Pilot in 2016, with 15 pioneering subnational governments submitting and implementing their first Action Plans 2016-2017. Moving forward, the program will be known as OGP Local, and will prioritize the participation of diverse range of entities." (Open Government Partnership)
  • Wisconsin State Senate blocks confirmation of existing ethics and elections leadership. "State Senate Republicans voted to reject confirmation of the state’s top ethics and elections officials, which GOP lawmakers said will effectively fire them — opening the door to possible legal fights over their futures." (Wisconsin State Journal)
  • The Washington Post's police shooting database updated with 2018 data. Wesley Lowery explained, "WaPo's 2018 police shooting database now live (with links to 2015, 2016 and 2017 databases). American police have shot and killed 62 people so far this year." That number has risen to 66 since Lowery's tweet yesterday morning. (Washington Post)
  • Georgia declines to release information on tax breaks, despite new rules. "How much tax money is Georgia giving up to attract and keep businesses? With the state and local governments dangling tax breaks to lure Amazon’s second headquarters, you might want to know about the amount of tax breaks Georgia already has granted. But for three of Georgia’s most potent business recruitment incentives, the state of Georgia says it can’t tell you — despite a new rule that requires all state and local governments to disclose details of certain tax abatements." (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)


  • You can't FOIA most White House records, but that's not the only way to ask for Trump administration information. J Pat Brown explains that, except for certain offices, "presidential records (yes, that includes the tweets) fall under their own law: the Presidential Records Act, which we explain in detail here. Those records are blanket exempted until five years after the POTUS leaves office, which means we’re looking at 2025 at the earliest as far as Trump is concerned." However, he goes on to detail, "most communications between Trump’s office and federal agencies aren’t exempt," so there are plenty of other avenues to seek information from the Trump administration via FOIA. (MuckRock)
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions interviewed by special counsel. "Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for several hours last week as part of the special counsel investigation, the Justice Department confirmed Tuesday, making him the first member of President Trump’s cabinet to be interviewed in the inquiry." (New York Times)
  • Fight over Congressional memo alleging improper behavior by FBI heats up. "The four-page memo, compiled by committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), was circulated among House members last week but has yet to be made available to the public. According to people with knowledge of the memo, it alleges that senior FBI officials improperly used a secret surveillance program, commonly known as FISA, to target the Trump campaign. Numerous Republican lawmakers have cited the memo over the past week to claim the existence of bias against President Donald Trump at the FBI, though Democrats say the memo is a partisan attempt to distract from the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election." White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders weighed in yesterday, calling for "full transparency" around the letter. (POLITICO)
  • Trump to address Republican National Committee meeting at his D.C. hotel. "President Donald Trump is slated to address Republican National Committee members on Feb. 1 at their annual winter meeting in Washington, D.C., according to a GOP source briefed on the plans. Trump's evening appearance, which comes at the outset of what is expected to be a challenging midterm year for Republicans, will take place at his downtown Trump hotel." (POLITICO) Our take? Given that he owns and profits from the venue, it is an emolumentally bad choice of location for a president who wants to avoid the appearance of corruption.
  • Do ethics lapses at the highest levels of government trickle down to the broader workforce? "Government ethics experts worry that perceived ethical lapses at top of the administration are influencing everyday feds. Considering the concerns over conflicts of interestnepotism, as well as the pushback he faced from the administration while director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub said he was concerned about the trickle-down effect on lower-level government employees from the top of the administration." (Federal Computer Week)

around the world

  • New network aims to spread data-driven journalism across Europe. "Data-driven news stories produced by members of the European Data Journalism Network are translated into English, French, German, Italian, Polish, and Spanish and then made available for free to all partner and non-partner news organizations." (Nieman Lab) Check out the Network's website for more details. 
  • Russian opposition leader Navalny's foundation shut down by court. "A Moscow court on Monday ordered the closing of a foundation supporting the activities of Aleksei A. Navalny, the country’s leading opposition politician, moving quickly in a case filed only this month by the Justice Ministry…The foundation, the Fifth Season of the Year, has been used by Mr. Navalny to collect donations that finance campaign materials, salaries and offices in 84 regions across Russia, among other weapons in his drive against corruption and the workings of the Kremlin under President Vladimir V. Putin." (New York Times)
  • How recent protests could boost Iran's Access to Information law. "On 28 December 2017, widespread protests broke out across Iran on an unprecedented scale, in what has become the country’s largest anti-government demonstration since the post-election protests in 2009…These protests have awakened a new call for anti-corruption and transparency in Iran, opening what could be an opportunity for the government to fully implement regulations intended to support government transparency, namely Iran’s Access to Information law." (Global Voices)
  • How Russia is retaliating against a high profile Olympic doping whistleblower. "On December 11, 2017, Russian authorities filed drug-trafficking charges against Grigory Rodchenkov, the whistleblower who exposed Russia’s state-sponsored doping program. It was his testimony, and the series of investigations it launched, that ultimately got the Russian national team banned from next month’s Olympic Games in South Korea." (The Atlantic)

washington watch

  • Overall lobbying hits $3.9 billion in first year of Trump administration, matching first year of Obama era. "Lobbyists reported an uptick in tax and other federal policy work during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, but the money spent to influence the federal government still didn’t surpass the inaugural year of the Obama administration, a Roll Call review of new disclosure reports found." (Roll Call
  • Google outpaces rivals as tech industry drops $50 million on Washington lobbying in 2017. "Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google cumulatively racked up a roughly $50 million tab fighting off President Donald Trump and an onslaught of new federal regulations last year — a reflection that the tech industry is increasingly under political siege in the nation’s capital…Tech’s most prolific political spender last year was Google, which dedicated more than $18 million to lobby the U.S. government. That’s more than its tech peers, not to mention much of corporate America." (Recode)
  • Former Florida Rep. Corrine Brown (D) denied request to avoid jail while appealing corruption conviction. "Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown can’t stay free while she appeals felony convictions and she can’t delay reporting to prison, a pair of orders from separate federal courts said Monday…Brown remains scheduled to enter prison by noon Jan. 29, the same deadline set for the founder of One Door for Education, a bogus charity Brown was convicted of using to enrich herself." (The Florida Times-Union)
  • New GAO report knocks lack of oversight for billions of dollars worth of IT contracts. "This month a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed that federal agencies are not properly overseeing billions of dollars’ worth of information technology (IT) investments…The 22 agencies being evaluated were asked to identify all of their IT contracts while GAO created an independent list of the agencies’ IT contracts. The agency-provided total was 76,599 contracts worth $14 billion for FY 2016, while GAO found 108,092 worth $18.5 billion. That means 31,493 IT contracts worth $4.5 billion were not being flagged for the FITARA oversight process." (Project on Government Oversight)


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